Digital Trends 2013: A new dynamic for search

2012 has been a year of growth for search, not just in terms of volume but also in its maturity and prominence within the marketing mix.

By the end of 2012, UK internet users will have made a billion more visits to search engines than they did in 2011. It currently takes the UK a fortnight to make a billion searches; by next year that will be down to 12 days and by 2015 it will take just over nine days.

This does not take into account the phenomenal growth in mobile internet usage, which represents a huge step change for the industry as smart phone penetration in the UK surpasses the 50% benchmark. As we come to depend on the internet for more and more of our daily activities – both on our desktops and through our mobile devices – search will continue to evolve and grow.

As the volume of searches increases, the rate of paid vs organic search clicks has remained consistent with 90% of all search clicks coming from an organic link and the remaining 10% coming from paid links. The equilibrium between paid and organic search has been fairly constant for the last five years, with only very minor deviations along the way. What this means is that with more searches being made year-on-year, the volume of paid search clicks is also increasing, which in turn means more money was invested in search advertising in 2012 than ever before.

Search behaviour has changed forever

So more searches are being made and more money is being spent on search advertising. But how is search behaviour changing? As time goes on, the way we search has become more complex with a higher proportion of searches coming from longer key phrases.

In 2011, 50% of searches contained just 1-2 words, 34% contained 3-4 words and just 15% contained 5 or more words. In 2012, we saw a a shift to longer keyword searches with 49% containing 1-2 words, 35% containing 3-4 words and 16% containing 5 or more words. This shows us that users have become more sophisticated about the way that they are searching; they make more detailed queries and in turn have a higher expectation that the information returned by the search engine will be what they are looking for. To stay ahead of the curve, marketers should carefully track how these search trends evolve and think carefully about the content they need to serve in order to satisfy these increasingly complex search queries.

Search engines are leading this content evolution as they become more like content portals and less like navigational tools that take people from A to B on the web. Increasingly we are seeing more information being posted in search results (such as the Google Knowledge Graph) which keeps users on the search page by providing more detailed information linked to the users search term – rather than navigating away to a specific result. Millions of information queries from currency exchange rates to weather forecasts to celebrity appearances are being answered by the search engines themselves without the need for the user to click through to a website. This shift will increase our dependence on search.

As internet users become increasingly reliant on search engines as their passport to the web, the focus on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) for marketers becomes exponentially more important. As the main engines adjust their algorithms to thwart inappropriate “black hat” SEO techniques, such as keyword stuffing and buying links, this puts an even greater emphasis on best practice and in particular relevant content. The success of search marketing has always been and will forever be grounded in relevance. By understanding precisely how people are searching for a product or service, brands can then align themselves to those search terms, and in turn receive more online traffic and sales.

Search leads to sales

Acquiring more search traffic can only take a brand so far. A click is one thing, but a conversion to purchase is something different altogether. More overall traffic is not enough; it has to be the right kind of traffic. To that end, in 2013 search marketing must go back to basics and remember that the key is still to understand the needs of the customer.

Search segmentation, for example, allows companies to understand the types of people who are searching for a particular product, what else those people are searching for, which social networks they visit and what media they consume. The wealth of data available is extraordinary, and the ability to turn that data into actionable insight is becoming easier, allowing companies to target their most profitable customers both online and offline by engaging with them in the places they know they will be, with a message that is relevant to them.

Understanding the customer behind the search

In summary, the UK is making more searches, spending more time on search engines and making more complex searches than ever before. By understanding the impact of these changes, digital marketers can to reduce their paid search spend, target the right keywords and create web content that is relevant to the constantly changing demands of their target audience. As more rigorous demands are made to prove ROI and maintain high conversions, understanding the customer behind the searches will become more important in 2013.

In 2013, one of the most important success factors will be the integration of search into a more comprehensive digital strategy. As consumers come to expect a seamless customer experience from a brand regardless of channel, it becomes more important than ever to work collaboratively and eliminate the silos that exist between different aspects of digital teams. In many ways, search is the glue that holds digital together; strengthening the effectiveness of social, email and advertising strategies. With this in mind, search will still be at the forefront of digital, but it will be stronger by virtue of the other elements it combines with.


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