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About.com Study Shows: Three Mindsets Of Search

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Okay, so news about About.com releasing findings of a study on search behaviour called "Three Mindsets of Search" is on a lot of radars (not to mention blogs of course :) ) right now. Here's a few links for anyone who's not seen anything on this yet.






Well, those who know me won't be surprised that I don't want to announce it, I want to examine it, and disect it, and extract the juice from it.


The 'top-findings' acording to the PDF (and press about it) are that they identified three distinct search types


Answer Me - 46% of all searches - want a direct, fast, easy, answer. The study said this mostly applied to categories of Entertainment, Fashion, Beauty, and Style. Higher earners (over $100k) were far more likely to perform these types of search. In terms of authority/expertise, surprisingly qualified experts were less important, and users were (we infer) more happy with the "wisdom of crowds" of mass reviews, or the 'Ally' (meaning someone they feel identifies/represents their position).



Educate Me - 26% of all searches (making it the minority of the three) - these want a thorough understanding, in 360 degrees often digging into related topics, and spanning a considerable period of time. These tend to be searches for more important matters and the noted categories were Health and Finance. This was the search type where they want their experts to be credentialed and/or qualified. To a lesser extent the 'Ally' type expert was also used.



Inspire Me - 28% of all searches - these people want to be led on a journey of inspiration and discovery. They are quite open minded, ready to be excited and inspired by fresh ideas about topics they tend to love. Interestingly, these are the people that often search on the same few topics over and again whenever they have spare time for it. The top categories noted were Travel, and Home & Garden. These favoured the expertise of the 'Ally' type and social sources (user reviews etc).



Now, sadly, we don't have the precise methodology, the questions asked, etc, so there is a lot we don't know. Therefore some of what follows will include educated supposition and inference that could be incorrect. Disclaimer made, here are my initial thoughts.


Firstly, the kind of example search terms shown (only one for each, so very minimal clues) may well indicate the mindset of the search. Certainly the study noted that ALL the people grouped in whatever way desired, performed all three types of searches.


The only clear demographic preferences I could see were a massive trend that higher earning users made far more "Answer Me" searches than the lower earning people surveyed. And a less obvious but still apparent trend that the younger people were very slightly more likely to lean towards "Inspire Me" end of the spectrum, while older people leant very slightly more toward the "Answer me" end of the spectrum.


Along with some other factors, this leads me to suspect that "Answer Me" searches are made for things where the user expects there to be a 'correct' answer. Searching for the "Nearest Starbucks", or "Who was the actor in Twilight", or the like. The older a person is, or the more senior/well paid their job, the more they feel confident to make searches that have a correct answer. Younger persons showed a slight trend towards being educated or inspired in the searches they made, and made slightly more searches of those types.


I don't think this is exactly news to us here. We do know that all groups/demographics made use of all types of mindset of search. All made 'Answer Me' searches to get at information they knew had a definable 'correct' answer. All made use of 'Educate Me' searches to get multiple viewpoints and broader, more rounded information for important matters, for which they were much more likely to favour acredited/authority experts. All made use of 'Inspire Me' searches to get inspiration and excitement on topics they enjoyed, particularly long-term interests and things relating to personal choice, travel, decorating, gardening, etc.



Personally, I didn't find anything here mind-blowing or that added much new to me overall understanding of search use and the 'intention' of particualr search. From the rather brief findings, I gues that About.com didn't find anything mind-blowing either, and made the best of what they could from the data to market their advertising.


I would have liked to see some proper detail to the methodology, particularly in how search use was determined, what direction the subjects were given, etc. Hopefully that will come out somewhere, because without it all we really have is some slightly fluffy stuff and some guesswork.


So, have any of you seen any more detail on this? Anyone have their own thoughts to share on the actual importance/application of what we have? Or doe anyone want me to clarify anything in my take?

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Here's a little tip for both the "answer me" and "educate me" sets. Write your FAQ page in a question and answer format, to get two cracks at exact match queries for each slice of a topic. The question could be "How do I [keyphrase]?" and the answer could include keyphrase(s) that are common answers. Link important terms from the answers to detailed articles with good source references, if you have them.


Some "answer me" searches surprise me. A few years ago I talked to the MBA'ed marketing manager for a local coffee company about SEO for the company website - she wanted to rank for "good coffee" because that's what she'd search for if she was looking for a cuppa. She'd never thought of getting as specific as [coffee+city] or [espresso+neighborhood] or even "best coffee in [location]". She's probably happier now that Google is localizing Search results.

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I have re-read the pdf several times. And in the end have to say that I am not convinced of it's reliability (sample size) and without more expressed methodology somewhat queasy with regards to validity.


Given the number of filler 'category' pages I have to ask 'where's the meat?' And where the bleep are the 59 variables of search behavior? Etc.


As you say, if not in this context, all we really have is some slightly fluffy stuff from this 'study'. I wholeheartedly agree with made the best of what they could from the data to market their advertising.


And I'm really not happy with the straight 'reporting' aka republishing without analysis by either Search Engine Watch or Marketing Pilgrim. Your post here is far more insightful, useful, questioning et al than both combined.


Nothing new here. Indeed the emperor appears to have his old tailors back...

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It would have been ten times more useful if they had only used the study to build on earlier ones. I mean, we already have the studies that 50% of all searches are unique to any data sample. We already know that 10% of all searches are navigational (were these types in the 'Answer Me' style, or excluded from the study?). Which type of search were the most commercial? Also, earlier studies told us that 80% of all searches are informational - so were these split evenly among all types of search mindset in this study?


As you say, iamlost, without the detail in the methodology I find all of the data questionable at best, and at worst, mere hyperbole to market advertising.

a national sample of 928 Americans, age 21-54/HHI $50,000+. This online qualitative survey followed an initial qualitative series of 22 in-depth phone interviews, followed by a 20-member innovation panel responding through self-recorded video and an online survey.

With only 20ish people used for such an incredibly wide demographic as "adults aged 21-54/HHI $50k+" one has to totally dismiss both the 'qualitative series of phone interviews' and the 'innovation panel' as being far too small a sample size. So all this really is is the results of an 'online qualitative survey' of almost 930 americans where we have no real idea of the questions asked.


The only thing we have really learned is that there may be something interesting to test and study properly. Great for those of us who already test things regularly with split testing and MV testing, but people in that camp already have more interesting (and practical) data than the study provided.


What a wasted opportunity.

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I did a little more digging into the research and compared it with a couple of other things I had around, finally turning it into something useful and more actionable in genuine context - I hope.


Don't share this elsewhere yet, as it is on a site I haven't started to promote yet. I just wanted to end this thread on a positive note.


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