October 16, 2006
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By Anne Holland, President
I'm excited to say the results are just back from our second annual eyetracking study of major search engines.
As you may know, eyetracking labs study what real-life people's eyes -- and mice -- do when they look at something on a computer screen. The final report, a four-color heatmap, reveals what was seen and what was not, how far people scrolled down or not, and where they clicked (even for clicks that weren't on anything clickable, which is more than you may think).
Naturally one goal of this year's study was to determine if anything major had changed since last year. Turns out, one of the biggest changes is something every marketer should pay close attention to:
The Google "One Box."
The 'One Box" is the name for that quick list of hotlinks that Google now often places at the very top of the standard organic (natural) results listings. Although what Google uses the One Box for is a moving target, as of press time the search engine often posted a list of these types of links:
- Local search results (especially critical for brick-and-mortar retailers)
- Google News headlines
- Stock symbols
- Scholarly articles
- Product lists drawn from product catalogs online
- Major site sections -- sections of your site that get significant direct traffic and inbound hotlinks as nearly standalone topical sites on their own
As noted, there's a lot of flux in what specifically Google is placing in the One Box. For example, product hotlinks also contained in Froogle used to be there far more than they are at present. You should periodically review how Google uses this One Box, for two key reasons:
#1. All One Box clickthroughs are free. These are organic results -- not PPC -- so you don't pay for them. On the other hand, you can't control them either. Only extremely thorough search engine optimization can help you out.
#2. According to MarketingSherpa's new eyetracking study, search users pay more attention to the One Box listings than almost anything else on the search results page. Paid listings, especially the right-hand column AdWords ads, are getting periphery attention … if any at all.
Don't believe me? Take a look at the eyetracking heatmap results for yourself in this PDF report (open access, no registration requested):
The biggest marketer question our research team fields in response to these search results heatmaps is inevitably, "If no one ever looks at the right-hand column of ads, why do I get so many clicks on my ads there?!"
The truth is, obviously some people do look at that column. But, it's a very small percentage of total traffic. You may think you get a lot of clicks … but compared to total visitors who landed on the page with your ad, you got very little. Top organic listings for the same exact search result inevitably got far, far more clicks than your ad did. That's been a known -- and studied -- fact for half a decade now. Eyetracking studies merely show you why this is the case.
What can help your ad generate more attention? Before you ask that, first do whatever you can to improve your organic rankings -- especially for One Box potential.
Then, start copywriting tweak tests. Aside from raising your bidding, copy is the only tactic you have to get that attention.
Every time we've researched copywriting tests for search ads, the marketers could demonstrate outstanding changes with often small-seeming tweaks. Two keys to explore:
1. Review your direct competitors' copy on the same results page. (You can do this manually if you're in a fairly small market or use software for more competitive niches.) Look at the words they use and the words you use. Which one would the most qualified prospects be more likely to find clickworthy?
(Note: That's not always big savings or the word "free." Sometimes quality assurances or phrases such as "24/7 customer service" can do much better for you.)
2. Go on a domain name shopping spree (especially if you're not a trusted, well-known brand already.) Buy domains that match your top-performing keywords in some way. Example: if you market CRM software, buy "CRM101.com" and test it. (Yes, you can have it resolve over to your regular landing page. But you must own the domain to be allowed to use it even for vanity marketing purposes.)
Numerous tests have shown your visible domain name in a Google ad does double duty as marketing copy. So why not treat it as such?
Useful links related to this article
MarketingSherpa's SearcnMarketing Benchmark Guide 2007: