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Searchonomics: Search Statistics Made Fun

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Whoever said statistics about search must be dry and boring hasn't experienced presentations from two data giants of the search world, Geoff Ramsey, CEO of eMarketer and Bill Tancer, General Manager, Global Research for Hitwise.

A special report from the Search Engine Strategies conference, February 27-March 2, 2006, New York, NY.

Geoff Ramsey began his presentation discussing the five mega consumer marketing trends that explain why search is so hot today:

1. Consumer skepticism and resistance to advertising. According to Insight Express, "consumer trust in advertising has plunged 41% over the past three years" and only "10% of consumers say they "trust" ads today."

2. In the varied world of today's media, the consumer is increasingly in control. A 2005 study by Yankelovich showed that almost 70% of consumers were actively looking for ways to block, opt-out, or eliminate advertising.

3. Media fragmentation is out of control—the average household today has over 100 television choices.

4. Given the above, the pressure is on to improve targeting—to achieve relevance and minimize waste.

5. Marketers held to new levels of accountability—now marketers have to prove the advertising is working.

Online ad projections on an upward trend

Next, Geoff presented a chart showing how all the leading researchers who include search projecting a range of 22% to 37% growth in online ad spending. Geoff also mentioned that according to the December 2005 BtoB magazine, "72% of senior marketing execs worldwide plan to increase their spending online in 2006."

This upward trend makes many ask, "Why are more marketing dollars moving online?" A 2004 Advertising.com study showed 61% of marketers considered the Internet an effective media for providing measurable ROI. Geoff went on to read a quote from former Jupiter Research Analyst Gary Stein who said, "68% of advertisers using the Internet report confidence in their return on investment."

"The trend line in the search market is even steeper slope than we saw on the online advertising because it's been growing faster," said Ramsey. In 2005 the estimated spend for search advertising was $5 billion. In 2009, the number is expected to double to $10 billion.

A big part of the reason lies with consumers. Using the example of buying an automobile, Geoff illustrated how the internet has become an integral part of the buying process. According to J.D. Power & Associates, "89% of new-vehicle buyers use a search engine or portal at some point in their research, and 94% of used-vehicle buyers do so."

Why search marketing?

Geoff identified two fundamental reasons why search works. First, search delivers the specific, relevant information consumers are looking for—just when they need it Second, search delivers quantifiable results and a positive ROI (if you do it right!)

Using data from the December 2005 SEMPO study, Geoff identified the major reasons advertisers are using search engine marketing. Surprisingly, the number one reason at 62% was to increase brand awareness. Number two (at 60%) was to sell brand awareness. This data reveals that search engine advertising is used as both a direct response and branding tool.

Geoff then compared different search marketing tactics and identified where search dollars are spent today. According to the December 2005 SEMPO/Intellisurvey report, 83% of online dollars are spent on paid placement and only 11.2% is spent on organic search. Contrast that with the findings from the iProspect study that show 61% of internet searches think natural listings are more relevant.

A 2004 Enquiro study found that B2B users had a 63% preference for organic. Interestingly, according to a 2005 MarketingSherpa report, "organic SEO gets a higher conversion rate than does sponsored search." The conclusion? "Advertisers should be spending more time, effort, and money towards improving their natural search results," said Ramsey.

Geoff concluded his presentation with a discussion of future online search trends. He predicted that behavioral and contextual marketing will take targeting to a higher level. Video and mobile search will grow. Geoff recommended we pay particular attention to vertical and local search.

Quoting a 2005 Kelsey Group report, Geoff tells us that "55% of Internet users use search engines to find info about local firms. The estimated spending on local search was only $162 million. In 2009, it's estimated to be $3,380 million. Since close to 70% of small businesses don't have websites, they can't currently do paid online advertising. Therefore, local search will need some development before it can really take off. Geoff sees the advancement of Pay Per Call and the creation of more rich information such as maps and satellite pictures as key factors for local search because they will help people better evaluate businesses.

Search Data for the Hard Core

Next up was Bill Tancer, aka "The Data Geek" as he is affectionately known by the search community. Bill has the perfect job for someone with a lifelong fascination with numbers.

Bill talked at length about "how we search" and about what search terms rule online. Interestingly, navigational and brand search terms continue to dominate the top of the list. MySpace is today's hot search query, capturing five of the top 20 terms. Bill mentioned that top search terms are a great proxy for brand equity as well as what is top-of-mind for consumers.

One amazing fact that Bill threw out was people still search for search engines—"Google" was the number 10 most popular brand term searched. Bill explains that many people search for these well known sites through a search engine because it is sometimes quicker to type the name into the search box than to type out the entire domain name. Thus, many people are using the search box as a proxy for the URL line.

Bill discussed how seasonality affects the popularity of search terms. He showed a chart showing the seasonality of prom dresses over a 12 month period. The subject of "prom dresses" came on Bill's radar when the search term suddenly popped up as one of the top ten searches. When they plotted the data out over a one year timeline, Bill and his analysts noticed a complete pattern. They then contacted a brick and mortar company that sold prom dresses and compared the online interest with actual offline purchases. Interestingly, for this particular seasonal topic, the online interest started earlier then offline purchase behavior. Bill pointed out how having knowledge of these seasonality trends and the difference in lead times in online and off line interest can equip the marketer to make better advertising budgeting decisions.

Search term ambiguity is alive and well. Bill and his associates were conducting a word pair study on the search terms "boots" versus "sandals." Looking at the data, they were initially puzzled by the spike in traffic on the term "sandals" in January. They had expected winter time to show a decline in the search frequency for this warm weather apparel. They finally realized that Sandals is a popular resort and the term had an increase in January because searchers were actively looking for a tropical break from the January cold.

Bill also explained how search term data can provide economic insight into consumer sentiment well in advance of current leading indicators. Using the example of gas prices and searches for "hybrids," Bill showed a chart that documented when gas prices rose; there was a corresponding spike in searches for hybrids. Bill's chart also showed a loose negative correlation between "hybrid" and "SUV."

One of the most valuable take-aways from Bill's session was the amount of insight you can gather about brands from using search term data. The volume of brand search terms is an effective way to track brand equity over time. Using a chart that compared searches for "pontiac" to visits after a marketing campaign to encourage people to search for Pontiac, the data showed a spike in searches on the brand name "pontiac."

Bill's other take away message was to encourage marketers to go beyond looking at search term data alone. Instead, it's important to look at search terms in relation to seasonality, word pairs, economics and brand. Bill closed the session by reminding us all that "data rocks."

Christine Churchill is President of KeyRelevance.com, a full service search engine marketing firm.

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