Searcher Behavior

From SES NYC 2005 | Return to Table of Contents

This session focused on what searchers did during their sessions online and how their actions can lead to better targeting and performance by marketers.


First up is Keynote/Vividence’s Dr. Bonny Brown (not sure what her doctorate is in, as she doesn’t mention it). Bonny talks about customer perspective and how marketers think too little about the ways searchers behave and think during their time online. Bonny says that gaps in expectations are what really fuel satisfaction levels – a dissidence means a happy or unhappy customer. She notes a study that shows satisfaction levels vs. ad-clicking levels:

  1. Google 748 753
  2. Yahoo! 645 679
  3. MSN 572 605
  4. Ask 560 588 – notes that they are the most effective in getting ad clicks and have the least user satisfaction.

The numbers above – the first column shows a study conducted 9 months ago (May 2004), the second, a later study from 3 months ago (November 2004). Bonny now says that 1 in 5 searchers express frustration during their search and that the more specific a query the higher the frustration levels- indicating to me that search engines are better at broad, common terms than at deep, specific terms.

From Keynote’s study, here are some interesting results:

  • 95% – Used Google often
  • 64% – Primarily Used Google
  • 50% – Will Use a Different Search Engine if Frustrated
  • 33% – Use a Toolbar
  • 17% – Use a Different Search Engine depending on the type of query

Bonny re-iterates that relevance is the #1 driving factor, then cites some additional stats from their study:

  • ¾ of users began their search through an engine/portal
  • 48% used Google at some time
  • 29% used Yahoo! At some time
  • 8% used MSN at some time

Bonny closes by talking about something called “Pharma” which is used for their studies, and mentions the users’ perception of “credibility of information” and how users judge this to decide where to go and what to do.


Next up is Gordon Hotchkiss, the CEO of Enquiro. Gordon is showing some fascinating studies of eye-tracking. These studies literally detail the movement and focus of users’ eyeballs during a search session at Google and how the page is perceived by a user. Gordon talks about how the different users will show different behavior, but that most users are remarkably similar when it comes to their eye patterns across the SERPs. As many of us know, rank and position are, in Gordon’s words, “The Whole Deal.”

Gordon quotes some statistics from his study:

  • Click-through rates for the organic positions are 1st, 27.4%; 2nd, 19.5%; 3 rd, 12.8%
  • Click-through rates for paid positions are 1st 51%, (Gordon doesn’t show beyond position 1)

A quote from Gordon reveals some interesting behavior – “Over time, bad searches will result in lower confidence and users pay more attention to other factors.” For example, more listings will be examined and more attention will be paid to the URL name, company name, and other information provided in the SERPs. From here, Gordon shows us the slides of the images from the study, showing where the eye focuses on the page. The pattern is what he calls, an “F” pattern, due to the horizontal, short vertical, horizontal and short vertical pattern that defines most of what searchers see on the page. He refers to the area that sees 80%+ of users’ eyeball activity as search’s “Golden Triangle”. Gordon does note that among those who are unsatisfied with the search results they initially see, 60% will scroll down “below the fold” to see results 5-10.

It’s important to mention that Gordon’s study is only for searchers at Google. He mentions to the audience somewhat tounge-in-cheek that he’d love to get funding to look at more search engines and even websites.

Gordon mentions a few items that can influence click-through behavior more strongly in the SERPs – helpful, relevant keywords (notes that Google will bold these in the results), trusted URLs & brands and of course, positioning.

Some numbers on visibility:

  • 100% visibility in the top 3 listings
  • 85% visibility in pos. 4 listings
  • 60% visibility in pos. 5 listings
  • 50% visibility in pos. 6-8
  • 20-30% visibility in pos. 9-10

Gordon notes that the last 5-10 positions receive additional scrutiny by those searchers who do see them. He calls them “more deliberate searchers”.


Last up is Cam Balzer from Performics/Doubleclick, who I saw speak earlier today. Cam dives right in to some interesting research finds from Performics. He talks about how search activity is often leading to a transaction, but not necessarily in a short timeframe. Cam discusses the importance of measuring beyond the “converting click” and how important it can be to measure beyond “same session value.”

Cam’s study watched 30 e-commerce sites in 4 unique verticals over a 30-day period. The study measured both natural and paid search visits. Some of the stats:

  • ½ of buyers made a relevant search before purchasing
  • 2.5-6 is the Average number of searches in the 12 weeks leading p to a purchase
  • Majority of activity is in generic keywords (this was even higher for the apparel vertical)
  • 92% of searchers used generic, 27% used branded (at some point)
  • Branded search activity peaks immediately prior to purchase vs. heavy weigh early in the non-branded/generic terms (this is lower in the computer vertical)

In all categories, over ½ of buyers made last relevant search 2 or more weeks before purchase (this emphasizes long-term metrics and Cam suggests at least a 30-day cookie drop). Cam says, “prior generic search does influence purchase” and that this leads to a branded search later. He warns to watch the “full time horizon”. Cam also mentions the use of Google’s Ad Automater, which automatically creates ads from a given feed of products. This ends the session. I didn’t record anything of note during the Q+A (sorry).