If They’re Searching, Give Them A Hint

    March 27, 2008
    WebProNews Staff

I remember sitting in on a session at one of the Search Engine Strategies conferences as a befuddled metrics firm rep told a crowd of equally befuddled marketers that a significant percentage of the search population actually typed the URL of the desired website into the search bar.

The assumption then was that searchers were unsophisticated and weren’t aware of the difference between a search bar and an address bar. Later, I would watch with the same wonder as my stepson searched for Wikipedia or YouTube instead of just typing it into the address bar with the appropriate .com or .org. 

I tried to set him straight only to the get the average teenager response of, "It’s faster this way," which really means, "Shut up, old man, and go watch some VHS tapes or something."

I’m sooooo 1996.

I just thought he was stubborn (and he is stubborn) and wasn’t willing to listen. But he might have been on to something. It might not be lack of Internet sophistication that prevents people from entering addresses directly, but natural (and reasonable) laziness.

It’s easier and sometimes faster to type "youtube" or "youtube.com" into Google and then click on the link than it is to risk making a mistake in the address bar and bringing up a site you don’t want. If you screw up in the search bar, or misspell it by typing in "youtbue" Google anticipates that and adjusts in case you goofed. The address bar, in that sense, is unforgiving. Miss by a letter, or in some cases, by a dash or dot or number or slash, and you wind up where you don’t want to be.

Simple truth: Web addresses are hard to remember exactly.
Example: The TV announcer instructs you to visit http://www.mysite.check_out_our_site.net/deals/wtf

That’s a lot to remember. A couple of years ago, GM and Kellogg were on to something, too, when they instructed TV viewers to search for "Pontiac" and "Special K" on Google and Yahoo respectively. Even when that was going on, people tended to focus more on the legal nuances of trademark keyword use and the then epic battle between Google and Yahoo.

But not much attention was given to the idea behind those campaigns: It’s easier, if you’re certain about the search results, to tell a consumer to search for a specific keyword than it is to get them to remember a long string of seemingly arbitrary symbols—arbitrary to them, not a computer.

It didn’t help that Mazda hijacked the idea and bid on Pontiac’s trademark to lure searchers away, sparking a whole new controversy.

Our new friend Cabel has screenshots of advertisements on Japanese trains. When I was in Japan, I ignored these, generally, if there was only text and no people in them because I never learned to read Japanese. So I don’t know, but I also don’t remember if the ads then instructed consumers to search for specific keywords. The instructions in Cabel’s screenshots often appear alongside the website URL, of course.

I apologize if similar ads appear on New York subway trains, too. In addition to general ad blindness anyway, I live in Kentucky, where we only use trains to haul cargo, and if you’re lucky, you don’t have to go near a city bus or a Greyhound.

The point is (sorry it took so long) advertising not just your site’s URL but also search instructions for keywords you know you rank well for, will be, if it’s not already, an important part of advertising strategies. You can target a sponsored search campaign to correspond with other media efforts, and if the organic results are there, too, the effect is magnified. It doubles (at least) the brand association a company is already trying to solidify by offering the words you want associated with the brand.