Finding Meaning In Financial Searchers

Remember the old days of the Internet? Users were typically male, had high annual household incomes and were well-educated. Well, what was once the definition used to describe the "Internet user" can now be used to describe the online financial searcher. And before you tell yourself you don't need to know anything about who financial searchers are and how they're searching, let me remind you of what happened to those companies that neglected to keep an eye on the Internet in the early days of its development.

This month we published "How America Searches: Financial Products and Services," the third in our report series based on online surveys of U.S. Internet users conducted by Harris Interactive. We determined that the online financial searcher is more likely to be male, have an annual household income of $50,000 or more and be employed full-time.

Financial searchers represent a smaller sub-set of the general online population that uses search--24 percent of those respondents who said they use search engines use them to conduct research and "shop" for financial products or services. But this statistic is nothing to shun. Speaking of the old days of the Internet, remember when most people heard the words "financial" and "Internet" and ran the other way? Consider that in conjunction with another recent report from Nielsen//NetRatings that online searches across the leading 60 engines rose by 39 percent between January 2005 and January 2006, reaching a total of about 5.7 billion searches.



Other demographic data of note regarding financial searchers are that 74 percent report having either "excellent" or "good" credit and 55 percent say they are familiar with the difference between natural and paid search listings. The portrait of the financial searcher is shaping up into a highly search-oriented target.

The most popular products and services researched online by these financial "shoppers" include credit cards at 44 percent and mortgages at 35 percent. Checking accounts and savings accounts follow closely, at just above 30 percent and just below 30 percent, respectively. Looking at the popularity of searching for products and services among men versus women, the interesting takeaways were as follows: men were more likely to search for brokerage accounts online than women, but women were more likely than men to search for checking accounts online.

Demographic data are all well and good, but the question you may be asking yourself is at this point is, "What about how these people search?" Regarding each named product or service, respondents were asked how often they search for a specific brand name versus the category/type of product/service. Among those people searching for home equity loans, mortgages and brokerage accounts, searching by category type was the norm, whereas among those people searching for checking and savings accounts, searching by brand name was the norm.

We're all looking for the proper balance of branded and non-branded keyword terms, but the results of our study revealed more than simply how a financial marketer should plan his or her next media campaign. Retail and publication marketers, for example, can benefit from knowing more about this specific searcher, and financial marketers themselves can see what the profile of financial searchers says about customers in general, on- or offline. If search reveals how people think, then I just gave you a little window into the minds of a very specific group of searchers. Enjoy!

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