Search Engines: A Simple Way To Better Understand Consumers

Brad_strothkamp [Posted by Brad Strothkamp}

A large portion of a Forrester analyst's job is keeping tab on hundreds of different Web sites. During my Web site travels over the years, a few truths have become evident:

  • You can tell a lot about how a company is organized based on their Web site
  • Too much sales content is written or developed by individuals that have never sold anything
  • Sites often suffer from lack of understanding of how consumers make product and service choices.

The results of these truths are often Web sites that are driven and designed by opinions about how consumers shop versus actual hard-facts.  When I came to Forrester from Wells Fargo nearly five years ago (eek!), I made it my personal goal to try to provide some tools and data for clients to make more rational Web site decisions.  During this search, I happened upon a free source of information that any Web site manager has access to that can give you a good sense of the mindset of the consumers.

It's search data.

Yes, the same information you use to buy search keywords on Google or Yahoo! can be used to make better site decisions. Simple searchers on Google Adwords search tool reveal insightful details about how consumers think about products. 

Here are a few examples:

  • Financial services: A search on "credit cards" yields interesting insights.  First of all in the top 30 search terms, there are absolutely NO provider brand name (e.g. (Blank) Bank Platinum Rewards VISA).  What you do see are a few distinct term categories including customer segments like consumers with less than perfect credit searching for "bad credit credit cards" or consumers that are interested searching for particular types of cards searching for "free credit card" or "no fee credit cards"
  • Retailing: A search on "luggage" reveals that brand names are more important to the category as there are terms like "Samsonite luggage" appears high among the results.  Additionally luggage features are important as there are also terms like "carry-on luggage" and "leather luggage"
  • Travel: A search on "hotels" reveals that factors like destination are important with search terms like "las vegas hotels". Additionally, types of hotels are important with terms like "luxury" and "cheap" as well as desire for hotel deals with terms like "last minute hotels" and "hotel discount"

So what does all this mean?  It means the next time you are unsure of the right words to use on a page or how best to set up navigation on your site there is a free and easy resource to conduct some primary research. While it may not solve every problem, it will help keep your site focused on what aspects of your product are important and the words consumers use to describe the products and services they are interested in.