How do I get to www.google.com?

A few weeks ago I pulled together a quick post that I didn’t think was going to make much of a splash. As it turned out my quick and dirty analysis on "search fulfillment" got a lot of people thinking and asking questions. All those great questions sparked some additional thoughts. The main question that came to mind is specifically how the top search engines differ with respect to how they are predominantly used. For instance, perhaps navigational search can explain some of the difference in search fulfillment.

By navigational search I am referring to searches where someone is trying to get to a specific site by searching for the actual web address or a portion of it. For instance someone might search for Amazon, amazon.com, or even www.amazon.com to get to Amazon’s website. It’s actually astonishing how often people search for the complete web address and click on the corresponding search result to get to the site they are trying to navigate to. It makes me laugh every time I see my parents do this, but even more amazing is when the "web savvy" amongst us does this.

Almost nine times out of ten when I’m looking at referring search terms the first term on the list is some variation of the domain name. In some sense these navigational searches could represent "non-monetizable" searches for the engines. People searching these navigational terms and ending up at the matching domain are by definition trying to get somewhere very specific. It’s going to be hard to get these searchers to go somewhere other than their intended destination, no matter how high your PPC budget happens to be.

Navigational searches as a percentage of total searches are amazingly consistent month-over-month. On average navigational search is about 17% of all search traffic on the top three engines and this varies little over the course of the year. There is however, significant variation from engine to engine. While Yahoo! and MSN/Live searches are typically between 27% and 28% navigational, Google searches are only about 14% navigational.

I’d be curious if anyone has any thoughts about why Google has significantly fewer navigational searches (percentagewise) than the other two top engines. Perhaps my mom is a Yahoo! or Live Search user "¦ I’ll have to ask sometime.

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