Consumer search behavior has changed dramatically over the years. This is partly due to increasing familiarity with how to get the search results we want and partly due to the changes in the way that search engines are designed to produce and rank search results.
Top 4 surprising changes in consumer search behavior
From PC to mobile device: One of the biggest changes in consumer search behavior on the internet is the move from PCs to mobile devices. New research shows that in 2016 between 50-60 percent of all U.S. searches are done on mobile devices, up from 25 percent in 2013 when desktop searches peaked. In mobile searches Google is king, garnering almost 94 percent of the market, according to StatCounter. (About 55 percent of searches made on Google are on mobile devices). It should be noted that these searches are being completed on smartphones, not tablets.
The questions we ask search engines have changed: consumers used to ask “what is” or “who is” but are now asking “how to” or “why”. The latter questions are much more ambiguous; reflecting our trust in the sophistication of search engines as well as the fact that we are “always connected” through our smartphones. Recognizing the change in behavior, Google developed the RankBrain algorithm as a way to handle the more unique questions submitted to its search engine.
Changes in local search: Since 2011, people adding “near me” to the end of their search has increased by 34 times. Eighty-percent of these searches are on mobile devices, perhaps reflecting that a consumer is out of the house and ready to make a purchase. It has been found that 50 percent of consumers who do a local search on their mobile device go on to visit the store on the same day. Pay Per Click (PPC) marketers can use “local intent” such as location and time of day in their keywords to attract active buyers and compete directly with the big brands in search engine results.
Voice search has doubled: In the last year voice search has doubled with especially big growth among young internet users. This change could offer some explanation for the increase in longer or more unique queries.
How do demographics affect the way we search?
Neither health nor education seems to affect the way we search. High incomes earners, on the other hand, may use more devices and search for different things than those with lower incomes. In 2014, The New York Times' Upshot compared common Google search terms between the poor and wealthy and found that, for example, the wealthy search for the term “baby massage” at the same rate as the poor search for “selling avon.”
Despite the fact that young people grew up with technology, they are less likely to understand the way that search engines work and therefore tend to use more words in their searches. People between the ages of 35 and 60 don’t exhibit big differences in search habits. Those over the age of 60, however, spend twice the amount of time (four seconds over two) analyzing results on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP).
Those searching from different regions of the country may use terms more common in their area to search for the same thing. For example, people from big cities may search for “attorney” while those from smaller cities and towns may search for “lawyer.” This makes it important for online marketing agencies to do the research for local search terms.
Men and women do exhibit some differences in their search habits. Men are 5.4 times more likely than women to scroll down to view results at the bottom of the page and tend to click on more pages. Perhaps as a result of this behavior, they spend more time on SERPs. Women on the other hand, tend to click on the second or third results and have more browser tabs and devices going at the same time. Females also browse websites for a longer period of time than men.
Online marketing is an ever evolving business often subject to the decisions made by how Google ranks search results. A savvy team will remain nimble and open to making changes to its strategy.