Study: Most Clicks Come From Simple Searches

Despite some evidence of more sophisticated consumer search habits, a vast majority of clicks in search results come from one- or two-word queries, according to a new study.

Search engine marketing firm iProspect reported yesterday that an analysis of search optimization campaigns it has run during the past five years found that 39 percent of all clicks on client Web sites came from single-word searches. Including two-word queries, the total rises to 88 percent. The study did not include clicks on paid search listings.

“There's a perception in the marketplace that you shouldn't target a single-word query because it's too hard,” said Fredrick Marckini, CEO of Watertown, MA-based iProspect. “I think this shatters that.”

Marckini noted that iProspect's client base of well-known companies has a “structural advantage” in garnering high placement on search engines, thanks to the likelihood they have drawn attention and links to their site.

The iProspect findings contradict recent research showing increasing sophistication of consumer searching habits. Dutch research firm OneStat conducted a study early this year of 2 million consumer searchers. It found 52 percent used one- or two-word queries.

Marckini said the findings of iProspect's study should be applied to search optimization, where a Web site is designed to show up in algorithmic search results. Unlike paid search, there is no increased cost to high traffic volume, even if it doesn't convert well.

“Paid search is a whole different animal,” he said. “In organic search, there's no incremental cost.”

Search engines are banking on greater sophistication of searches to better match consumers and advertisers. The “search tail” of multiple-word queries offers a way to increase search inventory for advertisers. Since these searches are specific, they are thought to yield more qualified leads. For now, with paid search bidding concentrated on simple terms, more complex keywords are also cheaper.

Nate Elliott, an analyst with Jupiter Research, said single-word queries may still represent a big proportion of search volume, but more often than not they do not offer a high return.

“That click is going to cost a ton of money and give you a consumer who hasn't moved very far down the purchase funnel,” he said. “It's a lot of traffic, but it's mostly untargeted and unqualified.”

The iProspect study found consumers are slowly gaining sophistication. One-word searches dropped from 51 percent of search referrals in 2002 to 39 percent in 2004. Two-word search referrals increased in the same period from 37 percent to 49 percent.

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