User Empowerment: Search Engines and Search Engine Adversiting

Today’s UseIt newsletter by Jakob Nielsen puts the usability of search engines among the leading factors of web usability:

“Search engines are the archetypical embodiment of the mastery ideology. They place users firmly in the driver’s seat and take them where they want to go. You can get anywhere on the Web using a subservient interface that accepts any words you throw at it and serves up a simple, linear list of rank-ordered choices.

Not coincidentally, ever since the WebCrawler debut in 1994, users have proclaimed search as one of their main activities on the Web. Being in control feels good…”

Nielsen further lists search engine advertising among the champions of web empowerment, by stating that “most successful Web ads empower — rather than annoy — users.”

How much Google trusts its own contextual advertising?

NetImperative, the British e-marketing site, looks at the changes of Blogger, the blog subsidiary of Google and concludes that “Googles contextual ads may not be as useful as its search advertising, if the latest moves by the search giant are anything to go by.”

NetImperative refers to the recent move by Blogger to remove Google’s contextual ads appearing on the top of blogs hosted by its BlogSpot site, and to replace them with a regular Google search box.

According to Blogger which according to Nielsen//NetRatings had 4.4 million unique visitors in June alone, the Blogger navbar is a “more useful navigation tool” than the old Adwords ad block.

Walking on Thin Ice: The Promisses and Dangers of Behavioral Web Marketing

Not to be taken as the final word on a new and quickly changing dimension of web marketing, yet informative enough to address the most important questions about behavioral web targeting as known and practiced today, a new report published by eMarketer and titled “What Comes Before Search?” looks at how it works, what is its relationship with search engine marketing, and what are the challenges associated with making behavioral web targeting effective.

Small Business and Web Marketing, 2004 Update

Direct Marketing News published an article about a survey conducted by The Kelsey Group among 300 small businesses whose customers and suppliers are mostly within 50 miles to gauge their use of the Internet. Two years after a previous such survey when just 35 percent of the small businesses said that the Web was important, now the majority indicate the growing importance of web marketing for their business and 55 percent of them have web presence.
Small Businesses and Web Marketing, 2004 Update
Some additional findings:

  • Only 6 percent reported using pay-per-click advertising
  • 14 percent said they optimized their Web site to appear higher in search results
  • 19 percent said they used Internet Yellow Pages

E-Commerce Trend Report by DoubleClick

The quarterly trend report on e-commerce published by DoubleClick offers interesting insight into the mind of the e-tail users:

  • Visitors are looking at more pages per session with an increase of 12%
    (9.8 pages in Q2 03 vs. 11.0 in Q2 04), however session length remained
    relatively flat (4.78 minutes in Q2 03 vs. 4.82 in Q2 04).
  • Consumers are increasingly likely to cart items, an important indicator
    of consumer interest in making a purchase. Carting frequency rose from
    8.3% to 9.4% year over year.
  • More significantly, shoppers are more likely to buy and their spending
    per purchase has increased overall. Conversion rates have increased 14%
    year-over-year, with 4.9% of all visits resulting in a conversion. The
    average order value also increased 15% year-over-year to $134.01. More
    dramatically, the average revenue per visit increased 25% from Q2 03 to
  • However, consumers are more likely to abandon their shopping cart —
    abandoned carts increased 24% year over year from 45.9% to 57% of all
    carts. Consumers are also less likely to return to abandoned carts to
    complete a purchase. In Q2 04, only 26.5 % of sales resulted from
    previously carted items, while a year ago, they represented 35.6% of
  • Usage of on-site search functionality increased dramatically (+26%)
    year-over-year while the percent of sales from search increased 17% to
    8.4% of all purchases. More importantly, the average order value of
    sales that result from search increased 47% year-over-year.

Big Brands and Search Engine Marketing

When earlier this year The Kelsey Group released the results of a survey on the interest of big-budget marketers in search engine marketing, the main focus was on the growth opportunity: 24% of big-budget marketers indicated that they would be interested in search engine marketing in 2004, twice as many as in 2003.

Now a new survey, conducted by NameProtect, a digital brand protection company, looks at the owners of big brands and how they use (or not) search engine marketing. The results are quite telling of the state of big brand search engine marketing, and should be troubling enough for any big company with a legal department to start working on protecting its intellectual properties and brand values:

Only 7% of the paid listings on Google and Yahoo!, containing one of the 100 Top Brand names, as ranked by Interbrand and BusinessWeek, were posted by the respective brand owner!
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Customer friction, conversion rates and SEM

Jim Novo, database marketing and web analytics expert, writes in his “Drilling Down” book about prospective customers who experience friction which prevents them from becoming customers. In the case of a website experience, Jim writes:

“An easy way to measure this want-to-be-customer friction is to look at the visitor conversion rate on your web site. Navigational design and layout determine “physical friction” and copy elements determine “emotional” friction. Design and layout testing will reduce physical friction; persuasive copywriting will reduce emotional friction. Success at reducing want-to-be-customer friction is measured by an increased visitor conversion rate.”

This wonderful analysis can be further extended into the realm of search engine marketing. In organic search engine optimization, the onsite influencing inelements which Jim summarized above, would have to be altered in order to serve the potential customer information needs. In pay-per-click marketing, the text of the ad will have to be persuasive enough to play the role of “emotional greese” so that the person making the search woulf feel insired to click and go further into the site.

Search engine optimization for your site’s major user groups

A website usually has multiple groups of users whose information needs would depend on how close they are in their progression to the ultimate goal, whether that is making an online purchase or signing up for a newsletter.

Andrew Chak, author of “Submit Now: Designing Persuasive Web Sites”, describes four main categories of users:

  • Browsers
  • Evaluators
  • Transactors
  • Customers

Each one of those groups would have different needs and depending on how well through usability and persuasion the site answers those needs, it would bring the users through to the next stage of the user lifecycle evolution.

An optimized website would enjoy the additional benefit of having each particular page targetting the different user groups rank higher in the main search engines. Such a website would enable the users, regadless of their stage in the pursuation evolution, to land directly to the most appropriate page.
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Focus on Web Analytics

I was just invited by Eric T. Peterson, author of Web Analytics Demystified, to join the Web Analytics discussion group. It is a group of 200 web analytics professionals, including Eric himself, Jim Sterne of eMetrics, John Marshal of ClickTracks, and the list goes on and on. A lot of knowledge is shared and I cannot but heartily recommend joining the group! Joining this knowledgable group follows my decision to volunteer with the newly established Web Analytics Association. Exciting times which I can compare only to the late 1990s and the excitement over sharing web development knowledge. Only this time it is about sharing knowledge on how to increase the return on web investment!
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Search Engines – As popular as they are important to online users

A new phone survey conducted by the Pew Internet Project confirms that the search engines are as popular and as important to online users as ever. The summary of the survey complemented by data released by comScore and published on August 12, 2004, indicates that:

  • More than 107 million Americans — around 84% of Internet users — have used search engines to find information
  • An average Internet user performs 33 searches per month
  • Users of the 25 most popular search engines perform a total of 3.9 billion searches per month
  • 35% of searchers perform a search at least once a day and 2/3 of them use the search engines several times a day
  • 44% of the search engine users use a single search engine, while 48% use 2 or 3 search engines
  • Using search engines is the second most popular Internet activity after checking email

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