2008 Search Attitudes Report reveals online search and purchasing preferences

The perceived independence of natural search results is the main reason they are chosen above paid search results when making a purchase according to almost two in three consumers surveyed in the 2008 Search Attitudes Report commissioned by Tamar, the search conversion agency. Consumers are continuing to place most trust in natural search results with more than nine out of ten consumers preferring to click on natural search links, a similar figure as revealed in the 2007 report.

However, brands are also under great pressure to make sure their sites are secure and easy to use and navigate through as according to the 2008 Search Attitudes Report, a number of consumers are put off making a purchase if they are unsure about the security of a site and if prices aren’t clear.

Brits still don’t trust sponsored links

The 2008 Search Attitudes Report reveals that over half (51 per cent) of British consumers are now aware of the difference between natural and paid-for search results, an increase of eight per cent since 2007, and 91 per cent prefer using natural search results when looking to buy a product or service. Although awareness has increased across the board since last year, there is still a clear generational divide with almost two in three (65 per cent) of 16-24 year olds aware of the difference. This figure decreases gradually through the age groups with only 38 per cent of over 55s being aware of the difference between paid and natural search.

Unlike 2007, the 2008 Search Attitudes Report revealed no signs of a gender divide when it comes to the preference of natural search results over paid search. Over half (58 per cent) of both men and women identified the independence of natural search results as the most important reason for this. Independence was closely followed the perception that natural search results are more likely to give the consumer what they are looking for.

Natural vs. paid search

The 2008 Search Attitudes Report indicates that sponsored links continue to suffer greatly from consumer scepticism with more than one in three consumers (31 per cent) saying that they choose natural over paid results because they trust their search engine of choice to give them the most relevant results and almost one in five (18 per cent) identifying extra information that accompanies natural search results (i.e. the text explaining the result) as a factor in choosing natural over paid search results. The importance of these factors was uniform across all generations, demonstrating a consensus of opinion brought by an increased understanding of paid and natural search.

Neil Jackson, Search Director, Tamar comments, “Consumer awareness of the difference between natural and paid search continues to increase and as it does so, paid search continues to suffer largely because of its perceived lack of independence. The fact that there has been alignment of opinion across gender and generation is a result of this increased understanding and it is more important than ever that brands move away from an over-reliance on paid search and implement a joined-up search strategy.”

Search engines are favourite, but consumers are easily put off
Despite the rise of social media, review sites, affiliate and price comparison sites, search engines remain the consumer’s favourite starting point to make a purchase online. However, in an increasingly competitive online shopping environment, it is more important than ever that brands make sure that their websites are up to scratch as consumers are easily put off making a purchase online.

The 2008 Search Attitudes Report reveals that over half of consumers (51 per cent) start with a search engine when looking to purchase from a retailer online and 42 per cent start with a search engine when looking to make a travel purchase online. Women favour search engines more when it comes to retail purchases with 54 per cent of women preferring to begin with a search engine in comparison with 46 per cent of men. However, men are much more likely to use a price comparison site with 29 per cent of men preferring to begin at a site like Kelkoo as opposed to just 18 per cent of women. In contrast, no real gender divide exists when it comes to making a travel purchase online.

The report also reveals that it doesn’t take a lot to put consumers off purchasing online with 35 per cent of consumers citing that being unsure about the security of a site would be most likely to put them off. In addition, one in five (20 per cent) said that a lack of clear prices was most likely to put them off, and 16 per cent identified not being able to find what they’re looking for as the biggest factor. The survey reveals a very clear generational divide on this matter with only 27 per cent of 16-24 year olds identifying security as the most important factor as opposed to 43 per cent of over 55s.

Jackson comments, “Search engines are still king when it comes to online purchasing, but it is not just a case of companies who get their search strategies in order reaping the rewards. Brands must make sure that their websites are as consumer friendly as possible if they want to maximise the possibility of consumers making a purchase and this means having a secure, easy to use site, with clear prices and simply booking procedures, otherwise consumers will take advantage of the choice on offer and go elsewhere.”

The importance of variety

The 2008 Search Attitudes Report also found that almost two in three (64 per cent) consumers look at other categories of results (news, images, blogs) at least sometimes when using a search engine, which demonstrates the rise of universal search. In addition 59 per cent of consumers will click on at least four search links before making a purchase decision, with almost one in three (30 percent) consumers claiming that the presence of a brand in search results would lead to them clicking through to the site. The research also indicates the importance of optimising specific website landing pages with 60 per cent of consumers claiming that if they were directed straight to a specific product page from a search result then they would be more likely to make a purchase.

Jackson concludes, “The search battle is intensifying as the online shopping sector becomes more and more competitive and travel brands that do not consider consumer preferences with their online strategy will get left behind. Many marketers are still neglecting the need to take a joined-up approach to treat their search engine strategy and web site sales strategy as one integrated process, rather than two distinct entities. In addition, they also must consider optimising for universal search and make sure they address the factors that put consumers off making a purchase.”

Published on: 12:00AM on 15th May 2008