Half of online purchases are preceded by product related searches according to a study released this week by DoubleClick and comScore Networks. The study explores how consumers use search engines as part of their purchasing process and examined the search and purchasing activities of consumers that made purchases in one of four categories: apparel, computer hardware, sports/fitness equipment and travel. The search activities of these users was reviewed for the twelve weeks leading up to the purchase and the results served as the basis for the study.

The amount of searches preceding a purchase varies somewhat by product type. Not surprisingly, high ticket items like travel and computer hardware purchases generate the highest amount of pre-purchase research. (nearly 75% of travel purchases and over half of computer purchases are preceded by search.) Lower cost items like clothing and fitness equipment tend to result in less search, possibly due to a other factors like impulse buying, offline marketing or buying on the recommendation of a friend.

The study findings support a previous comScore study that showed only 8% of searches resulting in immediate purchases. (I wrote about the results of that study and the impact it could have on how companies market their Web sites in an article title Search Engine Users Head Offline to Shop last month.) The results of the studies may be surprising to search marketers and to Web site owners who have long measured ROI and the impact of search marketing by tracking which visits and keywords result in immediate purchases on the site. Marketers often feel that a search engine referral that doesn't convert is worthless. In reality, the searches that don't result in immediate sales may be coming back as direct URL visits and turning into sales that cannot be tied to the original visit.

The study lends credence to the idea that search marketing should be considered part of ongoing brand awareness style advertising campaigns as opposed to simply being measured in terms of immediate conversion to sales. It also means that marketers may want to consider finding ways to keep in contact with searchers that are not ready to make immediate purchases. Offering to email special deals and coupon codes to visitors that sign up for a mailing list is an ideal way of staying top of mind with searchers that are likely to visit several other Web sites before deciding which one to make their purchase from.

View the full study: Search Before the Purchase.

Discuss the study findings in the Small Business Ideas Forum.
February 15, 2005

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > New Study Explores how Search Engine Use Impacts Purchases