Navigational Search: Turn Right at the Big Chicken

When asked for directions, most people use one of two methods of response: they either offer you detailed turn-by-turn instructions with street names, or they use landmarks to guide you around.

If you live in, or have visited Atlanta, how many times have you been offered directions based on which way to turn at the Big Chicken? It's like the nexus of the northern Atlanta universe. One method is not necessarily better than the other, but I'll bet you that you figure out how to get to the Big Chicken faster than you would find your way to "12 Cobb Parkway North" (the actual Big Chicken address).

Big Chicken Atlanta

Search activity can be quite similar at times. Even with an end destination in mind (let's say Amazon.com in this case) when you begin your search, you may enter "DVDs" because your journey begins in a more obtuse fashion and maybe there's a better route to good "DVDs" than to go directly to Amazon. Each link on the page is like a street corner, ensuring that you stop, look, read, and review before moving on to the next step in your navigation process.

But imagine entering "Amazon.com" as your search term, and you now have your landmark specific directions. You aren't concerned with any particular street corner or stop light along the way, but simply using the landmark -- in this case the Amazon.com website -- as your point of reference. The search page now becomes quite focused for you because you're only on the lookout for Amazon.com, right?

A navigational search is defined as any search phrase that doubles as a website address (think anything containing the suffix .com, .net, .org, etc). The scenario mapped out above represents an ongoing SEM and SEO issue for all website owners.

How often are searchers searching not only for your brand name, but your actual web address? Should you bid on it (given that you will already be the top organic listing)? Is it worth the money? Are your competitors bidding on your address? Do searchers actually do this? Let's look at the data.

About 12.5 billion searches were performed in July on the Big 5 search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing, Ask, AOL Search) in the United States. Of those, approximately 1.9 billion were navigational in nature, or more than 15 percent of all searches in a given month.

Of the 1.9 billion navigational searches, 83 percent were with the ".com" suffix. No major surprises here, but the notable fact is that the ".com" percentage is decreasing year over year, down from 85 percent in July 2009. As the global Internet keeps expanding and ICANN continually revamps their domain registration rules, we're seeing large increases in search activity for the less popular web address suffixes.

Top 5 Web Address Searches
(ranked by volume) - July 2010
.com 1.57 Billion
.net 90 Million
.org 78 Million
.edu 39 Million
.gov 32 Million

The fact is that the ".com" web address search marketplace is a bit saturated, but the alternative suffixes are growing at decent, if not fantastic rates. Since last July, ".edu" is up more than 80 percent; ".org" is up 12 percent; even ".tv" is up almost 85 percent.

As an organization looking to corner valuable future Internet real estate, alternative suffix addresses should be part of your consideration. Search activity is always a killer proxy for the evolving lexicon of the public, so don't discount the growth in the alternative suffix searching.

When a traveler (or in this case, a searcher) is in unfamiliar territory, there is no better navigation tool for them than landmarks. Based on the enormous portion of searches that involve web addresses, determining a navigational search marketing strategy is by all means worth your time.

Just do your best to be the Big Chicken and not the third stop light past the highway overpass.

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