The Internet: One Big Marketing Channel

    July 14, 2004

Whether you’re a designer or a marketer, understanding user behavior should be a top priority. That was what compelled me to write my article exploring some recent studies on search engine user behavior patterns. And, with questions now flowing through my mind, I picked up the phone and called Gord Hotchkiss, President and CEO of Enquiro, one of the companies that have been studying search behavior.

Follow this search behavior discussion at WebProWorld.

Flipping Through The Channels of Search Engine Marketing...
Flipping Through The Channels of Search Engine Marketing…

Now, I am no SEM expert, nor do I play one on TV, but, to me, these studies emphasized the importance of looking into different strategies for marketing and advertising to prospective customers. Gord had this advise to offer: “I think the biggest thing is to not forget the [Internet] is a marketing channel aimed to the consumer. The strategy has to start with the consumer. Too often I think because of all the technical things we can do online we kind of jump past the whole strategy part and forget tactics. We get into how we can build the site, all the cool things we can do with it. From the search marketing perspective, we get so upset about things like rankings and keywords and things like that, we forget that there’s an end purpose to all of it – and that’s to get to the consumer.”

During the research process, Gord began to think about the fact that everyone uses search, like any other channel, differently. In order to find an effective strategy, marketers must understand this.

Another potential problem is that a lot of designers don’t have a marketing background. Especially after reading these studies, I don’t think it could hurt designers to at least learn a little bit about marketing – and Gord agrees. “It’s a communication channel and communication is a fundamental of marketing,” he told me, adding: “I came into this business through marketing and even I had kind of forgotten it.” It all started coming back to him during the research, though. The study “took me back fifteen years to the fundamentals of marketing. And I slapped my head and went, Well, of course!'”

The SEEKS study shows more experienced users are less likely to click on search advertisements. I asked Gord whether he believes search ads should therefore target less experienced customers. He was quick to warn that there hasn’t been enough research done to consider any of the evidence “conclusive” – although he admitted, “We did find Google users are less likely to click paid listings. More experienced Internet users tend to go to Google. The same is true by education level. Generally the more educated the person the lower the tendency to click on paid [listings].” Search marketing is just one strategy, Gord says, so it’s important to do more research before drawing any conclusions.

One argument against these findings is the fact that 95% of Google’s revenue comes from AdWords and AdSense. The search engine made $962 million in 2003- so apparently Google users do click at least some of those ads.

Gord also revealed that he has a suspicion that “as time goes by people are less and less hesitant to click on paid. I suspect the click-through rates on paid have been going up a little bit the last two or three years. That’s what I would guess just in some of the anecdotal evidence we’re collecting [although] like I said, there’s no historic studies to pin that down in a quantitative way.”

Do your click-through rates back up his theory?

While these studies are fascinating, like Gord said, this is just the “first step” towards understanding. Enquiro definitely plans to continue such research in the future, hoping to become “recognized as the company that takes the time to try to figure out how people are using these online channels, especially search.” The company hopes to release a new study every few (3 – 4) months. The next study, which will explore business-to-business, will probably be released in the next few months.

“We think it does everyone good if they get access to this kind of information,” Gord said. I agree – don’t you?

Have fun discussing this article and learning more at WebProWorld, the WebProNews e-Business forum!

Brittany Thompson is an administrator for and contributes to the Insider Reports with her regular articles and interviews.