Nov 9, 2010 | Linhart Blog, Our Business

The truth about online consumer behavior

Every year, Linhart PR selects two employees to attend the annual PRSA International Conference, so I was ecstatic when my colleague Russ Rizzo and I were chosen to attend this year’s conference in Washington. D.C.

It was the opportunity to listen to the PR industry’s best and brightest. We learned everything from online marketing to social media optimization and successful storytelling.

Out of the myriad of interesting sessions, my personal favorite was a session on online consumer behavior presented by Bill Tancer, author of Click: What Millions of People Are doing on the Internet and Why it Matters. Tancer’s company Hitwise, an online competitive intelligence company, actively monitors 10 million internet users nationwide in 172 industries.

Tancer pointed out that monitoring search terms can give more insight into consumer behavior than surveys. The reason: Respondents often fall victim to cognitive dissonance, where they answer questions falsely, knowing the desired response. Not buying it? Ask someone if they’ve ever visited an adult entertainment site.  According to Tancer, he’s posed this question to conference-goers for the past five years and 99.95 percent of them said no, except one brave gentlemen. The point is—don’t rely too much on surveys, you might not get the honest response you were hoping.

Aside from identifying what terms consumers search for, Tancer explained you need to dig into the reason for the search, not just the term. Example: Dancing with the Stars.  The show resembles more of a popularity contest so if you monitor which contestant is searched for the most, you’d be able to identify the winner before the competition’s over, correct? This is where Tancer went wrong. He referred to it as the Stacy Keibler Correction Coefficient, where he charted the season with Stacy Keibler, Drew Lachey and Jerry Rice and found Stacy came in as a top search term. Naturally, he predicted she’d win. In fact, she came in second.  A closer look revealed the searches were for “Stacy Keibler Hot Pictures” and “Photos of Stacy Keibler.” Audiences were more interested in looks than her dancing abilities.

Stacy Keibler- Dancing with the Stars

The moral of Tancer’s story is that your company can significantly benefit from knowing the why, when and what of popular industry search terms. Google Trends and Google Insights can point you to the most recent terms and topics in your market. By purchasing these terms, Tancer said you can help drive traffic through your site.


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