Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The Social Factor of Search

Online analytics tools are often used retrospectively to report on marketing campaigns and standard online KPI's such as visitors and bounce rate. But the power of todays available tools extends beyond historical analysis.

The ability to plug into trends in consumer demand is an amazing resource for an organisation to have at their disposal but one that is rarely used. In a previous job, we examined trends in destination searches to predict future holiday hotspots. For example, if there was a lot of interest in Cape Verde, it would be examined as a potential holiday destination.

It is important though not to confuse online interest with affection. Just because people are searching for a particular subject does not mean that they necessarily feel positively towards it. Nothing demonstrates this power better than the online buzz that surrounds TV talent shows.

Looking at the X-Factor finalists in 2009, Olly Murs was consistently the most searched for contestant throughout the series. Looking at the search volumes in November, it would be easy to predict him as the eventual winner. This trend only seemed to change in the final weeks of the competition, perhaps after Joe McEldery wowed the judges with his rendition of Elton John's "Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word".

According to the data, it would not have been wise to have placed any money on Dagenham based Stacey Solomon as she never received as many searches as her rivals. She did however overtake Shaun Ryder to become the most searched for contestant and the eventual winner of this years I'm a Celebrity Get Me out of Here.

Looking at the same analysis for 2010, controversial teenage rapper Cher Lloyd went into the competition as  the most searched for contestant. A string of news stories surrounded the precocious talent since her impressive first audition.

Eventual winner Matt Cardle had a surge in search traffic after his performance of Roberta Flack's classic "First Time I ever Saw your Face" but has remained in third position with the searchers despite his popularity with the bookmakers.  

Liverpudlian Rebecca Ferguson received praise from the judges since the competition started but failed to gain much interest from the online public, receiving consistently fewer searches than any of the four finalists. Given this evidence, it was perhaps surprising to see Rebecca in the final two.

Boy band "One Direction" appeared to be the dark horses of the competition to date. There was not much hope for the newly formed band at the beginning of the competition as they suffered from comparatively  poor vocals and a lack of cohesiveness compared to the more established bands. Since that point, the band benefited tremendously from the power of the Simon Cowell PR machine and the popularity of group member Harry Styles and this is demonstrated by their growth in online searches.

So, like Robin Goad at Hitwise, the free online tools incorrectly pointed to One Direction becoming the first group to win the X-Factor. The fact that the two finalists received the lowest search volumes throughout the course of the competition, shows that it is dangerous for brands to become over-reliant on search volume as a measure of product sentiment.

Increasingly brands should endeavour to understand the context of the interest and tailor marketing strategies appropriately. For example, is the context surrounding the product searches positive or negative. If there is a negative context surrounding an existing product then vendors should use this information as important market research. For positive context marketers can identify key themes to utilise in marketing. For example, Cape Verde visitors may be complementing the value of the destination or the weather.

Search queries represent a free and vital source of product feedback with a sample size larger and more economical than any alternative. In the past five years, the importance of online sentiment has had an increasing affect on customer purchase decisions. Customers rely on reviews and feedback from within social circles to fuel purchase decisions.  In 2011 sentiment will play an increasing part in ranking algorithms as well.    

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