Study Shows Paid Search Listings Are More Relevant To Women And The Unemployed

The latest installment of iProspect's Search Engine User Attitudes Survey indicates disparities among various demographic groups in terms of the types of search results each deems most relevant. Conducted by the search marketing firm in conjunction with WebSurveyor, Strategem Research, and Survey Sampling International in March 2004, the study suggests that companies that target women and unemployed users should incorporate paid search advertising in their marketing efforts.

The survey asked 1,649 participants whether they use one search engine more than others. Those who answered "yes" and picked either America Online, Microsoft Corp.'s MSN, Google, or Yahoo! as their primary search engine were served a sample results page that resembled that of a search on their preferred engine, in order to ensure familiarity with the layout of the search results. As tracked using WebSurveyor's technology, respondents indicated which singular result listing for keyword term "used cars" was most relevant to someone who is thinking about buying a used car.

"We actually witnessed click-through behavior," said iProspect CEO Fredrick Marckini, who added that the search term "used cars" was chosen because it results in a similar ad presentation across all four engines featured. "We knew there would be good content on natural and paid results on all engines [for a search on 'used cars']," said Marckini.

More than 43 percent of female respondents chose a paid search listing as the most relevant result to the sample search, while 34.6 percent of men selected a paid search ad. In response, the study has advised companies that predominantly target women--such as those in the cosmetic, personal care, home fashion, and toy sectors--to include paid search advertising in their marketing mix. However, it stresses that using search optimization to boost standing in organic search listings remains imperative.

"We know there are brands that engage in natural search optimization and ignore paid search," commented Marckini. If they're targeting women, he suggested: "It's clear that that's a mistake."

Analyzing responses based on participants' employment status, the study found that nearly 65 percent of fully employed respondents chose a natural search result as the most relevant, as compared to 60.8 percent of part-time workers and 55.1 percent of unemployed users. Based on these findings, iProspect has determined that companies that target part-time or unemployed users, such as job-seeking services, should use paid search advertising.

Nate Elliott, associate analyst at Jupiter Research, applauded the search firm for sharing its insights. "The study is giving marketers a jump-start on that research to find a starting point for their own campaigns," he concluded.

The study also found that 64.8 percent of college graduates chose natural search results as more relevant, while 56.2 percent of non-college graduates chose natural listings. Web user experience and usage frequency were also measured. Over 60 percent of participants who have been online at least four years clicked on an organic result listing, as compared to 54 percent of users with less than three years of Web experience. In addition, more than 65 percent who use the Internet four or more times daily picked a natural search result, while 56.3 percent of those who use the Web less than four times a day opted for a natural listing.

Concluded Jupiter's Elliott: "This validates what smart and sophisticated marketers already know, which is you need to give consideration to the organic side of search."

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