What Every Marketer Needs to Understand About Search
It’s important to understand how search affects consumers and how they learn, research, and behave before and during their intent buy
The following is based on a chapter from my eBook Ever Seeking: A History and Future of Search
I often joke that search has replaced my memory, as it is no longer necessary to remember what is reachable within seconds. Most of the time I’m kidding, but how often do you search on your smartphone instead of taking the time to try to remember something?
While there are still plenty of traditional search queries, we’re no longer solely looking for small pieces of information, as was the original intent of the Web. We’re not even looking only for web pages. As of a few years ago, it was reported that video results account for nearly half of all search results, and by 2019, they will account for almost 80%[i].
You may or may not spend the bulk of your time dealing with search marketing, but regardless, it’s important to know and understand how it affects consumers and how they learn about your products, research before purchasing, and behave before and during their intent to acquire or buy your goods or services.
Here are a few things you should keep in mind about consumers and search:
It’s based on a true need
One thing that you need to remember above all things is why someone is on a search engine in the first place. If they wanted to be checking their email, they might be on Gmail or another email client. If they wanted to waste time, they might be on Reddit or a news site. If they wanted to look at vacation pictures and check in on their acquaintances, maybe Facebook or Twitter.
But because they are in none of those places, when they use a search engine, their purpose is rather singular: they are there to find something. It might be the answer to a question, or the contact information of a store, or any number of things. The fact remains, though, that they have a problem that needs to be solved.
Knowing this fact should cause your approach to visitors from search traffic, to landing pages, and to other aspects of your search marketing to be more focused on the singular aspect that someone who is searching is seeking a solution.
Research is critical in the buying process
Never forget the role that search plays even in purchases that don’t happen online. Even if you have a physical showroom, or you are a B2B company that doesn’t offer purchases through a website, your customers are still searching for you while they are in the consideration phase of a purchase.
In fact, according to Retailing Today (2014) 81% of shoppers conduct online research before making big purchases[ii]. While you may believe you have this covered through advertising on Google AdWords, or doing retargeting, think again. Those methods help, but don’t forget about reviews and review sites and how they affect users’ opinions.
This also means that you can’t always control what a consumer sees about your company or products, since they may be reading about you on one or more third party sites. And this is also where reputation management comes into play. A few bad reviews can have a serious effect on companies small or large. Actively check everything from your Wikipedia page, to online review sites like Yelp, employment sites like Glassdoor, and anywhere else your company might show.
Context narrows the field of search in several different ways, including the following:
Location, which includes where the searcher is located as well as where your business is
Device, or whether the person is searching from a mobile or desktop device, or whether they’re using a voice assistant
Personalization, or the past behavior or other available information about the specific user
While much of the job of understanding context is left up to the search engines themselves, as a marketer, you need to make sure you’ve created content that will display well, regardless of the type of search that a person is performing.
For instance, when someone searches for directions to your store, are there great pictures of your merchandise, the front of your building, or other relevant photos that help create an attractive Google Maps listing?
How does Paid Search affect us?
Like it or not, in order to be competitive in search results these days, you need to participate in paid search.
Take a look at a typical search results page and see for yourself. If you aren’t advertising, your chances of showing up in a reasonable spot has been reduced considerably over the years.
This means that you need to have a natural search strategy that accounts for the paid search component. It’s often difficult for an e-commerce company to show up well for a product listing under natural results, but it’s much less difficult when you’re trying to help someone solve a problem.
For instance, a search for “installing a car battery” produces an entirely different result that is much less commerce-driven and more aimed to help poor me figure out how I might install a car battery myself:
The Growth of “Assistants” and Voice-Driven Search
"In human history, speech has essentially played three roles: it has been useful for communicating and interacting; it has been useful for doing monologues, that is, creating content that can be understood; and third, it has been useful as a barometer to give away the identity or verification of a person. From a speech recognition standpoint, we are now starting to expect a dialogue with an automated system. While early dialogues were based on directed dialogues of IVR, we are now moving into the next generation where dialogues are expected to be a lot more free-form. That's what you're starting to experience in consumer applications like Siri and Dragon Go."
David Nahamoo - IBM fellow and the company's chief technical officer for speech
Remember Clippy, the icon that Microsoft used as a helper to those using its Office products from 1997 to about 2005? Introduced in 1996, and described as “one of the worst user interfaces ever deployed to the mass public,[iii]” Clippy’s purpose in life (so to speak) was to help people get acclimated to Microsoft’s operating system, Windows, and to answer other questions about Microsoft products. It was an attempt to “humanize” a stark world of computers and business software by providing a character that would pose as a virtual assistant.
Well, the next generation of that type of “helper” is mobile, contextually-aware, and well, just generally less annoying! Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa are both examples of this.
In addition to the virtue of simply not being Clippy, these interfaces are notable because their interface is not driven by keyboard input. By being voice-driven, thus more question-based, they are geared around quickly determining what the problem is, what type of solution is required, and then what the most relevant solution will be.
Voice search is one such method that is increasing in popularity. One way you can measure its popularity is by the fact that Google, Amazon and Apple all have their own, competing devices. They are in competition for a rapidly growing market that is becoming increasingly accustomed to asking machines for results instead of typing them.
In 2017, 36 million people were using voice search, up 129 percent from the previous year[iv]. By 2020 comscore predicts 50% of all searches will be performed with voice[v].
Chatbots & AI
Have you used a chatbot before? If it was really well-constructed, it’s possible the first time you encountered one, you might not have even realized it. Replacing the need for human operators on customer support chat, these chatbots have access to all of the information that a telephone or web-based chat support human representative would have, but they can often perform their work faster.
Chatbots are a combination of chat functionality, with a search interface, tied to a lot of information. Similar to how Siri processes voice command requests, a chatbot uses artificial intelligence to turn customer questions into relevant answers, links to more information, account changes and more.
Nearly 40% of all businesses are using some type of automation already[vii], and many more plan to follow suit in the next few years. There is so much promise in this area, in fact, that the chatbot industry[viii] is expected to be a $1.25 billion industry by 2025.
As a marketer, you should keep in mind how you structure information and provide access to it. While good executions of chatbots make this look easy, having a seamless customer experience requires setting up your silos of information in a logical way that AI can access it and understand it.
Learn more about my book Ever Seeking: A History and Future of Search
[i] Tredgold, Gordon. “20 Statistics That Should Make You More Aggressive About Video Marketing in 2017” Inc. December 2016.
[ii] Hubspot. “Ultimate Guide to Marketing Statistics.”
[iii] Meyber, Robinson. “Even Early Focus Groups Hated Clippy.” The Atlantic. June 23, 2016.
[iv] Martin, Chuck. “Millennials Drive Growth Of Digital Voice Assistants.” MediaPost. May 8, 2017.
[v] Olson, Christin. Just say it: The future of search is voice and personal digital assistants. Campaign Live. April 25, 2016.
[vi] Nusca, Andrew. “Say command: How speech recognition will change the world.” November 2, 2011.
[vii] Nguyen, Mai-Hanh. “The latest market research, trends & landscape in the growing AI chatbot industry” Business Insider. Oct. 20, 2017
[viii] Markets Insider. “Chatbot Market Size to Reach $1.25 Billion by 2025 | CAGR: 24.3%: Grand View Research, Inc.” Sep. 19, 2017.