Where do they start? 

Why, Google of course.

Seven out of 10 participants started their search for home insurance on Google. 

There was a mixture of general searches for home insurance, and the use of Google to find the brand they had in mind. 

  • 25% performed a general search query (86% of these used the words ‘home insurance’ in the query string).
  • 46% went straight to a comparison site, either typing the site name into a search engine or by direct URL entry.
  • 29% went straight to a provider site, either typing the site name into a search engine or by directly entering the URL.

If we look at the content of the searches, we can see that Moneysupermarket, Aviva and Directline were the most popular brands that users searched for. 

These are brands that advertise heavily on TV, so does this explain the fact that searchers had these brands front of mind when they searched? 

In such a competitive market, we can now see why, even though insurance providers and comparison sites invest in building brand awareness, they need to work hard even when customers search for the brand. 

Take a look at this result, for moneysupermarket: 

A brand search such as this suggests the customer intends to visit said brand, and since it is top of the organic results this should be easy.  

However, there are a couple of obstacles in the way, not least of which is Google’s own comparison service. This is positioned above the organic ads but, craftily, doesn’t look too much like an ad itself. 

This, added to the Compare The Market PPC ad, means that moneysupermarket is forced to spend probably more than £1 per click to make sure its brand traffic goes to the right place. 

Organic or PPC? 

The eventual choice of results to click is somewhat surprising, or at least it is if you assume that everyone knows the difference between paid and organic results.

These were user tests, and it was observed that 56% of people chose organic results, and 44% chose PPC.  

We’ve published the results of research into this before, with one study finding that 36% of people didn’t know PPC ads were ads. 

Dan Barker and myself followed this up with a user survey last year, which found that around 10% of people weren’t aware that Google even carried ads. 

Of course, there are pros and cons with each research methods, but the key takeaway is that at least 10% of users are clicking results they don’t know are ads.  

Is this any surprise when ads are looking less and less like ads? 

They used to be shaded, which provided a clear distinction between the top ads and organic results (apart from Google’s comparison results). 

Now, we have the yellow ‘ad’ label, but otherwise the ads look identical to organic results. 

Yes, you might think the ad label would provide a clue but, as eye tracking studies will tell you, subtle changes can make a big difference to user behaviour, and sometimes seemingly obvious elements can be overlooked. 

10% of users in the study expressed or demonstrated a preference for organic search results and chose the even if the company also had a PPC ad listed.

However, this still leaves a lot of people who click the PPC ad when the brand is top of the organic listings anyway. 

As the table below from Google’s Keywords Planner shows, this means some of these brands are paying a lot for clicks even when they have climbed the organic listings for such a competitive term. 

Indeed, the moneysupermarket SEO team should be congratulated for reaching the top for ‘home insurance’ (with bonus points for use of markup) though the effect is perhaps diluted by the paid results. 

In summary

This study suggests that, even after companies have worked hard to get their brands at the front of searchers’ minds, they still have a lot of work to do to get them from Google’s search results to their website.

Also, we can see how Google profits from being the go-between here. 

In the next post, I’ll look at what home insurance brands need to do on-site to make the most of this traffic.