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The Difficulty With Grabbing Attention In Search

Those much-revered top five placements on search engines for a given set of keywords only draws the viewer’s attention for seven seconds. Gord Hotchkiss sees this short attention span as a call to brands to keep doing their market research.

The humorous Short Attention Span Theater of Comedy Central’s earlier days condensed comedy bits into brief pieces slightly longer than a commercial break. Fifteen years ago it was just a funny idea. These days the short amount of time needed to watch them would be a huge obstacle to the typical Internet surfer.

Hotchkiss has been discussing market research, particularly with regards to the studies his firm, Enquiro conducted, like their eye-tracking panels. When it comes to search, online entrepreneurs with solid organic search results, or top placement of paid search ads, may be surprised at how little attention those receive.

(T)he famous golden triangle study we did with Eyetools and Did It, and subsequent ones conducted by Enquiro, have shown over and over how quickly we interact with a search engine and how much of our scanning activity is ‘top loaded’.

Also, we don’t really skip over sponsored listings, but in some circumstances (research based activity) we’re less likely to click on them. We’ve used this body of research to come up with a fairly consistent model of how people interact with search results.

The results belie what people indicated in our very first survey. Well over 60% of the clicks happened in the first 4 or 5 listings, including the top sponsored ones.

People generally spent just a few seconds on the page (around 10 to 12 seems to be the average) in which they scan (not read) 4 to 5 listings. There was almost no deliberation. People click quickly, and if they don’t like what they see, they click back.

There were no faults with the market research, Hotchkiss noted. People were just being people, and their subconscious spurred these quick decisions.

“As Malcolm Gladwell shows in Blink, often these decisions prove to be better than the ones that we endlessly deliberate over. Our brains, especially the 95% that remains under the surface, are amazingly adept at making good decisions,” said Hotchkiss.

Overcoming this instinctive behavior may look like a call for more research. Hotchkiss said, “campaign optimization, A/B and multivariate testing are all best practices and should be done religiously.” They all suffer from the same problem, that being their state as a lagging indicator of customer behavior.

What he suggested means looking at people as more than a series of data in a spreadsheet. “You have to try to get into that subconscious mind. And that’s not easy,” Hotchkiss said.

Rather than curling up with the Jets-Cowboys game at 4:15 pm ET on Thanksgiving, the determined marketer may want to spend time within the pages of The Culture Code, or How Customers Think, or even the work of the late CMU professor, Herbert Simon.

Besides, Dallas is favored by 14 points, Jets beating Pittsburgh recently notwithstanding. It may not be enough time to implement such new information into a campaign this holiday season, but there will be another one next year. That gives readers a year to dig into cognitive psychology and consumer behavior. This could be worth its weight in conversions someday.

About the Author:
David A. Utter is a WebProNews editor and writer covering business and technology.