Search as a whole is growing rapidly. Using the UK as an example, there were a total of 15.8bn visits to search engines made in the time period of January – July 2012. Compared with 2011, in total there have been 652m additional visits to search engines that weren’t happening this time last year. Companies vying for top search rankings are doing so against an ever-increasing base of competitors, so it has never been more important to understand search engine trends and how to maximise use of this technology.
Experian Research by Hitwise this August shows that, on average, the UK is making an additional 93m visits per month to search engines compared with last year. This represents an average year-on-year growth of 4.3%. Perhaps the most pertinent fact from a marketer’s perspective is the absolute dominance of Google – last month 91% of searches conducted in the UK were carried out on Google. This complete monopolisation of the market renders alternative search engines such as Yahoo! and Bing almost worthless to brands (no offence, Microsoft).
So we’ve established that search is growing consistently, but now we should consider how search is changing. The way in which people are using search has changed significantly over the years. When search engines were first finding their feet, broad search terms such as “women’s clothes” or “electrical products” would return a relatively short list of possibilities for the user to pick from. Those same search terms today generate 238m and 86m results respectively. This has lead to people entering far more complex, specific search terms, in order to regulate the frankly insane amount of results presented to them. Nearly one third of search phrases in 2012 include four or more words. Take a look at the below chart to compare how phrase length in search terms has grown since this time last year:
That’s not to say that short phrases are no longer searched for – they still make up the lion’s share of search terms. “Football” and “movies”, for example, generate 1.7bn and 4.3bn results respectively. These unspecific phrases yield a far wider range of results, meaning that getting to the top of the search rankings is nyon-impossible, unless you are prepared to invest huge amounts of time and money. This research does however show that these sorts of search-terms are steadily decreasing, compared with steady growth amongst longer search phrases.
The underlying point of this Experian report is simple, “As search continues to advance, the long tail is going to become ever more important in search.” Time is a precious commodity, and people simply don’t have the time or patience to sift through endless pages of results in order to find what they were looking for. Inevitably, as the number of indexed websites increase, this trend is likely to become even more obvious. Brands would be well advised to think long and hard about the most relevant search terms for the product or service they want to be noticed for.