A new release from StatMarket has found that web users are more likely to find web sites through direct navigation than a year ago, but this gain hasn't been at the expense of search engine usage.
As of February 6, 2002, about 52 percent of Internet users found web sites via direct navigation (entering a URL into a browser) or through bookmarks. This was up from 46 percent, a year ago.
In contrast, "surfing" links to find web sites dipped, dropping from 46 percent a year ago to about 41 percent in the most recent survey.
Search engine usage stayed the same, when compared to a year ago, with about 7 to 8 percent of Internet users finding web sites via search engines.
That low percentage surprised people, when it first came out last year, given how popular search engines are as a web resource. However, another study last year backed up the StatMarket figures. More importantly, the "low" figures don't reflect the importance of search engines for people in initially finding web sites they like, which they'll later visit directly.
"The search engines are going to remain really vital. People are going to find sites via search engines and then navigate directly to them," said Geoff Johnston, vice president of product marketing for StatMarket.
It also underscores the need to make a good impression, to avoid what I call the "search gap." This is where search engines may deliver you plenty of initial visitors, but a poor experience at your web site may not compel them to come back for repeat visits.
Johnston also stresses that branding is important. People not only have to like what they see, but they also need to understand how to find you again.
"Once people find you, your brand has to be important enough for people to want to come back again," Johnston said. "That's also why the site names need to be easy to remember."
This could be one reason not to fall into the hyphenated domain name trap. This is where people register domain names like buy-athletic-running-shoes.com, in hopes that by having the keywords in the domain name, they'll rank better with search engines.
This may help minimally with some crawler-based search engines, but there were also rumblings at the "Spam Police" session of the last Search Engine Strategies conference that the crawlers are beginning to discriminate against exceptionally long hyphenated names. That's because they can see a correlation between these names and spamming.
Hyphenated names are more effective with directories, especially at Yahoo, where having the terms in your URL can have a big impact, if you can't get them in your title or description. Indeed, it's almost embarrassing to see how Yahoo is allowing many mirror sites that are operating with hyphenated names through. For this reason, I think you'll eventually see Yahoo begin cracking down on this.
Overall, I still feel the hyphenated names give you minimal gains but with a very large potential loss. After someone arrives at your site, will they remember the domain name that got them there? With a long hyphenate, probably not. With a good, catchy brand name, they are more likely to return.
Branding on the Web Takes Hold as Web "Surfing" Steadily Declines
StatMarket, Feb. 13, 2002
Release from StatMarket about the new figures.
Avoiding The Search Gap
The Search Engine Report, May 2, 2001
Longer look at what the search gap is and how to keep visitors coming back -- be sure to follow the link at the top to the members-version of the article.
Longer Domain Names Arrive
The Search Engine Update, Jan. 4, 2000
Past article that looks at the issues involved with hyphenated domain names.