Over the last few years, it’s become very important that businesses and organizations working to increase and strengthen their online presence, focus on their Search Engine Optimization (SEO). One of the most common pieces of advice that they’ll hear from a SEO expert, is to build their brand first and worry about soliciting other sites to give them links, second.
Links are an important part of search engine ranking algorithms, so this might seem counterintuitive. The reasoning is that on-and-offline consumers are more trusting of brands, so search engines like Google and Bing, mimic this user behavior.
We’re big fans of data here at SurveyMonkey, so we wanted to find out what people actually think about these brand-building efforts that company webmasters are being advised to conduct. Using SurveyMonkey Audience, a powerful feature that targets a specific demographic, we set out to test this brand-building assumption and surveyed over 600 people chosen at random. We also wanted to figure out what other common theories about SEO that people have–topics like social media trust, content quality, external links and search behavior were also covered.
Each of our survey questions was written in two different ways and then split between two surveys. For example, in one survey the respondents were asked that if an article resulted in a high number of tweets by its readers, would that affect their likelihood to retweet the article themselves? In the second survey, we asked respondents if they were likely to retweet an article that had a low number of tweets. This allowed us to compare the average between the two responses.
Here’s what we learned.
Survey respondents were asked to choose the best results between a search query on Google and Bing. Half were shown search results that were correctly labeled while the other half had the branding swapped. For example, search results that came from Google were labeled as coming from Bing and vice versa. In both instances despite the swap, the majority of respondents chose Google as having the best results. When Bing search results were labeled as coming from Google, there was a big increase in respondents saying these results were the best.
Taken at face value, it’s tempting to assume that Bing just has a branding problem that they’re currently trying to solve with their Bing-it-On campaign. However, the demographic data behind these results told even more of the story:
- 18 to 29- year-olds have a strong affinity for results labeled as Google with more than 70% preferring to use the search leader whether search results came from Google or Bing.
- 64% of 30 to 44-year-olds selected actual Google results but when the branding was swapped, 78% still selected Google results when masked as Bing. This suggests that perhaps the quality of Bing’s results were actually better than Google’s.
- Those over the age of 45 were fairly brand-neutral but generally seemed to favor Bing.
So what does this really tell us? Younger people who are arguably more “connected” and more Internet-savvy don’t really seem to care about the quality of search results. They appear to care more about the fact that it’s coming from Google. A marketing campaign like Bing-it-On may be unlikely to convert this age group and might really only have more of an effect on the older age groups that are more discerning search users.
We also asked people how they felt about guest writers on various websites and created two different surveys with two different sets of questions similar to our Google/Bing project. In one survey, respondents were told that the writer of an article on ESPN.com was a staff writer while in the other survey, they were told the writer was just a volunteer. Our results showed that people did not trust the volunteer writer as much as they trusted the writer identified as ESPN staff.
Again, taken at face value, we might conclude that people don’t trust guest writers. However, when we dug a bit deeper into the education levels of the respondents, we discovered some fascinating insights.
- The less education a respondent had, the more likely they were to trust the volunteer writer.
- Well over half of respondents (59%)with only a high school degree indicated that the volunteer writer was moderately trustworthy. 43% said the same about the staff writer. Respondents with graduate degrees felt the exact opposite.
- Only 39% said the volunteer was moderately trustworthy, while exactly half reported feeling the same about the staff writer.
Unless you’re specifically targeting survey respondents with advanced degrees, it’s probably safe to continue allowing guest bloggers to write for your site, at least from your target audience’s perspective.
Don’t forget, you can compare any of the answers from your survey responses’ data download by gender, age, income, education level and geographic area. For example, how does gender affect peoples’ loyalty to search engines and how does income compare with education level, etc.?
Questions for Eli, our in-house SEO expert? Let him know in the Comments section below!