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October 6, 2008

Keynote – Click: What Search Activity Tells Us About Society

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Danny Sullivan introduces the first keynote speaker of the conference, Bill Tancer, General Manager of Global Research at Hitwise, a Time Magazine columnist, and author of Click: What Search Activity Tells Us About Society. He says that we spend a lot of time wondering about who to market to in search. But oddly enough, for these machines, these search engines that have changed so much of our lives, there’s relatively little information on how people interact with search. Bill’s book tells us the behavior of people and shows us what they do.

Bill Tancer says that at his very first speech (which was for SES) he didn’t know yet what he was going to say. It was standing room only and it was a data heavy presentation. He started off by saying that he loves data. In science camp as a kid he recited Pi to 200 digits. That’s how much he loves data.

“To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something.” –Walker Percy

In Percy’s book, he says that the most interesting thing about going into town is not getting there but the search involved in getting there. Bill’s found something he likes even more than data, and that’s the idea behind the click. Think outside the box. Think of what you can do with the data beyond buying search terms. Start thinking of all that’s possible with search term data.

The data he’s going to be using is based on the largest worldwide sample of Internet users (25 million). He and his team once did a test. They compared the top fears reported by people who were asked to the fears most searched for.

Reported fears:

  1. Bugs, mice, snakes
  2. Heights
  3. Water
  4. Public transport
  5. Storms
  6. Closed spaces
  7. Tunnels and bridges
  8. Crowds
  9. Speaking in public

Most searched fears:

  1. Flying
  2. Heights
  3. Clowns
  4. Intimacy
  5. Death
  6. Rejection
  7. People
  8. Snakes
  9. Success
  10. Driving

He saw this as a great insight into what people are willing to claim in traditional market research versus how they really feel.

The Economy, Porn and Bigfoot

Search term data provides insight into how we react to the economy. They found that when there was a new high in the gas prices, there was a spike in visits to gas related sites. But the searches would taper off in a week, even if prices continued to rise. But over the last six months the searches have gradually been going up. He thinks this represents a lasting sensitivity to gasoline prices.

He’s been quoted a lot about porn. He’s found some interesting insights into adult Web sites. Over the last five years, every summer is the low point of visits to adult Web sites. However, there was no dip this summer. Looking at the demographic data for visits to these sites shows that households earning under $60,000 were visiting the most. His theory is that during times of economic downturn, people turn to diversionary sites like adult sites.

Search data can also show some of the popular Halloween costume ideas. Bigfoot is the most searched costume this year, and it could be because of the Bigfoot hoax a few months ago.

Stacy Keibler, Sarah Palin and “Hot Photos”

As he was putting together a presentation, he was watching a news story about Dancing with the Stars. It was the season where Drew Lachey, Jerry Rice and Stacy Keibler were the final contestants. Knowing that viewer votes count for half the score, he decided that the most-searched celebrity would be the winner. Stacy Keibler was getting significantly more searches. He predicted Stacy would win, but was wrong.

Trying to find out what actually happened, they looked at the breakdown of the searches. It turned out that many of the searches were for hot pictures of Stacy Keibler. It’s likely that these searchers weren’t actually voting. (Surprise!) These findings led to the Stacy Keibler Correction Coefficient. Because of market conditions, people were not searching for the intent the researchers expected.

“Searching for Palin’s ‘Hot Photos’” was a Time column that Bill recently wrote. The week after Sarah Palin was named to the Republican presidential ticket he started gathering search data. There was a huge spike that week in searches for “Sarah Palin” but the searches were very Stacy Keibler-esque. People were looking for “hot photos” of her.

His research shows that here are three segments that adopt online technology before the mainstream: Young Digerati, Money & Brains and the Bohemian Mix.

Watching Search Trends

Specific trends of the early adopters:

  • Cam-based social nets
  • Personalization
  • Tattoos
  • Deal sites (resurging)

The Google Chrome team asked Bill to do the same analysis on the browser. The findings showed that a group designated Executive Suites was the main group adopting the browser. The theory is that this is because Chrome is only available for Windows, and not Mac OS or Linux, while early adopters likely prefer Mac OS and innovators seem to prefer Linux.

There’s a few ways to learn more if you’re interested. Visit the Hitwise Intelligence Blog, www.ilovedata.com. Read his column on Time.com: The Science of Search. And read his book, Click: What Search Activity Tells Us About Society.





One response to “Keynote – Click: What Search Activity Tells Us About Society”

  1. David Temple writes:

    Viriginia, excellent coverage of SMX. I’ve read all your posts so far, thanks for the info. I’m particularly interested in search behavior and love this type of data. It’s amazing what you can learn by search demand.



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