Searcher vs. browser: Know your user's intent

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Marketers need to distinguish the difference between users who are in browse mode and those in search mode. Users in search mode are intent-driven consumers who know what they are looking for and should be contextually targeted, while those browsing without intent should be behaviorally targeted.

Never favor one type of targeting over another; both work and will work well if they are used at the right times, said Tim Vanderhook, founder and CEO of Specific Media. Understanding the consumer's mindset in the online environment allows marketers to choose the most appropriate type of targeting for their campaigns.

"There is the person that goes to the car sales floor to proverbially kick the tires," said Erik Qualman, head of marketing at Travelzoo. "They are just checking out what is out there. It is the first part of the sales funnel. Most likely the cars they are checking out are the result of them seeing some brand marketing on television of what looks cool or a vehicle they can see themselves in."

In contrast, the search-mode user knows what is out there and is looking to narrow down his or her choices. When users are in search mode they are usually head down and looking for something specific.

"It follows the old mantra of SFO (search, find, obtain): People don't surf the Web, they search the Web, a true testament to how powerful the search engines are as the Internet continues to grow," Mr. Vanderhook said.

"However, in contrast to this, when a user is browsing through different pages it is usually more for purposes of entertainment and general interest," he said. "When a user is browsing through content pages it can really tell a story about who they are and what they are interested in."

The behavior of a searcher reveals what the user is interested in and looking for, while the behavior of a browser reveals what their general interests are and allows marketers to make certain assumptions about this user.

Mr. Vanderhook said this is the continuing battle of contextual targeting versus behavioral targeting.

"What [Specific Media has] found from our internal studies across numerous campaigns is that contextual targeting works best when a user is in heavy search mode as they are looking to research a product or service that is going to fulfill a need of theirs," he said.

Users are more willing to engage with an ad that is relevant to the context of their search behavior because they are looking to get more information about something directly relevant to what they are doing at that time.

Behavioral targeting works well when a user is in browse mode because it shows them an ad for a product or service - relevant to their previous Web surfing activity - when they usually have more time to explore alternatives, Mr. Vanderhook said.

"Understand the nature of your buyers and the timeline of the decision process and the steps involved in order to effectively target the messages in the sales funnel," Mr. Qualman said.

Mr. Vanderhook said contextual targeting will lead to a lower click-through rate but higher engagement and time spent on the advertiser's Web site. When a user is in search mode behavioral targeting will lead to a higher click-through and lower engagement because the user is interrupted from another task.

"The combination of targeting will ultimately lead you to successful campaigns if you are working with a partner that can offer you both," Mr. Vanderhook said. "Using both forms of targeting gets the maximum amount of visitors sent to your site and an increase in time spent as they research what you have to offer them."

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