The Marketing Value of Search: Understanding Consumer Behavior

By Jeff Campbell, VP Product Development

I recently had the honor of creating and teaching the inaugural Search Engine Marketing (SEM) course at the University of Chicago’s Graham School of General Studies. The course covered how to gain website traffic (via SEO, PPC, linkbuilding & content creation), interpreting post-event consumer data, and taking action for future improvement (optimization). None of the students were planning careers in SEM and only a few of them even touched it in their current jobs. Since this SEM industry seems to change annually, what skills did I want them to take away? What is the true value of SEM to the general marketer? The Answer: Understanding consumer behavior.

In Mr. Goldman’s previous post about the benefits of integrating Search, he listed “leveraging insight on consumer intent” as a benefit. In my opinion, it goes beyond intent and looks at actual consumer behavior/action – and together, this is the most value data to the ‘general marketer’. Let’s dig a little deeper on this one with some specifics:

  1. Seasonality – When do people search for your products or services? When are they visiting your website? When do conversion rates rise or drop? Use this data to optimize your offline or other online media buys. Know when to put out the swimsuits out and when to drop the price to extend the purchase season.
  2. Communication – What message or slogan gets online visitors or searchers to act? Is it “buy one get one free” or “get two for the price of one” (which are the same thing, BTW)? You have an instant focus group with your website and PPC.
  3. Researching – How long are new visitors to the website staying? What type of pages do they look at? Do they behave differently upon a return visit? How might one market to current customers differently than new customers?
  4. Purchasing habits – How long from a first visit to the purchase (aka latency)? What related items seem to sell with the target item? What products are selling and what are not? Could this information influence store layout? Smart marketers test price elasticity in hours.
  5. Geography – Did a massive radio campaign in Philly lead to a bump in purchases online from the same area? Does a certain DMA tend to convert at a higher percentage than others? Are there offline tactics gain more customers in that area? When should you start promoting patio furniture in Minneapolis vs. KC?
  6. Demographics – From the language spoken to the education level seen in the complexity or misspellings in keywords – who are your customers? What are the converting personas? No more shotgun approach - rifle target those who convert.
Ultimately, your website and SEM can measure who and where your customers are, how they research/buy, and measure what they like/dislike. This is the Holy Grail for marketers, right? Living in the online world for the last 8 years, I have taken having this information for granted; a thank-you to my amazed and wide-eyed students for making me realize the power and value of having hard data around consumer behavior and it’s potential importance to the rest of the organization.


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