Most people are pretty happy when they take a look at their web site traffic and see that a large share of traffic coming to their site from search engines. The natural reaction to these numbers is likely to be “Isn’t this great? Look at all these new prospects who are finding me on the web!” But in many cases, such assumptions about who’s finding your site via search may be completely wrong. Before I give you some tips on how you can improve your search results, let’s take a look at how people use search engines today.
How do people search?
It all begins with a need or interest—something inspires a person to search for a certain topic. Let’s use a hypothetical example of person considering buying a new camera. A typical search begins pretty broadly. Type “camera” into Google (65.9% of searches happen on Google according to ComScore, December 2011); the results page brings up a bunch of links for places where you can buy cameras, some photos of cameras, links to manufacturer’s sites, and so on. Great—but you’re not even sure what you’re looking for yet. So you go back to the top of the page and start adding qualifiers to your search terms. Perhaps you go with “Camera Reviews” and are presented with a variety of sites offering reviews of the latest cameras. You start reading the reviews, go back to the search engine and search patterns start to diverge…maybe you want an “SLR camera”, “digital video camera”, “10 megapixel camera” or maybe even a “film camera.” This research process can last minutes, hours, days—even weeks depending on the searchers interest level. Somewhere along the way the searcher will start to get specific and introduce branded searches into the mix (e.g. “canon camera” “kodak camera”) and then near the end of the purchase cycle the searcher will start using specific model number as search terms.