At a recent client workshop, we spent a great deal of time discussing search: paid search inclusion, PPC and natural/organic search. Its an increasing area of media spend, and a these days its rare if one of the above phrases isn’t part of a brief, even if the client doesn’t always know exactly what they’re asking for.
A couple of interesting trends have started appearing over the past months though. First of all, an increasing number of people type URLs directly into their search engine toolbar. Even if they know the exact URL (ie. adidas.com), users are typing that into Google rather than the address bar. This maybe because most modern browsers have a search bar right next to the location bar, it maybe because many users have Google as their homepage, it might be due to users liking the listing of related site before they click through.
Users also seem to remember the search phrases which led to them finding a site, rather than the URLs themselves. Whilst bookmarks, delicious, magnolia etc. are fantastic tools for aggregating your browsing highlights, more often than not, the occasional site which you stumbled across (or use in a more utilitarian adhoc fashion, and didn’t warrant bookmarking), but can only kinda remember the URL, search is an invaluable method of getting back to that URL. Last month, someone asked me if I knew of a website load testing tool – i didn’t but i googled, and found a couple which suited the task at hand. More recently, I was asked again, but didn’t remember the name of any of the tools. I did, however, remember the exact search phrase I used, and pop – there were the sites again. The person with with the query even remarked on how quickly i’d found it.
Cast your mind back to the good old days of the internet, at the end of Friends there used to be a ‘AOL Keyword: Friends’ at the end of the credits or adverts. This search term was a way in which AOL and Compuserve used to work (being an Online Service Provider and portal to lots of their own content, rather than an Internet Service Provider and a gateway to the bigger internets). However, after a few years in hibernation the concept has returned. The latest campaign from the Department for Transport is centred around making sure your car is effecient, and not belching CO2 unneccesarily. Rather than a URL at the end of their TV spot, a booming voice over, and large block of text says “Search on ‘Act on CO2‘”. They do have a URL of course, but “http://www.dft.gov.uk/ActOnCO2/” isn’t that catchy. Searching on their suggested terms returns a large highlighted (paid) inclusion at the top of the page, and their site as the 2nd link in the natural search.
There’s a real psychological benefit in asking your users to search on the topic, rather than providing a URL. A googler is going to think – “Hey, the government is telling me to go find out the facts for myself, not just pushing the party line at me! Brilliant”. Research shows any results the top couple are disregarded by users in the main, so its maybe a false benefit to the user, but thats marketing isn’t it?
Of course there are downsides to that strategy – there is also a URL not too far down the page from the Association of British Drivers, claiming that the government is lying to you, and global warming cannot be stopped – thats the tradeoff.
What do these trends mean? Well, if you’re a marketer, regardless of how well known your URL or online presence is known, you need to support it with a search strategy. Creating your site in such a way that search engines can index it fully is a sensible approach to adopt anyway, as it is likely that this will help accessibility issues too – and when your campaign is over, and budgets are pointing to the next hot topic, your content is still available to users who are genuinely interested in finding out about something that was ‘so last summer’.