British consumers’ use of search engines is becoming increasingly sophisticated, according to the third annual Search Attitudes Report commissioned by Tamar, the natural search conversion agency.
New features developed by major search engines are gaining traction with a public looking for richer multimedia search results and the tools to isolate specific types of information, such as product reviews and images.
The report also finds that consumers are sticking to their preference for natural results (69%) through the recession, with paid-for search results reducing in popularity (5%).
When asked to think about which types of information they would find most useful when researching a purchase online, reviews were the most popular, selected by 53 per cent of consumers overall and almost 60 per cent (59%) of those aged 44-54.
Consumer reviews were followed by images and photo results, regarded as useful by 45 per cent of people overall, rising to nearly 50 per cent (49%) of 25-34 year olds.
Local results were regarded as the third most useful type of result, selected by 17 per cent of consumers and particularly important to those aged 44-54 (21 per cent).
Interestingly, video results were only described as useful by a mere 6 per cent of men and just 3 per cent of women, perhaps reflecting that video results have only relatively recently been incorporated into standard search results by Google.
“This research highlights that it is naive to assume that all internet users are using search engines in the same way and looking for the same types of search results,” said Search Director at Tamar, Neil Jackson.
“Universal Search is now firmly embedded in the minds of consumers and they are actively seeking out information in a range of formats from product reviews to videos, to help them in the consideration phase when looking to make a purchase.”
He added, “With all major search engines now placing Universal Search centre stage, it really is time for brands to do the same – the key will be to assess carefully which types of natural search results are most likely to appeal to and influence their target audiences. “
The first half of 2009 has already seen the launch of Microsoft’s new Bing search engine, the re-launch of Ask.com and Google trailing a number of new features at its Searchology event in May 2009.
As part of the Search Attitudes Report, UK consumers were asked how useful they felt certain of these recently launched or soon to be launched new search engine features would be to them.
Of the seven new features consumers were asked to assess, Google’s Search Options and Bing’s Image Search features were the most popular, with 58 per cent of people in each case claiming they would be useful or very useful in delivering a better search experience.
Google’s Search Options allows users to drill down into search results by choosing to view specific categories of results such as product reviews or forum posts. Bing’s simple Image Search feature displays images as a tile which you can scroll through, rather than having to repeatedly click on to a new page to see more results.
Google’s Site Links feature where individual results also show additional deep links to the most popular pages within a website was also positively received, with 52 per cent seeing it as a useful feature, as was Google’s Rich Snippets (51 per cent) where search results will automatically show user reviews and customer satisfaction ratings.
Bing’s Video Search feature, which displays results in a tile and plays a preview of the video as you roll over a thumbnail, had more niche appeal, described as useful by just 35 per cent of consumers, though this rose to 41 per cent for those aged 18-24.
Google’s much discussed moves to introduce Wiki Search as away for individuals to customize their search experience by re-ranking, deleting and commenting on results was one of the least popular of new features, with just 30 per cent stating they would find it useful.
Google’s Search Squared, which allows results to be manipulated into a spreadsheet format, a feature aimed more at the academic community, also understandably lacked mass appeal with only 25 per cent agreeing that it would a useful feature.
“UK consumers are hungry for a richer and more sophisticated search experience and actively want to move beyond ‘the ten blue links’,” Jackson added.
“Our research indicates that consumers are looking for features and tools which will give them the freedom to find the kind of search results which are going to be the most relevant to them individually.”
He concluded, “While there is clearly a demand for these tools in principal, the challenge for the likes of Microsoft and Google will be integrating these tools seamlessly into their search engines and making sure ordinary users are aware of them.”
Tamar commissioned research specialist YouGov to survey the search attitudes of a representative online panel of 2,011 GB consumers from 3-6 July 2009.
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