The solution to search engine fatigue

Internet users are tired of trying to use a search engine to find something that they want, and not finding that thing. This seems obvious, but it’s the conclusion that’s been reached following a recent survey of 1,001 U.S. adults called “State of Search.” The research was conducted by Kelton Research for Autobytel. The primary finding from the study is that 72% of searchers have “search engine fatigue” meaning that they become impatient or frustrated when they are unable to quickly find the exact information they need when using a search engine.

I’m actually surprised that the number isn’t closer to 100%.

Some statistics from the report (thanks to Search Engine Land for this information):

- 65.4% of Americans say they’ve spent two or more hours in a single sitting searching for specific information on search engines.

- When asked to name their #1 complaint about the process, 25% cited a deluge of results, 24% cited a predominance of commercial (paid) listings, 18.8% blamed the search engine’s inability to understand their keywords (forcing them to try again), and 18.6% were most frustrated by disorganized/random results.

Search Engine Land draws the conclusion that this is an argument for personalization in search, and in part it may be. But I think that these results also point to the need for comprehensive and information-rich vertical search alternatives to aid in the buying process – not as a replacement to the popular search engines, but as a supplemental tool.

The difficulty of using the popular search engines in the buying process is nothing new. This study was conducted to illustrate problems in the car-buying process, but the same issues happen in other product buying cycles, including the IT buying process. When I worked on the Web Buyer’s Guide, the goal of the site and technology that we built was to provide a better technology buying process for IT professionals. At the time, I would do a demonstration to explain to people why this type of vertical search engine was essential for the buying process – and why Google and Yahoo wouldn’t work for buyers who were trying to do the research that’s needed to make a product purchase.

I used the term “CRM” (customer relationship management) to demonstrate. First, I would type “CRM” into Google to see the results – 83,900,000. I then modified the search to CRM Products – 34,300,000. Still too many results. This is the #1 problem with search engines for the 25% of people who complained about a “deluge of results” and why, in the survey results, nearly 40% of Americans described finding the “right and relevant” information in the big search engines – Google and Yahoo – as “overwhelming and time-consuming.”

The next search that I did was with WBG’s top competitor – KnowledgeStorm, another IT product directory. For the search, I went to their CRM page and asked someone in the crowd to name a random CRM company. Different answers were given, but usually one of the top companies was named, such as Pivotal, Oracle or Salesforce.com. Typically, if I was to search for products from any of those companies in the KnowledgeStorm directory, they weren’t included in the list because they weren’t KnowledgeStorm’s paying customers. This type of situation causes two levels of frustration for users, both because all the results that are displayed are commercial (paid) listings, and because this forces buyers to go elsewhere to find a complete list of CRM products when 85% of buyers want to find a one-stop shop for everything related to their purchase.

To overcome the buying process issues that both the search engines and limited product directories have, we built a vertical directory based on technology product categories. This vertical directory included every bit of information that Ziff Davis had about each of those categories – editor reviews, articles, news, user ratings, etc. – combined with a comprehensive product directory and resource library with information from the IT vendors themselves, including white papers, videos, etc. By surrounding each technology category with all the relevant content in each category and a comprehensive product list, we allowed IT buyers to be able to get a complete view into the product that they were attempting to buy.

In the State of Search report, nearly 25% of respondents said that they actually put off purchasing a car because they found the overall car-buying process too overwhelming or frustrating. Autobytel built a vertical directory to try to solve those issues, and I think that they might have hit on a viable solution if they are able to execute.

~ Black & White ~

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