September 28, 2022

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Unnatural Search

Unnatural Search

Web analysts love to have their metrics as neat as Scrooge McDuck’s piles of gold coins. When web measurements do not add up, they become obsessed in determining why, just as McDuck would in trying to find a lost coin. If you’re watching this unfold, it can be amusing. If you’re trying to figure out where your web visitors are coming from, it’s like a Rubik’s cube with 45 different colors.

Web analytics are not just about how many people visit your site. It is about understanding why your audience behaves in a certain way, developing behavior trends and how the business should react to them. It’s about differentiating the “correlations of confidence” from the “correlations of convenience.” And a belief, to quote an old TV show, that the truth is out there.

When users come to your site by entering your web URL in a browser’s address bar, that is called “direct load.” When they use an unpaid link in search engine results to reach your site, that’s called “natural search.”

What can drive a web analyst nuts is this question: What looks like a natural search engine user coming to your web site, but is really a direct load visitor?

Answer: Someone typing in the search bar of a search engine. The analytics packages show they are coming from a natural search result. But they weren’t searching, they knew where they wanted to go. That is why I call them a “Virtual Direct Load” visitor. Yes, I made up the name for them. They are just that special.

On any given day, I’ll review analytics for at least six different web sites. Some are non-profit, some large eCommerce sites and some informational. Virtually all of these sites are unrelated and target a broad variety of ages, buying interests and intellectual levels in the U.S. and abroad. Yet 12-14 percent of all users on these sites reach by Virtual Direct Load.

If these users went undetected, analysts could be led to provide poor advice to their executive team, possibly resulting in misspent resources and decisions that could disappoint users.

What’s interesting about this group is, on the average, they have different tendencies than most other visitors. They segment themselves into their own marketable group. Yes, Scrooge McDuck is wringing his feathers with marketing possibilities. The more of the web address they actually typed, the more conclusions could be drawn.

Users who typed the shorter part of the web address, for example MediaBullseye, are more likely to be a return user with either a Mac or Windows operating system. They become more engaged on the site, spending more time, and in eCommerce sites, spend more money than the average user.

Users who typed a little more, like are more likely to use Windows Explorer as their browser. As compared to the average user, they do not update their software as often, return 80 percent more frequently and spend more on eCommerce sites.

If they added the www. and searched the complete URL, they are the least likely to be new users. They read 200-400 percent more pages than average users. And they actually read them, racking in the time-on-site. They are more likely to spend more money, or be engaged in content (based on the type of site).

What causes them to use the browser instead of the address bar? How can we leverage this knowledge to better their experience? Is this a behavior of laziness or productivity (even with extra clicks)? After all, the top of the screen is so far to move the mouse without taking a cartoon break. Perhaps the Google and Yahoo search bar is larger than the address bar on the browser? (no, it’s not). Is it repressed ill-will for the analysts checking the web stats. Maybe, but that can’t be proven yet.

Anecdotally, these are mostly male users with a low-tech bias, but I don’t buy into that yet. After all, I have no metrics to back that statistic. Until we can quantify this group, I know they’ll come back more frequently, spend more time and money and are less likely to update their software. Their cartoon preferences, however, also remain a mystery.

Wayne Kurtzman is a senior marketing analyst who loves the shiny toys of technology and online communities. He has led knowledge management and web analytics practices for startups and larger companies including Intel. Wayne also is active at the international level of Destination ImagiNation, a not-for-profit organization that fosters teamwork, innovation and creative problem solving skills in students from kindergarten through college.

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