The words we use when we search are not always the words we like to read when we arrive at a website.
Over the years, I have discovered that the way we think and the words we use when we search give strong clues as to what we want, but only clues. The words that will help us complete the task we came to the website to complete can be subtly–and sometimes substantially–different to the words we used when searching for it.
"The language used by participants to describe their behavior before they carried out the task–classified here as the language of intent–differed from the language they used online when actually carrying out the task," states Online Language Pathways, a recently published study. "We found they used a more 'mechanical dialect' (machine language) when searching, using technical words and succinct, staccato phraseology."
The study was carried out by CDA, a digital communications consultancy. 14 individual internet users, of varying levels of internet proficiency and from different demographics (age, gender and profession) were asked to use the Web to research opening an instant access savings account.
The study found that one participant who wanted a "high interest instant access savings account" actually searched for "best instant access savings". Another participant who wanted a "best rate bank account with instant access" searched for "banking account online". And another participant who wanted "easy access and best interest rate savings" searched for "instant access savings".
Understanding how people search is extremely important but is only part of the battle to understand what people actually want when they search. Over a typical 12 month period about 25 million people search for a "cheap hotel."
But what does that mean? I have often searched for a "cheap hotel" but I'm not actually looking for a 'cheap' hotel. What I'm really looking for is a 4 or 5 star hotel at a cheap price. And I would certainly not be impressed if I arrived at a hotel website that had a big sign saying: "Welcome to our Cheap Hotel."
About 16 million people search for "hotel deals" every year, but only 18,000 search for "hotel special offers". However, we have found in testing that on a webpage, people respond better to text containing "special offers" than "deals."
The CDA study found that while most participants assumed they would be comparing financial offerings, and were looking for words like "compare" on the website, their search words rarely contained the word "compare."
So, some words bring you to a website, and it's very important to understand what they are. But then a whole new set of words kick in, and I call these carewords. Search words tend to be brutal, short, precise, cheap. Carewords are softer and more subtle. When testing with university students, we found that the phrase "prestigious well recognized degree" tested very well. But nobody's going to search for a "prestigious well recognized degree."
One set of words to bring customers to your website. Another set of words to bring them through it.