Changes in People’s Search Habits

We talk a lot about how search engines’ algorithms change, but have you noticed how people’s search habits have changed?

Probably not. I teach research skills, though, so I’ve had the opportunity to notice a big change since Google brought out Instant Search.

A year ago, the average user of search engines wasn’t very good at search. Studies estimated that about 37% of searchers were actually skillful in their use of Google or Bing, and that’s about what I saw in my classes, too.

Typical young adult searchers would type a word or two into the search box and then click on the first result. They’d often do a lot of clicking back and forth, trying out results in hopes of finding what they needed. We’d practice refining queries and using more words to get better results.

Now, most of the people I’m training begin with longer, more specific searches and change more quickly if the results aren’t what they need. They use the information on the search engine results page to make predictions about what they’ll find if they click through, and they also use the results they get to change their queries, getting more specific or clarifying their request.

It’s as though Instant Search has trained people to have conversations with the search engine.

What does this mean for online marketing?

Long tail keywords are even more important.

If you have an outdoor gear shop, your top keywords may be things like “camping gear” or “outdoor sports equipment” or “backpacking supplies.” If those terms bring you 100 visits apiece, though, you can expect to have more than 100 different searches like “sleeping bag for car camping” or “camping kitchen basics.” We call these “long tail” searches.

If you check Google Insights for Search for simple one and two word phrases, you’ll find that most basic terms show a drop over the past few years. This is not, I think, because people are no longer looking for camping gear, but because they’re beginning with long tail searches.

Does this mean that you should quit using basic keywords and start peppering your copy with long phrases you think someone might use in search? Nope. Just make a point of using synonyms, and also of writing plenty of good content. That way, when someone looks for “best shoes for camping in the High Sierras,” you won’t have to hope you happened to use that phrase — the search engines will have gotten, through semantic indexing, that your site is about outdoor gear.

As for keyword stuffing, it has never been a good idea and now it’s even less likely to benefit your site.

Your meta description is even more important.

Your meta description will usually be the thing that searchers see when they’re deciding whether or not to click through to your site. I’m saying “usually” because sometimes a search engine may choose to show something else, especially with long tail searches. In the first result below you can see that Google has chosen to excerpt a section later on the page that includes the state name. The second result shows that repeating keywords in your meta description robs you of the opportunity to give any useful information about your company.

Yours should contain things like your phone number, a clear description of what you do, and maybe even your address or other location information if you have a brick and mortar location.

Responsiveness to change is key in online marketing. This is a change worth responding to.

 

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