Every successful business manages to answer one very basic question: Why do people come to us? Implicit within that answer is an understanding of who they are, what they do and who their customers are and what they expect from them.
Search Engine use is reflective of the degree to which information retrieval has become part of our lives. As social animals we need information to function. Before reading and writing were skills that everyone had, there were Town Criers spreading the word. They were quickly followed by hand-written newsletters and newspapers the moment the printing press was invented.
The reason I mention all this is because without information we cannot make any decision with confidence. We need confidence in our decisions because they inform our status and identity and we crave information because it helps our decisions. What is really important in this loop is the psychology that drives this process because that’s what is also critical in search.
When search is governed by intent and intent is broken down into explicit (the search query as we stated it) and implicit (what we are actually trying to find) success in search lies in aggregating intent as AJ Kohn rightly says. That requires an understanding of the behavior of those who visit your website from all the different channels.
Not Every Channel Is Equal
The audience you are targeting behaves differently in different channels and, sometimes, is an entirely different audience. While demographics might play a role here the real clincher in understanding the impact of marketing efforts based search, social sharing and email marketing lie in ultimately understanding intent and what shapes it.
Audience demographics become largely irrelevant when everything you do satisfies those who get to your website and the same applies if you fail to. This means that intent is the key ingredient. It allows you to successfully answer the “Why” question we began with.
A Pew Research Center Report in 2012 showed that while nine out of ten users find the information they seek when they use a search engine there were mounting concerns associated with the way data was being tracked and used.
Two years after the study was carried out with semantic search scaling across the web and having a direct impact on results through greater relevance and personalization the picture that emerges is that there is that specific channels used by online visitors to find content reflect their intent:
Those who use search have generally less time to do anything more than satisfy what is pressing them for an answer when they carry out their search. As a result they are more solution-orientated and less likely to remember a website or a brand where they have found the solution they were looking for.
Interestingly enough those who find content on a social network like Facebook tend to spend even less time on a website than those who use search, though the difference is marginal. Facebook is a social network where people log on to share personal information with friends rather than be marketed to. Content they come across which they then go ahead and click on has specific functional appeal to them. It has either serendipitously answered a specific question they had or it has piqued their interest enough for them to go ahead and access it.
Those who, however, click to go directly to a website come either from a shared link with a high recommendation value, a link in a Newsletter they have subscribed to so they do not lose touch with the website or a bookmarked link. All of these are a more accurate indication of brand loyalty. The visitors who come to a website through a direct link are already familiar with the value it has to offer and willing to explore the website further.
This is backed by Pew Research figures that show that those who come to a website via direct link don’t just spend more time per page on a website but also engage further accessing more of its content. One could argue that they also are key to making further recommendations of its content to their own friends and social media circles.
Marketing Has to Change
For marketers used to the “feet through the door” approach where they tried to get as many people on a page hoping that statistically they would get a conversion the new approach is clear:
- Create compelling, engaging content that truly answers some need, solves some problem or answers a question your audience may have
- Use Social Media Networks as a means of exposure (and to further help indexing) but do not expect to get conversions from there
- Use search as a primary discovery channel but not as a brand-building one (unless of course you always appear there for everything related to your field)
- Have a newsletter but only if you are convinced it will be of consistent value, not because you have to have one
- Above all strive for a quality experience with everything you do on your website. Polish its content and polish its look and feel and leave no part of it to chance.
Bottom line: how visitors get to your website really matters. Direct link visitors are clearly of the greatest value but that segment of your audience is won gradually through sustained exposure in search and social media networks and relationship-building with your audience.