How we search for stuff: Insights for Marketers


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Insights for Marketers: How we search for stuff. A brief analysis that demonstrates how our search behaviour vaires depending on search intent. Includes lessons for marketers planning search marketing campaigns.

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  • Hello. My name is Allister Frost and I’m a Digital marketing Manager at Microsoft in the United Kingdom. In this short presentation I’ll share some findings from some recent research that explain how we use search engines, how our behaviour varies according to the intent of our search, and what this means for marketers.
  • Let’s start off with a typical search engine results page. In this example I’ve searched for Microsoft Office on Google. I’m contractually bound to remind you that other search engines are available, and you’d get broadly comparable results on Bing or any other search engine.With that out of the way, let’s look at the different areas of the search engine results page.First up are the sponsored listings, highlighted with red boxes. These are paid for advertisements, usually placed by commercial companies looking to convert your search into a sale.
  • The next important area is for organic, or natural, search results. These items are determined by the search engine’s algorithm and are intended to be the most relevant and helpful results for your specific search. They are ordered by their presumed relevancy to you, based on a huge number of factors including your and others’ previous search behaviour, each link’s popularity, and how accurately each link matches your search.
  • Finally, within the organic results we can see an example of universal search results, in this instance some shopping links recommended by Google. Other types of universal search results that you may commonly see include images, videos, and news stories.
  • If we look a little closer at a couple of the organic results in this example, we can see four very important sections within the results. I mention these now as the research I’m about to share analyses the importance of each of these four elements.The first section, numbered one here, is the title. This is determined by the code that lies behind your web page and is entirely within the web site owner’s control.Section number two, is what we call the snippet. Again this is determined by the code behind your web page and can be set to any text you choose.The third area is the URL, or Uniform Resource Locator, which is the exact web address of the destination page you’d reach if you clicked this search result.The fourth area I’d like to highlight is the image within the shopping suggestions. This image could appear within image or video search results or even within a listing of top news stories, but I’ve called it out here as it plays a very distinct role with our search behaviour.
  • As I mentioned before, the title, snippet and URL are entirely within each web site owner’s control. If you don’t like the way a search engine presents your page, simply edit the title, meta description and page location in the site’s code.
  • Before I present the research findings, here’s the top conclusion I’d like to share: Search behaviour, that is the way we search, changes according to our search intent.
  • Researchers at the PompeuFabra (and I hope I’ve said that correctly) University in Barcelona have classified our searching behaviour into four categories of intent.Informational searches are seeking information. You might have a question in mind like ‘how old is Tom Jones?’, ‘how hot is it in Barbados?’, ‘when do the clocks go back?’Navigational searches serve the purpose of helping us locate a web site that we know exists but for which we don’t know the exact web address. As these examples show, we might be looking for a local university’s web site, or the BBC’s web site.Transactional searches are where marketers spend most of their time trying to pick up new business. Here, the searcher wants to fulfill a transaction of some kind, be it booking a table at a restaurant or downloading a trial version of some software.Finally, multimedia searches are where we are searching for a photo or video for a specific subject that interests us, like salsa dancing.
  • This table is really important. It shows how many times we look at, and how much of our time we spend looking at, the different sections of the search engine results page depending on our search intent.Notice how important the snippet is for informational, navigational and transactional searches, with as much as 51% of fixations (that is, points on the page where our eyes focus) and 53% of time during informational searches. Remember too that the snippet is entirely within the web site owner’s control. This explains why it’s so important to make sure your snippets are as powerful and relevant as possible. Snippets really come into their own with transactional searches, and are consulted for 56% of all the time spent searching. If your snippet’s not right, your transactional searchers won’t click.It’s only in multimedia searches that the snippet plays a less important role, with 76% of fixations being on images. But even here, the snippet is important and accounts for more fixations than the titles and urls combined.
  • So, we know that snippets are really important while we search. How does our behaviour differ between organic and sponsored listings? This chart shows the average number of fixations for informational and transactional searches. Firstly, for informational searches we see that the average searcher focuses on 8.53 points on the screen within the organic search results. But these same informational searchers barely glance at the sponsored listing, registering just 0.64 fixations on average.Transactional searches are quite different. Here the number of organic fixations is more than halved to just 4.05 per user, but yet the sponsored listings now pick up 2.2 fixations.This evidence is compelling. This proves that when we’re looking for information, we have learned to tune out and largely ignore sponsored listings. Yet when we are looking to fulfil a transaction we have learned that sponsored listings are worth paying more attention to.For marketers, this research provides powerful insights into the ways we search and helps us decide how best to use organic and sponsored listings depending on what we would like our target audience to do. Trying to reach informational searchers through sponsored listings is really difficult because you’ll struggle to get the eyeballs you need to get your message across. Meanwhile, great organic listings alone may not be enough to capture a transactional searcher because sponsored listings play such an important role in their decision making.
  • Finally, this chart shows the results of some eye-tracking studies. For informational searches you can see the ‘golden triangle’ in the top left corner highlighting how the top few results dominate. For navigational searches our gaze drifts more randomly across the page seeking out the specific web page we’re hoping to find. Lastly, for transactional searches, we spend relatively more time within the sponsored search listings at the top and, to a far lesser extent, down the right hand side of the screen.
  • Let me summarise this presentation with five simple lessons for marketers:Firstly, think about your searchers’ intent and use this knowledge to think about how they may look through the search engine results page.Secondly, use your presence in organic and sponsored (or pay per click) listing intelligently. It’s often desirable to have a presence in both but the benefit you’ll get will vary hugely depending on the searcher’s intent.Next, look at the search engine results page and consider how other listings may alter the effectiveness of your own. With some knowledge of how people search you’ll be able to decide what impact, if any, other listings on the page could have on your own click through results.At a minimum, make sure universal search results, those images and videos, are non-damaging to your own listings. Ideally you should try to ensure the search engine presents relevant and on-brand multimedia results against the keyphrases you are targeting.And finally, you must meticulously maintain your page title and meta descriptions to ensure your listings on the search engine results page are as favourable and attractive to your intended audience as possible.Do these five things and you may start to see some improvement in the way your search listings perform.
  • I hope you’ve found this helpful. You can follow more information like this on my blog at as well as let me know what you think about this presentation. I’m Allister Frost from Microsoft UK, thanks for watching.
  • How we search for stuff: Insights for Marketers

    1. 1. HOW WE SEARCH FOR STUFF<br />by Allister Frost<br />
    2. 2. SPONSORED<br />
    3. 3. ORGANIC<br />
    5. 5. title<br />snippet<br />url<br />image<br />1<br />2<br />3<br />4<br />1<br />2<br />3<br />4<br />
    6. 6. title<br />snippet<br />url<br />image<br />1<br />2<br />3<br />4<br />1<br />2<br />3<br />
    7. 7. SEARCH BEHAVIOURchanges with search intent<br />A Rule for Digital Marketers<br />
    8. 8. WHAT’S YOUR SEARCH INTENT?<br />
    9. 9. Differences by INTENT<br />Source: PompeuFabra University, Barcelona, July 2010<br />
    10. 10.
    11. 11.
    12. 12. Lessons for digital Marketers<br />Think about your searchers’ intent<br />Use organic and PPC listings intelligently<br />Consider how other listings will impact your own<br />Ensure universal search results are non-damaging<br />Meticulously maintain your page title and meta descriptions<br />
    13. 13.<br />