The Path to Click: Are You on It?
Savannah Wei Shi, J.C. Penney Research Professor, Associate Professor of Marketing
Savannah Wei Shi, Michael Trusov (2020) The Path to Click: Are You on It?. Marketing Science 40(2):344-365. https://doi.org/10.1287/mksc.2020.1253
The multibillion-dollar search engine marketing (SEM) industry’s central objective is to gain visibility for businesses on search engine results pages (SERPs) to bring customers to a firm’s website. This paper sheds light on a foundational element of SEM, namely, consumers’ interactions with SERPs. Using eye-tracking equipment and a custom-built Google-like search engine, we conducted a laboratory experiment in which participants performed a series of online searches for a set of consumer goods while their eye movements and interactions with the results page (i.e., scrolling and clicks) were recorded. We provide model-free and model-based analyses of the inspection process, which encompasses a series of microdecisions, including what part of the page to look at, whether to scroll to bring additional results into view, what listings to explore and for how long, and ultimately which listing to click on. The results suggest that search goals (navigational, transactional, and informational), semantic context, spatial characteristics, viewing centrality, and prior inspection path are all predictive of both the flow of the inspection process and the ultimate listing choice. Managers should account for the significant variation in inspection scope across search tasks and SERP compositions when assessing a listing’s performance and deciding on a desirable position on the SERP.