Men Are From Mars, Women Send E-Mail

Two weeks ago, the Pew Internet and American Life Project came out with a new gender study. The upshot, it seems, is that traditional gender psychology plays itself out online: men are more self-assured and women are the better communicators. But what does that mean for your marketing through search?

Before we give any answers, let’s just go through some of the facts.

Men are more self-assured in the online information glut. Men are more comfortable than women in navigating the frenetic, crazy mess that is the Information Superhighway. Nineteen percent of men, as opposed to 24 percent of women, feel an online information overload, which is no doubt related to the fact that men are more confident — and more frequent — searchers: “Fifty-four percent of men and 40 percent of women have self-confidence as searchers,” and 43 percent of men, as opposed to 39 percent of women, “use search engines on an average day.” When setting out to find something new, men are more likely to start from a search engine, and women are more likely to start with a site they already know, and to follow links from there.

Women communicate better than men. Women, the study says, are the better online communicators. Women use e-mail “in a more robust way” than men do — “sharing news … planning events [and] forwarding … funny stories” to their family and friends. On the other hand, “[m]en use e-mail more than women to communicate with organizations.”

The shopping differences. In the words of the study, “[M]ore online men than women perform online transactions” (although it’s a small margin); and 82 percent of men, as opposed to 77 percent of women, “expect to find information on particular products they want to purchase.” That confidence, again, is probably related to men’s greater confidence in navigating online information in general.

All of this is just a rehashing of offline gender roles: men don’t stop for directions, because they think they can find things themselves. Women talk with their friends more than men do.

Now let’s talk about how the online differences should affect your search engine marketing.

What are your goals? In search marketing, the conversions you most want visitors to take translate into the landing pages you show, your ad messaging, and, in many cases, the keywords you bid highest on. So considering gender when organizing your conversion goals might be very worthwhile.

Here’s one example. Maybe, in addition to selling products, your site might feature an “e-mail a friend” button, as well as a “subscribe to our newsletter” option. Based on the different ways women and men use e-mail, women might be more responsive to the “e-mail a friend” button; men might be more responsive to the “subscribe to our newsletter” option. And for the greatest efficiency, you might want to focus your search efforts accordingly-driving more men to sign on to your newsletter, and driving more women to e-mail their friends about your products.

Search results pages versus contextual ads. If men like to get their information via search engines first, but women like to go to the standard websites they already know, you might consider advertising through search results page ads more heavily for men, and using contextual search more for women. Since women rely on e-mail more than men do, Gmail might also be an interesting place to consider as a platform for women’s advertising.

Messaging for the sexes. As we’ve said, men think they know what they’re doing when it comes to finding information online. Women are less sure of themselves. So it might be worthwhile to gear ad messaging/landing page combinations differently for women and men. Think about sending messaging to women that emphasizes how easy it is to find things on your site, and using landing pages that go the extra mile in letting women know they’ve come to the right place. In your ad messaging, that could play into a decision about whether to use a phrase like “great selection,” “low price,” or “save x percent” in a search ad. Meanwhile, landing page cross-sell and up-sell attempts might work better on men — who are more comfortable with more information, and who might be more ready to make a purchase online — than for women.

Testing: a word of caution. Before you go and make two entirely different campaigns — one for men and another for women — keep in mind that the trends aren’t universal. Everything depends on the particular demographic you’re selling to, what kinds of products and services you offer, and maybe even the time of year, where you are in the election cycle, the most recent winner in the World Series — any number of factors.

The only way to really know if a theory works is by testing it.

And the more advanced your testing capabilities are, the better positioned you’ll be to make the right tests, and ultimately the right approaches for your campaign. The simpler your testing capabilities, the more you’ll be forced to either stick with the conventional approaches — because doing anything else would just be a shot in the dark.

Regardless, talk to your SEM management about what kind of testing you can do. If your testing capabilities let you do so with minimal risk, then advertising differently along gender lines might be a powerful way to communicate with your audience on an entirely new, far more efficient level.

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