Online Exclusive: Search Engine Marketing Not Simply a Numbers Game

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Recent studies by Double Click and comScore Networks show that while half of all buyers conduct search engine research before making a purchase, only 8 percent of searches result in an immediate purchase with consumers taking at least two weeks to conduct search engine research before making a purchase online.

But for search engine marketers who judge the success of a campaign solely on the number of clicks that lead to an immediate purchase, these recent findings serve as rude awakening.

The study, which tracked all relevant search activity of a panel of comScore's online shoppers 12 weeks before making purchases in September, zoned in on four different categories: Apparel, Computer Hardware, Sports Fitness and Travel. It found that nearly half online purchases is preceded by search engine research. While preliminary searches were done in each category, the amount of search activity varied between the different categories.

For instance, while only 2.5 searches were conducted by buyers on Sports/Fitness websites, travel buyers came in closer to six relevant searches in the 12-week period leading up to the transaction showing that consumers are willing to do their homework before spending large quantities of their hard earned cash. The same was true in the computer/hardware category with consumers still spending more of their research time on their next high-tech acquisition than on their next high fashion buy.

The study even serves as a reminder for retailers, at least online, that brand name doesn't guarantee sales. Nearly 75 percent of searches conducted were for generic terms and this continued all the way up to the time of purchase when search engine queries with the inclusion of brand names peaked, probably as a result of the consumer being able to determine his/her preference after weeks of research.

The study offers up a number of valuable hints to search engine marketers. First, and probably most important, search engine marketers should probably reanalyze their way of thinking about how a sale should be made. While everything on the Internet might seem instantaneous through the click of a mouse, search engine marketing cannot be viewed in the same way. With online shoppers taking a minimum of two weeks to research before making a purchase, search engine marketers will have to find new ways of measuring whether consumers making purchases on a particular Web site had initially discovered the site through earlier search engine research.

These new means of measurement could be as simple as requesting that visitors to a site identify how they found that particular site, offering visitors the option of providing their email to be contacted when new products or special deals are offered, or it can be as advanced as installing web analytics tools capable of tagging and tracking visitors to a particular website regardless of when they first arrived.

Another change that search engine marketers might have to make to the way they do business is in how they choose their key terms. More focus might need to be paid on generic terms early in a search engine marketing campaign saving the branded key terms for later in the campaign to respond to the way online consumers shop.

This study, one of very few of its kind, reiterates what those serious about search engine marketing already know: search engine marketing is not simply picking a number of words and throwing them into the title tag of a website. In a $9 billion Internet marketing industry, it takes doing your homework to find out what will really get consumers buying from a particular Web site.


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