Google – Search Engine or Business address book ?

Why would a visitor returning to your website use a search engine? It sounds bizarre but it is definitely a trend in search behaviour

Navigating to a website

Search engines usually operate as a way for users to find information. When a search query is entered and the user clicks “Search”, the engines algorithm operation begins to find the best possible webpages to display. Naturally all webmasters hope it is their site which will attract this new source of traffic. I.e. a “new visitor”.

But suppose this visitor is not new? Well, if the visitor has been to the website before they are determined to be a “Returning visitor” (check your analytics account to discover how many visitors to your website are new).

Ok, so you have a number (probably a percentage) of your website traffic that is “returning” and it would be natural to assume these visitors have bookmarked your website or ideally remembered your fantastic URL which they have typed straight into the address bar. This may not be the case for every website, but I have discovered something interesting while monitoring the analytics of some of our top performing websites.

The fact is that over 50% of returning visitors are not coming to the site directly, but are using search engines to navigate to our websites.

Why use search engines?

There are many reasons why users may be using a search engine to navigate back to a website they have previously visited. Perhaps they cannot remember the web address of your site? Perhaps they have found a comfortable keyword search that directs them efficiently to your location. Perhaps they do not know how to use bookmarks?

This must be a common behaviour amongst us as netcitizens, I can think of a time when I have used a search engine during a lunch break at work, but had to cut my surfing short or wanted to make a purchase but decided to wait till I got home. Baring doing anything clever, like perhaps emailing the URL address to myself or setting up an online bookmark or even employing the antiquated art of ‘post-it’ notes, I would probably use the exact same search query from a machine at home and hope for similar results.

Personalised search

Google and other search engines like Bing are actually making this process a lot easier for users who wish to use their service as an “address book”. They do this by recording your search history and using it as a scoring factor when serving up future search query results.

For example if last week you searched for a “Car cleaning service” and clicked through to the second result. You may find that when repeating the search query this week, the no.2 result is bumped up to the first position on the results page. If you’re interested in learning more about Google’s personalised search check out their webmaster blog entry here.

Is this important for webmasters?

Yes, it makes placing well in Search Engine Result Pages even more important. Not only because it makes businesses sense to be discovered in the first place, thereby gaining a customer. It is also important for a business to be there when this customer returns, in the place they expect it to be. Particularly if they did not convert last visit and have returned to make a purchase, download a newsletter etc. Imagine you are walking down the high street and spot something in a shop window that takes your interest, but you are rushing to meet a friend and don’t have time to go into the shop. So you wait until the next time you’re walking through town to look at it, in this example you would be pretty confused if the shop you wanted had moved to the bottom end of the high street, but if in its place was a similar shop with a similar item in the window why wouldn’t you go there instead?

Search engines are evolving beyond online doorways and moving into ecommerce real estate. Make sure your business isn’t moved to the shabby end of town.


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