What Google Search queries tell us about brand attitudes

New research demonstrates the complex relationship between brand attitudes and Google Search queries, highlighting the importance of understanding user search behavior in shaping effective marketing strategies.

For years, the concept of brand search volume, defined as the frequency at which specific brand names are queried in a search engine, has been viewed as a predictive tool for brand sales. For instance, the more searches there are for ‘iPhone’, the better the sales prospects for that brand. This information is made readily available by Google through Google Trends, a handy tool that empowers marketers with data on the popularity of brand-specific searches. However, new research from Drexel University, Brigham Young University and Google suggests there’s far more complexity to be considered.

Exploring brand attitudes through search queries

This intriguing study aimed to explore the correlation between brand attitudes and search engine queries. It involved tracking over 1,500 Google users’ searches related to smartphones and vehicles for eight weeks and subsequently linking this data to a traditional brand attitude survey. The research team, which included marketing professors Jeffrey P. Dotson and Elea McDonnell Feit, and experts from Google like Ruixue Rachel Fan, Jeffrey D. Oldham, and Yi-Hsin Yeh, successfully delved into a unique perspective on the relationship between brand attitudes and individual users’ search patterns.

“The extensive effort to form a panel and gain their permission to track brand searches resulted in insights of vital importance to marketers,” commented Feit.

Exploring user behaviour: From recognition to purchase

The study findings highlighted that users who are actively shopping are more likely to conduct searches involving any brand. As users transition from brand awareness to purchase intention, the likelihood of them searching for the specific brand increases significantly. This transition demonstrates the greatest leaps as consumers move from recognising to becoming familiar with a brand, and from familiarity to considering a purchase.

Interestingly, brand owners were found to be more likely to search for their brand, even without active shopping intentions. This insight indicates a substantial volume of brand search unrelated to shopping – a crucial factor for marketers to consider when they notice a sudden spike in their brand’s search traffic.

Brand attitude and its correlation with consumer searches

In the smartphone category, the research discovered a positive correlation between all five brand attitudes—recognition, recall, familiarity, purchase considerations, and purchase intent—and brand searches. For instance, a user with positive attitudes across all five categories is seven times more likely to search for a brand compared to a user without any positive attitudes. This pattern also held true in the automotive category, albeit at a slightly lower ratio of five times. For customers who only recognise a smartphone brand without any other positive attitudes, the likelihood of searching for that brand is only slightly higher (1.22 times) than those who don’t recognise the brand.

The role of active shoppers and brand owners

Active shoppers were found to be significantly more likely to search for any brand in a category. Likewise, customers who “always pay attention to the category so that they know when to buy” are more prone to searching for all brands within that category. This suggests that a considerable portion of brand search queries submitted to Google is associated with active shoppers.

Additionally, owning a specific brand was found to be a strong predictor of brand search, irrespective of consumers’ attitudes toward the brand. For instance, smartphone owners are 2.5 times more likely and vehicle owners are 3.5 times more likely to search for their brand. As a result, marketers interpreting total brand search volumes (e.g., using Google Trends data) should anticipate higher search volumes for brands with a larger ownership base.

Interestingly, researchers noted that brand owners are not significantly more likely to search for their brand when facing problems or product recalls. Rather, they consistently generate a steady volume of brand-related searches, most likely related to usage and maintenance inquiries about their daily-used products.

Effects of product category on search behaviour

The nature of the product category also heavily influences search behaviour. Certain categories, like furniture, appliances, financial services, cars, and smartphones, tend to garner more searches prior to a purchase due to the significant commitment these purchases typically entail. In these categories, an improvement in brand attitude could subsequently increase brand-related search queries. For other categories, pre-purchase searches might be less prevalent, but this does not necessarily indicate lower sales volumes. For instance, Coca-Cola may not be frequently searched, but it still maintains high sales volumes.

The implications for marketers and SEO companies

“Marketers have much to learn about interpreting brand search volumes for specific brands within specific categories, but this research affirms that they should start incorporating brand search volume data when monitoring their brand’s health,” Dotson stated.

Feit echoed this sentiment, stating that while traditional brand attitude surveys have long been used to gauge brand health, they are costly and becoming less appealing to consumers. This research supports the increasing trend of tracking brands passively through innovative data sources like brand search.

SEO companies, as key stakeholders in the online branding landscape, can also draw valuable insights from this research. They can use these findings to fine-tune their strategies, focusing not only on boosting search volumes but also on understanding the motivations and attitudes behind these searches.

In conclusion

This comprehensive research, set to be published in the Journal of Interactive Marketing under the title “Brand Attitudes and Search Engine Queries,” sheds significant light on the complex relationship between brand attitudes and search engine queries. As we continue to evolve into a more digitally-focused world, these findings will undoubtedly be crucial in shaping future marketing strategies and ensuring the continued success of brands in various sectors.

Vey Law

Vey Law is a reporter at Breakthrough.

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