The words people use when searching are not always a true reflection of what they're really looking for.Millions of people search for cheap hotels but are they really looking for a cheap hotel? Or are many of them in search of a five star hotel at a cheap price? And even if they are looking for a cheap hotel do they really want to read a banner on a homepage that says: "Welcome to our dirt cheap hotel" or "You've just found the cheapest hotel in town!"
Search is a window into how we think. The words we use in search often have a stark honesty that you would never find in a focus group. Search words tend to be bare, simple, unadorned, basic little words. Unpretentious and to the point, without spin or artifice. However, search words are not always what they seem.
For years, we have done Customer Carewords polls to identify the words that appeal most to tourists and travellers once they arrive at a website. Customer Carewords is based on the idea that one set of words brings you to a website, but another set will bring you through it.
After polling over 2,000 people in 12 countries, we found that when planning a vacation, people preferred to read about "special offers" rather than "deals". People thought that the word "deal" was a bit suspicious, like something a shady second-hand car salesman would sell you. Special offers, on the other hand, were, well, special.
According to Keyword Discovery, there were about 13,000 searches for "hotel deals" in a particular period, but NO searches for "hotel special offers." (We have found the same basic results from other search analysis tools over a four-year period of testing.)
So what's happening? Are the words people use when they search a true reflection of the words they want to see when they arrive at a website?
Does price affect your enjoyment of wine? Yes, according to a study, published in January 2008, that was carried out by Stanford Graduate School of Business and the California Institute of Technology. They gave participants two glasses of wine. They informed participants that one glass was from a $45 bottle of wine, and that the other was from a $5 bottle. People enjoyed the 'expensive' wine more. Both glasses came from the same bottle.
Not surprisingly, a lot more people search for "cheap wine" than "expensive wine," but are they really searching for cheap wine? It's an old trick on wine menus to have some cheap wines, some medium-priced wines, and some expensive wines. People then tend to buy the medium-priced wines.
There are two very important types of words on the Web. Search words are hard, while customer carewords are soft, emotional and value-driven. Sometimes it's like running a relay, as search words pass the baton on to carewords when the customer arrives at the website.
And sometimes it's more complex. We may all search for something cheap, but we long for something else. And what we search for may not always be what is most important to us.
About the Author
Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant
, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994.