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Bypassing the Search Engine: Using Direct Navigation to Your Advantage

by Matt Bentley  |  
August 22, 2006
  |  16,724 views

Marketers assume that "googling" for information is an automatic response the instant a Web surfer opens a browser. And the theory holds true for many Internet users.

But for a number of reasons, and with increasing regularity, many people bypass search engines altogether in favor of a technique called direct navigation. Simply put, direct navigation is when a user directly types a Web address into a browser.

The concept of direct navigation is as old as the Web—Internet users frequently key in their favorite sites stored in their personal memory. To put this into context, WebSideStory's StatMarket division notes that more than two-thirds of daily global Internet users arrive at a Web site via direct navigation, compared with just 14 percent from search engines.

But the phenomenon of direct navigation to generically named sites with an "intent to search" is a relatively new concept that shifts how marketers must think about their own Web site traffic and how consumers are finding information about the things that interest them.

Marketers are turning to direct navigation programs to compliment their search campaigns for a number of reasons, including the emergence of programs like AdSense and other technologies that can populate unused Web domains with information to create mini-portals. Online consumers are turning to these "parked" Web sites—pages populated mostly by relevant keyword ads—because they can sometimes produce better, quicker results that avoid the manipulated listings that increasingly clog search engine results for highly commercial keyword terms.


In fact, it is estimated by several organizations that traffic to "parked" pages drives about 10% of the pay-per-click (PPC) ad market. Even more interesting, WebSideStory found that direct navigation had a 4.23% conversion-to-sale rate, while search engine clicks on average lead to a 2.3% conversion-to-sale rate.

With that much quality traffic heading to these generic sites, organizations are now considering how to capture that traffic directly. Consider that a parked page like Wifi.com, for example, captures 15,000 monthly targeted visitors. Purchasing this volume of traffic through a pay-per-click search engine would cost nearly $10,000 per month (based on the current top Yahoo bid price of $0.66 for the term "Wifi"). Yet we have the domain name currently listed for sale at domain marketplace Sedo.com with an asking price of $350,000—an investment that would pay for itself in under three years—even faster if current trends of rising traffic and click prices continue. So instead of writing a hefty check to Google or Yahoo every month, why not purchase the domain and secure this traffic for life?

Marketers can use generic targeted domain names as a traffic source in three primary ways:

  1. Simply re-direct the domain to your main site. Examples: Books.com (Barnes & Noble), PC.com (Intel), Loans.com (Bank of America), Website.com (DotEasy), RentalCar.com (Enterprise)

  2. Use the domain as a targeted vertical portal to drive traffic to your main site. This method requires more effort but is more likely to lead to increasing traffic over time, generate higher conversion rates, and strengthen your position as a leader in a given market category. Examples: Baby.com (Johnson & Johnson), Meningitis.com (Chiron Vaccines)

  3. Re-brand your entire operation on the new generic domain. Obviously, this is the most extreme example, but there are many advantages to branding your company on a premium generic domain: You instantly gain credibility as a leader in your space, and you generally garner higher conversion-to-sale ratios with less expenditure on marketing and brand-building. Examples: DealTime and Epinions become Shopping.com; Ice.com becomes Diamond.com.


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Matt Bentley is Chief Strategy Officer at Sedo.

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