Fascinating insights into searcher psychology
A new study by Blue Nile Research gives some fascinating insights into searcher psychology. These tend to confirm my long held view that searches are as individual as people.
Searcher queries are almost always assumed to be questions. Yet according to this study of 183 people, only 27% use questions, the remainder use statements. Question queries using ‘How’ and ‘Why’ account for more than 50% of all question queries. That’s very useful information for those developing content and links nicely into the kind of knowledge mapping that’s been important post Hummingbird. The meaning of content is now more important than ever.
Also interesting is the number of people using “fragments” of just 2 or 3 words to search versus those who use what’s essentially a long tail phrase. This time the results were split down the middle exactly with 50% each using fragments or non-fragment phrases.
It appears then that some searchers like to use something akin to a head term then they do their own further digging around. By contrast other personalities like to find what they are looking for first time around: Multiple links or straight to the answer.
One of the big questions coming out of the study in my mind is how businesses should tackle those who use fragment phrases. Conventional wisdom for small businesses focuses on people who are searching in the long tail; ideally people who are also using money keywords within those phrases. The belief is that these people have more intent. It’s also easier for smaller sites to get found for long tail keywords. Yet, according to the Blue Nile research this approach will completely by-passes 50% of searchers. It doesn’t make sense, does it?
Blue Nile suggests people using shorter queries may base their technique on a preference to just see what happens and are prepared to click on multiple links to find what they are looking for. This suggests to me that webmasters also need to focus on the way they connect to other sites in their environment. These may well be larger sites which can easily be found for shorter queries. After all, online, individual sites should exist in an interconnected ecosystem of other sites.
Another benefit of this research is that it may encourage more businesses of all sizes, but especially smaller ones, to do their own customer research. Logs and analytics aren’t enough, to determine how people search.
I’ve always said, businesses need to develop content based on their customers’ personae and make sure they are in the places there customers are. This research in my view also points in the same direction.
The problem is the tools used to find so called keywords are very limiting. They really only offer an abstraction of the real world, and don’t provide the detail needed to create effective content. Sadly even with recent developments at Google HQ including Hummingbird, too many people still regard keywords as the be all and end all.
One benefit of doing your own customer research is you are likely to find your own keyword phrases that are otherwise untapped by your competitors. Research doesn’t have to be a big undertaking and small business can get away with a fairly informal (and therefore) inexpensive approach.