Google is The New Browser

On from Analytics Culture, Web Analytics

I was recently on an interesting case, analyzing the behavioral data from one of my client’s Web site.

Here goes:

This company operates in a geographically delimited market, with a very unique product. We know from research that the client enjoys a 96% brand awareness. Needles to say that their clients, and their prospects too, know who they are.

Analyzing the search traffic, I saw that organic search actually drives a good third of the online sales! Paid accounts for close to nothing, and has been falling (both in terms of percentage of sales and conversion rate) for some time now. As for Search Engine shares, Google owns that space with MSN and Yahoo barely moving dust.

When I look at the keyphrases, the top 20 grab 83% of all used expressions, with mention of the brand in all but one! I mean, it makes no sense that any Internet user would in 2008 not try the company name with .com in the address bar to get to the site (the .com is actually one of the top keyphrases). Still, many people used the company name in their search.

The more I look at it, the less I can call that search, though. It looks much more like browsing to me, as if Google was replacing the URL field of the browser.

Is Google the new browser?

Actually, I am noticing that phenomenon more and more with companies that have strong brands, and whose domain name is really obvious, i.e. people could know right away from trying their name with .com. Still, the brand (and variations/associations with other keywords) often occupies almost all the territory of organic search terms. Quite interesting.

I began asking around, and quickly people started telling me about that new habit they’ve had for some time. It is so much simpler to key the name of the company in Google (and for a few others MSN or Yahoo); you know you’ll get the site as the first, or very first, choice at the top of the SERP. No more typo in the URL, etc.

And you? Is this how you sometimes use Google?

If so, this brings the important question of how we should analyze organic search, especially in relation with PPC. It also pose the question of SEO relevancy, and strategy. Scoring well on one’s brand(s) and name(s) should not then be seen as a success. Sure, there are the odd cases of companies that don’t even own the best positions for their brands/names. You can imagine how much trouble they’re in then when people are just looking for them, and not finding them.

This also questions the relevancy of buying one’s names and brands in PPC. I am no SEM expert, but I am wondering if Paid Search in that context is not simply bringing traffic that would otherwise have come to the site via the free organic results.

Anyway, I am not drawing any conclusions today. I will need to investigate this much further.

And you? Have you noticed this phenomenon in the site(s) you analyze?

Tags: , organic+search,

12 responses to “Google is The New Browser

  1. I often see websites receiving up to 80% of their traffic from Google. And when I look at the key phrases, it’s clear people are looking for the brand with all the possible ways of spelling it. That’s why I usually do a deeper analysis to regroup the top keywords that are clearly brand searches (those who already knew about the brand) than group other key phrases in categories. Sadly… this takes a while and is a manual task… But really worth it because that’s how we can find new and unexpected keywords for future PPC campaigns.

  2. Hi Stéphane,

    Yes, there are also cases where organic search serves as a way of recuperating traffic that is looking for the web site, but can’t find it because of the complexity of the domain name (length, spelling, counter-intuitivwe structure, etc). I have seen several cases like that. I remember seeing many variations of spelling Cirque du Soleil in their report.

    What I am referring to in particular here, is the more and more common habit (so it seems) of using Gooogle right away, as the *first* mode of **getting** to a destination, and not search for it. This becomes pretty obvious when the brand/name is quite simple, well-known, easily associate with .com, but still the most used keyword in orgnaic search report. In such case, is this really search? I think not.

    Thanks for your comment, as always.

  3. Great post! This is going to be a long comment.

    Yes, I definitely see what you’re talking about in the sites I analyze. Google is absolutely and deservedly being used as a smarter version of the address window. Google compensates for spelling and domain type issues and sometimes comes up with important related sites at the same time. Lately, Google even shows subsections of the site, sort of a surrogate for the site’s global nav. If I weren’t so stubborn I’d probably switch to this practice myself.

    We do something like what Stephane describes. We have made custom reports (in WebTrends) that show only visits resulting from brand-related search terms, one report for natural and another for PPC. Of course, once we have those filters done, it’s easy to create the counterparts – visits resulting from non-brand-related PPC and natural search terms. The “search terms” reports, broken down this way, are a lot easier to get insights from, and the over time patterns can be interesting.

