Why Are Search Engines So Crucial for Marketers?

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Though the Internet has given marketers the chance to evolve or, perhaps more accurately, "invent" business models based on transactions, interactions or entertainment, Internet use still is driven by the desire of consumers for one thing: information.

Web sites empower consumers by giving them the information to make purchasing and other decisions. For consumers, information is power, and they pursue it "actively," to fulfill a need or solve a problem. This proactive online search for information gives marketers a "window to influence" a user's impending purchase.

As marketers, we need to realize that "active" searches for information are the initiation drivers for a very large proportion of Internet sessions. If you want to drive traffic to your Web site, search engines are the No. 1 choice. According to eMarketer, almost 85 percent of U.S. Internet users say they seek information through search engines. Only e-mail (and news sites when there is breaking news) ranks as a more popular online activity than search engine use. Also, 68 percent of respondents thought search engines are a fair, unbiased source of information, and 87 percent said they find the information they are looking for "most of the time" or "always" when they use an engine.

A consumer invariably has a favorite search engine, which in some instances has become his or her universal "reference source" - the "buddy who knows about cars," the salesperson in the shoe store or the magazine article in House and Garden.

Defining a problem or need is different for everyone: Highly articulate people may be able to express it well verbally while others may be better able to do so in writing. Consumers use words differently, with varied effect.

When consumers have a need, they search for information to fulfill it. Whether they are seeking information on new cars or browsing for a dress shirt, most users turn to search engines to look for answers. They do this by using an average of 2.4 words in a phrase.

Although the words that consumers use affect the search engines' results - and it is the creative (the title and description) that entices consumers to click on the listing (key promotional messages are important here) - it is mainly the products' attributes that determine whether a customer buys a particular car or purchases that new shirt.

All of these attributes contribute to the success or failure of the consumer's search experience. The words they use to search, the engine they use, the creative message they see and the product attributes they learn about all affect their purchase expectations, their knowledge of the solutions available for the need they are trying to fulfill, whether or not they purchase, and post-sale behavior.

Marketers traditionally have been able to influence this decision-making process over a long period of time. Now, however, search engines give customers critical, relevant knowledge nearly instantly, and the supplier/customer relationship has changed and will continue to do so.

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