The State of the Search Union

As the Internet continues to evolve, so have consumers’ behaviors and their approach to using the medium. Search Marketing specifically has experienced drastic changes in the past couple of years. Once novice, many consumers did not know how to find what they were looking for on the web, let alone which sites would best allow them to do so. The years of doing searches on engines such as Excite, Lycos, Alta Vista, and Netscape are long gone. Most have either been rolled up or put out of business.

The more interesting and somewhat unknown trends are the latest shifts that have taken place in the last couple years. The following are some top line statistics from a 2005 research study compiled by Dr. Deborah Fallows:

• 50% of searchers say they would have no problem no longer utilizing search engines and instead researching information traditionally; 32% say they can’t live without search engines; 17% said they could let them go tomorrow

• 38% of searchers are aware of the distinction between paid and unpaid results; 62% are not

Who could argue that a study done today would be drastically different a mere two years later. Today the number of users that say they could revert to researching information traditionally instead of by search engine is much less. Let’s face it, most of us today are dependent on search engines. Whether it’s trying to figure out the title of the new JJ Abrams movie set to come out in Jan 08 (Working Title: Cloverfield) or the best practices for treating a loved one with Alzheimer’s. When was the last time you went a day without doing a search, whether it be for knowledge or trivia?

The question is “What are consumers doing differently while searching?” The answer: Utilizing search engines to their fullest extent and getting the results they are looking for more quickly. In a study done by iProspect they were able to confirm the following:

• 62% of search engine users click on an entry on the first page of the search results, and 90% click on entries within the first 3 pages.

• In 2002, only 48% of users clicked on entries within the first page of search results.

Now let’s look into why. Granted some of the percent increase from the above statistic can be attributed to the evolution of search engines, but we put the primary focus for this on the user. Users have had years to become acclimated with the various search engines and now have become smarter with their searches.

The biggest finding as to what they are doing differently revolves around the specificity of their search query. In 2000 the average of number search words a user typed in was 1.6. Having the liberty to have worked on several search campaigns over the past few years, we can attest that regretfully some people still do this even today. In one of Google’s most recent search learning documents they quoted the 2007 number being 3.6 (more than double what it was 7 years ago). Two recent studies, one done by rankstat.com and the other by onestat.com came up with similar findings:

• According to a Jan ’07 study by Rankstat.com: 28% use 2 words, 27% use 3 words, 17% use 4 words, and only a mere 16% use 1 word

• OneStat.com did a study in Feb ‘07 confirming that from July 2004 to July 2006 the number of short searches is declining and the number of longer searches are growing

In a recent keynote speech given by John Smart, founder and president of the Acceleration Studies Foundation, he predicted that in the next year or two the average query will be closer to 5 words. He then went on to say that after 5 there would be a likely jump to 11 words. Initially this sounds a bit excessive, but his reasoning had us second guess ourselves almost immediately. The reason for the jump, as he explained was that 11 is the average number of words that people use to ask someone a question.

What he is basically saying is that in the future of search we will eventually interact with search engines just like we do humans (in terms of asking questions). Currently when we want to find information from a search engine, we tailor our question into the most relevant keywords we feel will give us the desired results. If we can get what we are looking for from typing in an average of 3.6 keywords, what’s to stop that from one day in the near future turning into an actual question? It’s not likely that the head programmers for the Big Three are completely thrilled with the state of search engines today and see no room for improvement. It’s safe to say they spend every day trying to figure out ways to improve the user experience with the engine(s) and to bring it to the level where it is identical to how we communicate with one another today.

Search marketing is in its evolution phase and will continue to grow by leaps and bounds over the next few years. This is a testament to the brains behind them as well as the increased savvy of the way users interact with the engines. Even today users can search for not only information, but also multimedia such as pictures and video. The days of people typing in the one word query “home” when what they are interested in is real estate in their area will soon become a thing of the past (although we can speak from experience that believe it or not it still happens today!). All we can do as marketers is make sure we stay on top of the latest trends in our respective space to assure we stay in tune with the audience and continue to provide value to our clients.

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2 Responses to “The State of the Search Union”


  1. 1 dmarine40 September 14, 2007 at 8:53 pm

    Very insightful post and with some great stats. I think what we’ll also see is more and more “search assist” types of functionality where the average user can go to someone (or something) to help them with their search queries.

    Eventually I think we’ll see search married with voice automated speech recognition tools to make it an even simpler search process. If you haven’t tried 1-800-GOOG411 (Google’s free directory assistance), you should and you’ll see where the application will evolve.

  2. 2 avespucci September 17, 2007 at 6:05 pm

    Thanks for the feedback Mr. Marine. There actually already are some search engines out there utilizing the “search assist” functionality as you call it. There’s a search engine out now, ChaCha (www.chacha.com) where you can enter a typical search query, yet there is the human element function for those interested. If you don’t find the results you are looking for, or simply would like some help, you click the “Search with Guide” button where you can call a member of their search team to help you locate the information you are looking for. Agreed though the human element will be incorporated more and more as search itself evolves.


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