    Finally, your question about whether it’s worth buying PPC terms for brand terms where your site is going to be #1 anyway …. this is such an important question. From time to time I’ve persuaded our PPC people to turn off brand terms for a little while. I haven’t done a thorough analysis, but there definitely IS a synergy, i.e. more visits happen when a PPC ad accompanies a #1 natural listing. Some of the extra visits are clicks on the PPC ads, but the conversion for the #1 natural position seems to go up also, probably because the PPC ad “validates” the natural listing in the searcher’s mind. There’s a lot of further analysis to be done here. Are the small numbers of additional visits worth the cost of the PPC ads? The payback needs to be worked out in terms of the uptick in visits. You may be paying for 50 clicks, but if only 5 of them are visits that would not have happened at all without the PPC ad, then your real cost per additional visit is 10 times your cost per click. Yikes.

    It’s been difficult to persuade PPC people to back off on brand terms. There’s a strong belief that the synergy is not only increased visits, but increased “branding” i.e. eyeballs i.e. some kind of credibility that comes from seeing PPC ads. Plus, of course, the need to keep spending money and showing high visit numbers to clients. All are valid in their own way and are hard to argue against without better research data of our own. Oh, for another 10 hours per day.

  4. Hi Chris,

    Thanks for your great contribution. You present the Organic vs PPC situation very well. Jim Novo, to a response to my comment (where this discussion started) said he thought it crazy to buy brand keywords. I have heard about that supposed lift from appearing in both organic and PPC i.e. brand reinforcement, etc. However, the company I was giving as an example definitely does NOT need to reinforce its credibility. My take, in their case anyway, is that any traffic coming from PPC via their name/brands is basically money out of the window. That traffic was coming anyway.

    This “browser” thing, or “smarter version of the address window” as you put it so well, should be investigated if it has any merit, and I think it does.

    I suggest that we keep in touch in the coming weeks, and share analysis results from the various sites we work on (note to clients: don’t worry, I will not divulge your names 😉 ).

    Thanks again!

  5. I noticed that too, on my websites close to 99% comes from only the brand.

    I started to do that a lot, I mean I have a lot of bookmarks etc… , but I am not bookmarking everything either and didnt switch yet to online bookmarks… and more and more I noticed that using the wrong extension (.org .com .tv .info) leads to a third party website or worse to porn (and in a corporate environement that means trouble as well)
    most of the time just typing the brand name and the feeling lucky button is enough.

    Also I dont know how to count the auto search feature that most browsers are using, IE in firefox type the name in the address bar then hit enter without adding anything and it will search it for you and redirect you to the right website, and that could also count for a lot of those “keywords”

  6. Hi Adrien,

    Thanks for your input. Your description of such behavior is quite interesting, and again I believe this all begs for revisiting how we analyze organic “search” and especially its relationship with paid search in an optimized portfolio.

    As for the behavior you describe at the end, I think this would appear as direct traffic (or no referrer) in most web analytics application.

    Thanks again.

  7. Hi Jacques,

    One of my clients is a very large bank. It has an immediately recognizable brand. For most products the ratio of branded/generic search is 85:15 sometimes even higher.

    It begs the question – is the brand so strong that most people use it in their search or are we missing a massive big opportunity on the generic search?

    But are we really missing an opportunity? After all, the aggregators seem to rule the search market for most generic terms (try searching “credit card”, “current account”, “child trust fund” etc.).
    PPC costs on such terms could be near prohibitive.

    What about branded + generic search such as “toyota hybrid car”?
    You will find that Toyota are bidding against the term “toyota hybrid” even though they rank 1st in the Google organic ranking.

    Toyota can argue that this makes sense if they wish to “push down” any competitor that is broad matching on the term “hybrid car” (I’m no SEM expert either so correct me if I’m wrong).

    As the PPC ad is placed at the top of the page Toyota are actually pushing any competitive organic result down the page.

    I’ve recently seen a graphic illustration of the click rates on SERPs – every single drop in the ranking translates to a very large drop in click through rates.
    Therefore, using PPC on your own brand could serve to push competition further down (especially now that Google intends to allow bidding against competitors’ brand name).
    Would be interested to hear your (and others’) thoughts about it.


  8. Hi Michael,

    Thanks for your interesting comment.

    I am not a search analytics specialist,but I am more and more thinking that brand search is not really search, but just a way of finding the site while not having to bother to type the URL. That is why I say this is closer to using Google as a “browser” than really a search engines in such cases.

    Now, I would love to discuss with an SEM specialist and have their take on the following question: aren’t those visits I am getting via PPC on my brand name, visits that would have come to me via organic search anyway? If a have a strong brand, how does the branding effect of being up there both in organic and paid search good?

    However, I can see how the PPC can play a role with “pushing competition further down”, but, gosh, how expensive that can be! Better make sure that traffic has value!

    Thanks again.

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