Search Insights: Getting to Know Your Audience Better

As a nonprofit news organization, you may think you know who your news audience is by your interactions with them via social media channels, through chats or discussions forums, or even at face-to-face events, but that is only a part of it.

Do you know what your audience is doing when they are searching for information online? Do you know the people who are coming to your site from a search?

You can get to know your audience better by understanding their search activities and in the process you may be able to gain some new readers along the way. This week’s post focuses on how to understand search and some tools that can help you to know your audience better.

Is Search Still Important?

Search remains one of the most popular activities online.

A recent comScore report highlighted that in February 2013, 18.3 billion explicit core searches were conducted. According to the same report, Google claimed the top spot with 12.3 billion searches, Microsoft with 3 billion, Yahoo with 2.1 billion, Ask Network with 475 million, and AOL with 305 million searches.

Pew Internet & American Life Project survey from February 2012 identified that 9 in 10 U.S. online adults use search engines to find information on the web. Over 50% of U.S. online adults do this activity daily and frequently throughout the day. Furthermore, a growing number of people are not just using their desktop or laptop to conduct searches from home and work, but are using mobile devices now. A recent Google study found 77% of mobile searches occur while the user is at home or work.

These statistics show that search remains a prominent activity in the life of an online user. As a news organization, you should be aware of how much this search activity can help inform who your audience is, what they are searching for, and how they are searching. Being able to know this can help inform how users can find your website and your news content.

Jakob Nielsen stated in a recent article that online users in general have poor search skills. He stated that online users may know how to search but are unable to locate successfully what they need from search.

Nielsen states that companies need to provide a better experience to help people find the information they need on a website – by having clear search suggestion functionality and navigation as well as better categorization of information on the site.

All of these techniques can help the user find the information they need faster.

As a news organization, you may feel confident that users can find your news stories quickly on your website but can they find your news stories from a search engine? Can they find the news story even if they were not looking for it? Are you maximizing the ways that search can help users find your news content?

Being informed about your users’ search activities can help answer part of this puzzle.

Where to Start?

In order to understand your online users and their search activity, a good place to start is with Google. Google has a unique page that can help it’s called the Insight Finder and Real-Time Tools page. The page provides a series of tools that can serve a variety of purposes in finding out about how people search and what they do with search. You can apply these tools to your news website, news organization’s brand and your news content.

What are People Looking For?

You can find out what people are searching for and see patterns over time using Google Trends.

For example, I used the term elections in the Google Trend tool to find out what people are searching for on that term. The tool shows me how the term elections has been searched over the past few years. Here is the result of the search:

If you are covering a specific issue or topic in your community, you can use Google Trends to be more informed about its impact with online users. For example, using the same election example, I filtered my choices down to elections by news searches in California for the past 12 months and received the following result:

The tool provides insight into what terms people are using to search, when they are searching and how. This can help you and your staff to have a better understanding of what your SEO strategy can be for your overall news website, your ability to create a strong advertising and marketing plan to reach different audiences, and much more.

How are People Searching?

Another tool that can be helpful is the Google Keyword Tool/Google AdWords. This tool allows you to see how people associate terms with other terms. So you can explore what terms are associated with your news organization’s name or brand as well as specific terms associated with a specific news story your staff is covering or has covered.

I used the tool to see what associations came up for the Investigative News Network brand and it provided a list of keywords that people type in associated with the INN brand, the global and local monthly searches associated with the keyword, and the potential competition of the keyword tied to other keywords.

The tool also allows you to add filters such as location, language, type of device where the search is conducted from, etc.

What are People Saying?

Another tool that can also be helpful is to know what people are saying in relation to a specific term or brand.

The What do you love tool aggregates and curates websites, photos, videos, alerts, books, blogs and news related to the term you type in and puts it on one page for you.

I used the term nonprofit journalism and this page came up with a variety of options tied to the term:

This can be helpful if you want to find out what relevant sites and media show up for your news organization’s name or brand for example.

In addition, you can use this to find out what specific sites or media show up for a specific topic that is tied to a news story your staff is working on or has published a story on.

Another tool to find out what people are saying is the Blog Finder. This tool can show you the people who blog about your news organization and the topics you cover by typing in specific terms or the name of your news organization.

I used the term nonprofit journalism and the following result came up:

This tool can help you to find out what people are saying about your news organization and your news coverage by searching on specific keywords. You may also find potential blog contributors for your site or new audiences to reach out to based on the results you get from the search.

Ad Placement and Planning

Google also has AdPlanner and AdWords that are tools that you can use to help identify target audiences and ad placements on Google based on specific keyword terms that best match up to your website and your news content.

Website Traffic Reports

Aside from the Google tools above, another tool you should use is your website traffic reports. Those reports can give you detailed information about the search terms people type into your website and the organic searches tied to your site.

One Step Closer

Using one or all of these tools can be helpful in order to understand your news audience better and how they search. This is only one step in the overall process of getting to know your audience better. Based on the search information accumulated, you may find the need:

  • To redesign your website, your navigation, etc. to make it more searchable
  • To incorporate a more robust search functionality on your site to help with search
  • To develop or refine an online marketing and advertising campaign to drive audiences to your site from search

Knowing where your audience is searching, what they are searching for, and how they come to your site via search can give you more a holistic view of your audience and can get you one step closer to knowing them better.


Photo Credit: jiihaa via photopin cc