STUDY: SEARCH ENGINES AS POPULAR AS CONTENT PAGES

Consumers Routinely Go Through Multiple Pages of Search Results

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Online users are no longer surfers, instead they have become full-fledged searchers. By the fourth quarter of 2005, consumers were visiting search sites as often as they visited other types of sites.
One finding suggests it is not crucial for marketers' sites to be at the very top of the list of search results -- because consumers now frequently pore over multiple results pages to find what they want.

Visits to the four types of sites -- search, e-commerce, content and communications -- are split roughly in four equal parts, with visits to search sites comprising 24% of consumers’ time, according to a new report on search marketing by online market research firm eMarketer.

Search popularity
“In terms of numbers of visitors, search is as popular as commerce or communications sites,” said David Hallerman, senior analyst, who authored the report.

While consumers spent just 4.7% of their time online on search sites, some 11.8% of the Web pages they visited were search pages, according to data gathered in the fourth quarter of 2005.

That consumers spent such short sessions on search sites speaks to the success of search, Mr. Hallerman said. “That’s one reason Google, which is successful at search, is creating potential other revenue sources,” he said. “That’s the nature of successful search.” The goal of a strong search engine is to attract visitors, help them find their information quickly, and then send them off the search site.

Multiple search results pages
The research also shows that people don’t just stop at the first page on search engines, according to the research. They look at more pages on a search site than they do on a content or commerce site. The takeaway for marketers is that they "don’t need to just have the top bid to be successful in search,” Mr. Hallerman said.

As users become more adept at search, their searches get increasingly complex, moving beyond one or two terms in a keyword, Mr. Hallerman said. That’s why the number of keywords marketers use in paid search campaigns nearly doubled from 9,100 in September 2004 to 17,314 in September 2005, he said, quoting a study by MarketingSherpa.

Before making a purchase, online users visit three types of sites: search engines, retail sites and manufacturer or brand sites. According to three different studies from which Mr. Hallerman reached his conclusions, "Consumers may visit these sites in different orders, but they come around to all three."

Direct response and branding
That is why marketers need to be sure that they buy keywords that best describe their products from a branding point of view. “Search is truly a direct response and a branding medium because of the way users mix them up when conducting research,” he said.

Indeed, some 77% of companies with more than 500 employees said that they use search to increase or enhance brand awareness. And 70% of those companies said they use search to generate leads.

For media buyers, consumer behavior is increasingly important in a search environment where keyword pricing is climbing and search spending is still growing at a nice clip, though at a slower rate than it has in past years.

In data from DoubleClick’s Performics division, the average cost per keyword increased from $22.50 in September 2005 to $54.62 in December 2005, a leap of 114%. The report noted that seasonal effects were a big part of this trend, combined with lower-priced keywords making up smaller and smaller percentages of campaigns.

But search pricing “is a moving target,” Mr. Hallerman cautioned. “Because there can be thousands of keywords that marketers are bidding on, to nail down averages gives an incomplete picture of the search market.”

Paid search growing rapidly
Spending for paid search is expected to grow this year by 26.2% to $6.5 billion. That’s slower than growth in 2005 of 33.2%, in 2004 of 51.4% and the astronomical spike in 2003 of 174.3%. The slowdown in growth is due to the market maturing and the complexity of what is available online, leading to the need for consumers to do more searches than ever, among other factors. But in a mature market, “even low two-figure ad spending gains represent significant opportunities,” Mr. Hallerman said.

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