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Unlocking search psychology: how are your customers finding you?

In the digital age, businesses spend lots of time looking at the keywords shoppers use online but less energy determining why they choose them. SHELLY KRAMER says greater analysis of keyword selection might help to increase sales.

David Amerland, author of Google Semantic Search, said, “Real search is about providing valuable information when it’s really needed to those who are actually looking for it.”

Being ‘found’ by consumers has always been important for any business, especially retailers. People can’t buy from you if they don’t know you exist.

Of course, the Yellow Pages used to be the way most people started their shopping search but Google changed all that.

In a digital world, internet analytics are fundamental when it comes to allowing marketers to see the origin of their website visitors as well as what search terms brought them there.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking this information is no longer available, simply because of changes to Google’s algorithm.

For more than a decade, search queries have been a dominant factor in directing website traffic.

This has led to too much importance placed on too few keywords and still there hasn’t been enough effort on the part of marketers to determine why internet users select the keywords they use to search.

Is it popularity of a keyword? Does the education level of the user impact keyword selection? Do personality, ethnicity or other social and geographic factors play a role?

Why keyword research is important

Identifying keyword search terms is still a fundamental part of online marketing and central to the success of a vast range of business activities, including web development, messaging, digital advertising, remarketing and more.

Various changes in Google’s algorithm have shifted the focus of many content creators away from an over-reliance on keywords and toward the production of content that provides value to the individual.

However, it’s still fundamental to any online marketing strategy to determine the search queries one uses and how and why these differ between internet users.

Identifying keyword search terms is still a fundamental part of online marketing
and central to the success of a vast range of business activities

Avoid the cookie-cutter approach

Until now, the average business has looked at the average consumer one- dimensionally, as if all consumers are the same.

This completely undermines the huge impact of individual differences upon search behaviour and online decision-making.

Online retailing behemoths like Amazon use software that works to establish recommendations based on a user’s preference profile.

Similarly, marketers use retargeting ad campaigns to establish a more tailored and personalised approach to their marketing efforts.

Remarketing, the science of advertising that follows users around the web, is based on data related to those specific users, rather than an entire crowd. That is, users will see ads that relate directly to websites they alone have visited previously.

Research reveals that the average individual searches as many as 129 separate times a month; however, there is little investigation into how human differences and behavioural profiles may impact the way sentences and phrases are formed in the original search.

This begs quite a few questions: How do individual search queries differ? What patterns can be found in the differences between people in regard to search? What are the practical applications of these findings for marketers?

New research into search queries

Blue Nile Research (BNR) has surveyed web users about how they perform internet searches.

The goal was to better understand the differences between individuals and their approaches to search, as well as to try to determine real practical applications for marketers.

Knowing how people craft their searches is actually a matter of determining the linguistic patterns of the individual.

In order to facilitate this understanding, the BNR study set out to determine how people would approach search scenarios given specific tasks at hand.

The three scenarios provided in the study were as follows:

  • A technological issue: your coffee maker does not turn on;
  • A health issue: you have a swollen ankle;
  • An e-commerce issue: you are in the market for a new laptop.

While tools like Google’s Keyword Planner are helpful, there are still holes in this approach. These tools provide a glimpse into some of the possible searches similar to our initial term, but they are limited by the associations made within the current technologies.

For example, when asked to provide alternative search terms for the keyword “coffee”, the BNR study reported that Google’s tool returned generic results.

Unsurprisingly, survey respondents returned search terms that were considered “more human” and “more question-based”, the report said.

Hence, more market research into distinct audience segments and better understanding of the language, phrasing and common search terminology that a particular segment uses is critical.

This will help ensure that any keyword research and resulting search engine optimisation (SEO) strategy will be based on empirically-grounded insights and not guesswork.

People search differently

There are notable differences between those who searched in ‘fragment queries’ of two to three words and those who searched in ‘full queries’ of four or more words.

Fragment-query searchers appeared to be interested in the speed of their searches.

They would input the minimum amount of text to arrive at search results quickly, then open multiple links in order to find exactly what they were seeking.

"Identifying keyword search terms is still a fundamental part of online marketing and central to the success of a vast range of business activities."

Furthermore, they were happy to conduct follow-up searches if need be.

Full-query searchers were primarily focused on the depth of their searches. They took more time to phrase their questions to ensure they were more likely to find relevant content on the first search.

They hope to find a one-click solution, preferably at the top of the search results.

The BNR study found that respondents were split equally into fragment-query and full-query searchers and, not surprisingly, that search phrases varied wildly from person to person no matter which query group they existed within.

“Looking at how respondents search by number of words from a slightly different angle than above, we can see that the highest percentage of participants use two words in their query,” the study reported.

“Interestingly, the spread of responses was broad; no single query length had
as much as a third of respondents. This finding again reinforces our contention that individuals search differently, phrasing their query in distinct ways when faced with an uncertainty gap.

“This means marketers must be prepared with a strategy to be visible in the search results for the varied and distinct ways in which their audience might choose to search for their product or service.”

How, why, where, which and what

For years, copywriters have known the impact of phrasing when it comes to web engagement. It comes as no surprise then that there is a notable difference between prefixes when it comes to searches.

Phrases that started with ‘how’ were the most preferred search queries at 38 per cent, followed by ‘why’ (24 per cent) and ‘where’ (15 per cent), whereas ‘which’ and ‘what’ brought up the rear at 12 and 11 per cent, respectively.

Marketers have a tendency to put all their eggs in one basket – place too much focus on ‘how’ searches and you might end up neglecting the significant potential for traffic coming from the lesser-used ‘which’ or ‘what’ queries.

The findings of this research do not undermine the importance of keyword research. Instead, it provides a glimpse into the potential for the advancement of our understanding of search behaviour.

Web analytics and traditional keyword tools only manage to capture one part of the whole picture and research can offer insights into individual behavioural differences between searchers.

Makes sense, doesn’t it

As it was found that individuals differed to the point where no one query was used in over a third of searches, it may be considered that marketers do not yet have a thorough enough understanding of their audience.

By determining how search phrases differ by identity, marketers are able to create much more targeted content and advertisements that respond to what the individual may be after.

A thorough research process and well-crafted content will ultimately pay dividends to the savvy digital marketer.

As a retailer, how deeply do you research your audiences? Are you segmenting based on individual search patterns or still marketing with ‘tried and true’ keyword strategies?

Hopefully this article will force you to consider your approach if not change how you’re doing it altogether.

Shelly Kramer

Shelly Kramer is founder and CEO of V3 Broadsuite, a marketing agency specialising in the digital space. Visit:

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