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Search engines dominate the online user experience: A case study

How accurate is the widely held belief that search engines are the core part of the online user experience? Based on individual case studies from our clients, we think it’s pretty accurate, and their influence is increasing rapidly. In our recent annual review for a major national franchise client we discovered that the total search engine marketing traffic increased nearly sixty percent between 2006 and 2007 for both paid and organic search.

60% increase in search engine traffic

This case study is particularly compelling because this particular client had a site whose page ranks were relatively stable in 2007, allowing what was effectively a baseline measure of a site’s growth entirely due to growth in search engine usage.

What is also noteworthy is the large drop in other marketing channel efforts, such as referrals and direct traffic. Effectively visitors are relying on Google as their “bookmark” engine, often typing in a keyphrase that got them to the site in the past instead of trying to remember or spell the name of the company or service. This is a huge shift in user patterns, as users develop command line approaches to searching and finding information. Note also that referral traffic dropped significantly.

Internet Yellow pages (titled “Paid Directory” in the graph) lag behind in usage, and didn’t increase at nearly the same rate as search engines. The fact that they haven’t enjoyed the same increases is almost certainly a reflection of the poor quality of their product (which in our mind is a reflection of their own philosophy about advertising and generating revenue online) rather than their potential as a search source. In fact we believe that if yellowpages.com, superpages.com, and other systems could get their act together (which in this case simply means “approach their business model like Google does”) they could be real competition for local search.

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