Practical Ecommerce

The PeC Traffic Report: Asian Survey Provides Insight Into Search Habits

From time to time it is useful to take a look at other industries to see how they are doing business and to glean tips for boosting web traffic to your own ecommerce site.

In this edition of The PeC Traffic Report we’ll take a look at an interesting new survey of electrical engineers in Asia conducted by the industry journals EE Times Asia and EE Times China. While it is unlikely that very many Practical eCommerce readers are targeting Singaporean or even Chinese design and development engineers, we can still gather some interesting insights based on how these engineers search for work-related information that applies to ecommerce operations, particularly in the business-to-business space.

About the Electrical Engineer Survey

The survey, which will be officially released on Monday, March 16, 2009, asked 4,373 electrical engineers, engineering managers, project managers, and similar electronics workers in China, India, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, and Taiwan—important markets for the electronics component business—about their information gathering habits. The survey’s goal was to understand how these individuals collected work-related information, particularly information that helped them make product-buying decisions. This is interesting for ecommerce site owners since we can find some parallels between how these engineers and others searched for product related news, specifications, and information; and how potential customers for ecommerce businesses might find similar product information.

Before we move on, we should note that EE Times Asia and EE Times China are two regional editions of one of the world’s most popular electronics engineering industry journals. They conducted the survey using a list of their readers and lists provided from some electronics original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). While these publications have sterling reputations, they do sell advertising in print and online. And to some extent they compete with search engines for available marketing budgets. While I don’t believe this taints the survey results in any way, it is important to understand what a company might gain from the surveys they conduct and promote.

Most Searchers Already Knew What They Were Looking For

Not surprisingly, 66 percent of the survey’s respondents had used a search engine to initiate some kind of work-related information query in the past twelve months, but only 29 percent of the survey respondents used search engines to find product information to review before making a purchase. It seems they already had some knowledge about the products they wanted to purchase before they used a search engine.

At first blush that might seem odd, but when you think about it, the desire for a product is very rarely generated online. I don’t go to a search engine to discover what I should use to cover and protect my feet; I search for shoes, and probably a particular kind of shoe. Likewise, if I am looking for downloadable business software, I probably know something about the product I want to buy before I go to a search engine.

As a specific example, I was recently in the market for Photoshop filters. About three years ago, I had attended the Photographic Marketing Association’s trade show in Orlando, Florida where I met some guys from Nik Software. Since that tradeshow, I have seen several advertisements for Nik Software in some of the photography magazines I subscribe to. Then last week, I was working with a friend who is a professional photographer and noticed that he was using several Nik tools. So when I arrived at Google’s doorstep, I didn’t search for Photoshop filters, rather, I queried “Nik Software filters.” I already had a strong idea about the product I wanted to buy.

To me this clearly indicates that both product manufacturers and ecommerce merchants should promote their products and brands in other media in addition to search engines if they hope to create any significant demand.

Specific Search Criteria Entered

When the Asian electronics engineers and managers were asked what they commonly searched for, 22 percent (the most popular single response) said they queried a company name and a product type. So, in the case of electronics, they searched for “Intel and microprocessor” or “Samsung and NAND Flash memory.”

Another 20 percent searched for a product and some attribute or specification. So they might search for microcontroller and 8-bit. If we draw a parallel to more general ecommerce businesses, consumers are searching for “black high tops” or “Converse high tops,” not just “shoes;” or they are searching for “downloadable payroll software” or “eCheck,” instead of a more generic term like “business software.”

Print Publications and Non-Search Websites Are Important, Too

The EE Times survey also found that 52 percent of survey respondents had used printed industry publications for work-related searches in the past 12 months, and an additional 91 percent had used vender or industry publication websites in the same time period.

Perhaps the most surprising bit of information in the entire survey was that more of the electronic engineers or managers in China had used printed publications to collect work-related information than had used search engines in the past year.

Summing Up

This survey showed two trends that I believe have strong parallels in the ecommerce world, especially when it comes to generating more store traffic. First, we know that search engines are important tools that customers use to find products to purchase, but often those searches are more specific than we might imagine. When ecommerce merchants focus only on broad keywords in pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns, they may be missing potential customers that are searching for specifics.

Secondly, the survey findings show that people search for products and companies by name and that they rely heavily on printed publications and non-search websites. This is a strong indication that ecommerce businesses should use integrated, cross-media campaigns including both print and online promotion.

Armando Roggio

Armando Roggio

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