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DoubleClick and comScore released the results of a study about the relationship between search and e-commerce. This is similar to the comScore-Overture study conducted last year. The new findings underscore those of the earlier Overture study and reinforce the idea that branding will reshape search over the long term.

Here are the top-level findings:

  • Search plays a role in roughly half of all online purchases
  • The majority of pre-purchase search activity (searches and clicks) involves generic terms, not the merchants€™ brands
  • Branded terms peak in search activity closer to the purchase
  • Most buyers complete their relevant search activity well in advance of the purchase

DoubleClick, which of course stands to benefit, argues that €œgeneric terms represent an opportunity to attract and engage in-market searchers throughout the buying cycle. Search result analyses (sales and ROI) that consider only a short period prior to purchase do not account for the value of generic search activity earlier in the buying cycle.€

…In other words, don't worry so much about direct/traditional ROI calculations.

Couple of thoughts and conclusions:

  • The product name or merchant represents something of a proxy for where the consumer is in the buying cycle. The fact that most search-engine users search on "generic" (read: category) means that product sellers will need to "own" those terms (i.e., lock them up for branding purposes) when the consumer is doing research at an early stage in the buying cycle.
  • This is now the second study which has shown that search is and is not like Yellow Pages. And this also explains why YP generally delivers better conversion rates than search (but is used more narrowly). The legacy of offline YP buying/shopping behavior has translated online (consumers "ready to buy"), whereas consumers engage with search much more often and broadely (earlier in the buying cycle).

The potential impact of branding dollars on the search marketplace (especially) SMEs and local will be explored on day 2 of Drilling Down on Local.

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