There’s little question that an investment in search drives sales results for online retailers. But new data shows that the right kind of search campaign targeting consumers who research products on the web before they visit the store can make a huge difference for the bottom line. Merchants need to know that emphasizing generic instead of branded terms and focusing on search engine optimization (SEO) can yield even better in-store profits.

GroupM Search recently studied this topic and found that 93% of consumers use search when they are engaged in the purchase process. For many, search is all about using a single generic query and reviewing the search engine results page (SERP). But search can also lead buyers down the purchase funnel as they pose additional queries and get closer to deciding exactly where they’ll go and what they’ll buy. Here are the specific findings:

  • When an in-store buyer uses search, he or she starts out by using generic keywords such as bicycle. While the SERP generated a click 60% of the time, only 5% actually visited a branded site. Instead, shoppers were migrating to third-party research sites.
  • In-store buyers are also likely to click on organic listings. The research reveals that the vast majority (92%) of the clicks on the SERP take place on organic links, leaving only 8% to occur on paid referral links. These statistics do change slightly during the traditional Christmas shopping season, when merchants pay more for paid links and drive up paid search results on the SERP .
  • In-store buyers who use search also visit the store locator page or link. The value of the store locator page should not be undervalued. According to this study, “more than 5 percent of the traffic measured to an advertiser’s site was store locator activity.”

In-store buyers are hoping to see product pricing and reviews in the SERP that is returned to them. They also appreciate being able to see the product before they make their decision to drive to the store to make the purchase. The average search user performs 7 searches a month. And 5.2 of these searches lead them to click on a link (but these clicks are not always to branded sites).

The study authors note,  “Consumers are spending more time at non-brand site destinations.” To capture more in-store buyers, researchers recommend that merchants form partnerships with third-party contents sites. In that way, potential in-store buyers will be as likely to encounter a merchant there as they will in a branded link.

[Source: From Intent to In-Store: Search’s Role in the New Retail Shopper Profile. GroupMSearch.com. October. 2011. Web. 24 Oct. 2011]