Commentary

Searches: What Are The Peak Times For Clicks and Conversions?

WomenDress

Eighteen months after first offering Google Commerce Search, the engine on Tuesday launched the third version of the hosted enterprise search product that powers online retail stores and an e-commerce Web site to give consumers a more interactive experience.

Google Commerce Search (GCS) has been updated with instant search, local product availability, product recommendations and enhanced merchandising tools that allow retailers to create product promotions that display in banners alongside related search queries. The new tools were added to support spell checker, query auto completion and ability to sort results.

Consumers have stepped up making purchases online. At least I have. I'm not spending as much time in the physical store as I once did. Instead, I'm searching on keywords and clicking on the buy button. The biggest problem I discovered in purchasing apparel online has been that typically, the colors in the picture do not accurately represent the product, so I continually return items. Maybe I need a new monitor.

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Aside from technical glitches, marketers likely know that clicks on paid-search ads and Web sites increase steadily throughout the day, beginning in the morning hours and continuing through 10 p.m., but new research tracking performance since 2008 reveals that online shopping purchases peak during the midday hours between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., according to NetElixir.

The study -- which focuses on traditional online sales for a variety of categories such as consumer electronics, flowers and gifts, apparel, and home furnishings -- will examine mobile in Q3 2011. For now, marketers might want to know that most searches online for products in the electronics category occur between 9 p.m. and midnight EST, with orders between 10 p.m. and 12 p.m. Flowers are typically ordered between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., according to Udayan Bose, NetElixir CEO.

For women's apparel, search queries on average peak between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. EST. Bose says the uptick suggests women tend to spend their free time browsing and making purchases on the Web once the family retires to bed for the day. About 3.7 clicks occur between the first click on a paid-search ad and the final click that converts to a sale.

The search typically begins with a generic keyword based on a category. The search might take someone to about five Web sites, before typing in a branded keyword to narrow down the list. Then the browser is closed. Several days later she's back searching on another keyword. Bose says this represents a clear path from the first search to the last click.

Activity for both orders and clicks is at its lowest point in the early hours of the morning and rises during the course of the day, with clicks steadily increasing throughout the day and orders rising more sharply and peaking in the afternoon hours. The study makes a number of recommendations for improving SEM effectiveness, including breaking down performance by the hour to substantially increase aggregate return on market investment, and applying time-bound search tactics.

The NetElixir findings are based on ongoing research for paid-search programs across 32 large retailers since October 2008, but other research seems to suggest that search continues to lose market share to social in the minds and the budgets of marketers at small to-medium-sized businesses.

Aside from the American Express and Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO) study released earlier this month, eMarketer points to a February 2011 MerchantCircle survey that finds more than 70% of U.S. local small businesses use Facebook for marketing, while only two-thirds use Google paid search and one-third use Bing.

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