Netbooks: Searching along a converging frontier

Depending on your vantage point, a netbook might look like a small laptop or a large Smartphone.

The dual nature of the netbook may be marking a period of increasing convergence between computers and wireless phones. Companies that traditionally make computers are manufacturing netbooks and beginning to plan or consider moves into the Smartphone market. Wireless carriers are beginning to sell discounted netbooks tied to wireless broadband contracts. AT&T is now selling the devices in some of its stores and through RadioShack, while a Verizon Wireless rep recently confirmed rumors that they would offer a similar deal in the future.

Changes may be brewing in the consumer electronics and wireless industries, but when consumers searched for netbooks online in early 2009, where did they go? To find out, I looked at search data from compete.com.

This chart shows the top 10 sites that people were directed to after going to a major search engine and looking up a term that included the keyword "˜netbook.’ The sites are ranked by the percentage of all traffic generated by searches including the keyword "˜netbook’ that went to a particular site. What’s interesting here?

  • Third party review and information sites have a strong presence in the top 10, including CNet, Wikipedia, Engadget, and the netbook-focused liliputing.com.
  • Big brands’ sites are not as prevalent as they are for searches on "˜laptops’ where Dell and HP are the #1 and #3 destinations. Other netbook manufacturers like Asus and Acer don’t appear in the top 10 sites by keyword share for terms including "˜netbook.’
  • Few retailers and no carriers appear in the top 10.

So these "˜netbook’ searchers are going to retail and manufacturer sites, but many are visiting third party review sites, blogs and information sites like Wikipedia to learn more about the devices, likely because heavy marketing and media reports on netbooks are a relatively recent phenomenon.

These data also suggest that there is opportunity here for big brands to have more of a presence when it comes to keyword share. Dell’s relative strength in this area compared to other big brands is likely due, at least in part, to strong marketing in early 2009 around its Inspiron Mini line, featuring it prominently in some promotions around their Presidents’ Day sales.

As new players enter the market, beef up their marketing campaigns, receive more press coverage, and step up their search marketing, we’re likely to see some changes in where these searchers land online. Will they gravitate to manufacturer sites? Carriers? Third party reviews? Stay tuned.