Erin Everhart / User Insights / September 17th, 2013

How Real People Use Search Engines, Part 5

This is the last post in our series on How Real People Use Search Engines. We researched how people think search engines work and analyzed their online buying habits.

  • Part 2 – Are people mentioning both product and merchant in their searches?
  • Part 3 – How are people finding specific products to buy?
  • Part 4 – How are people affected by their friends’ – and strangers’ – advice before purchasing?

This week, we show how this affects SEO professionals and digital marketers.

It’s easy to get absorbed by the Internet. For most of us, it’s how we get work done. It’s also a constant source of entertainment to distract us from said work.  For some of us, it may even be how we pay the bills.

People rely on search engines. A lot. For the past month, we’ve been seeing how real people use search engines and found that 74 percent use a search engine more than 5 times a day to search for something;  37 percent of those use them more than 10 times a day.

But, how much do they know about search engines? If you work in the web industry, it’s easy to forget you’re not the majority, and knowing how your users use search engines is critical to a successful SEO strategy.

How Search Engines Work

We showed them the following screenshot and asked how they thought The Kitchn got to the top of the search results:

  • A) Because it’s the most clicked-on
  • B) Because Google thinks it’s the best answer
  • C) Because the website paid Google for the ranking
  • D) Because Google randomizes its rankings
  • E) None of the above

How do people think search engines work

66 percent of those surveyed answered incorrectly and did not know how The Kitchn got to its position. Furthermore, 37.5 percent of people who said they were “very tech savvy” thought Google gave different results based on age.

More Than Just Page 1

When it comes to SEO, there was always a mad dash to the top. First, it was people won’t click past the first page before trying a new search query. Then, it was they wouldn’t scroll “below the fold” of the first page.  Most recently, it’s making sure you’re in the Top 3.

And that’s still true. A No. 1 Google ranking still gets 32.5 percent of the traffic share, according to a June survey from Chitika.  But what happens if people can’t find what they’re looking for in that top spot? They click back, and keep looking.  A lot, in fact: 35 percent of the people surveyed looked at the first two pages of results before trying a new search.

People Need Reassurance Before Buying

People need reassurance, and reviews are the best way to give that to them.

We asked a variety of questions about the phrases people put into search engines when looking for a specific product, for example personal trainers, flat screen TVs and home security systems, and noticed a common theme:

People want the best one, and people want to be reassured that they’re buying the best one.

Of those surveyed, 36 percent relied on reviews of the product before they made a purchasing decision and 13 percent used superlatives in their keyword phrases. Additionally, the more impact a product has on your life, the more likely you are to search for the “best” of its kind.

What It All Means

To capture the lion’s share of clicks, you will have to be high Page 1, but if you’re not, you’re still able to capture people’s attention. People have become more accustomed to researching when they’re using Google. If they don’t find what they’re looking for with the first listing, they’re not giving up: users are realizing there are more results – and sometimes better results – out there, and that’s where you can capitalize.

Focus on having a more attractive listing than your competitors on a search engine results page. This includes things like:

  • Putting action words or differentiators in your title tags. Everyone will have keywords in your listing. Putting something that won’t be bolded will help yours stand out.
  • You have 150 characters to convince people to click on you. Use them wisely. Include your competitive advantages in your meta description.
  • Don’t sell Google Authorship short:  Not only will it help rankings, but it gives you an image thumbnail in listings to capture people’s attention.
  • Reviews matter: If people don’t find them on the Google page, they’ll go to Amazon or Yelp. That’s driving people away from your business.

About The Data

167 people completed the survey, 57 percent female and 43 percent male. 68 percent were between the ages of 18-34, 17 percent were between the ages of 35-54, and 14 percent were 55 or older. Industries they worked in were evenly split across a diverse range, and 89 percent considered themselves at least somewhat tech savvy