I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Professor Yan Zhang, of the University of Texas at Austin. Professor Zhang noticed that although we are in the information age, people still seem to have difficulties finding the information they need online. So she decided to study how people perceive and use search engines as information retrieval systems.
Professor Zhang’s research is ongoing, but it sheds light on some things which might just affect and improve the way you do your internet marketing. I wanted to offer some of the interesting information that she has already discovered. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:
Heather Lutze: Tell me a little bit about your research.
Professor Zhang: I’m focusing on the ways people look for health information online, meaning how they use search engines to look for health information, and how they use social media to look for health information.
Heather: Interesting. Why health, in particular?
Professor Zhang: Health is a topic that attracts a lot of attention; it’s an important issue. People look for information very seriously. Quality of health information online is a big concern. We still don’t know much about how people use information they find online in their actual health management or healthcare decision‑making. So there is a lot of research that needs to be done in this area.
Heather: Describe to me, a layperson, how you are going about your studies.
Professor Zhang: We invite people to our lab and then observe how they behave with online systems. We control the tasks they perform, the environment they are in, and the technology they’re using. This type of controlled study addresses, for example, how subjects’ learning style affects their search behavior.
Heather: Interesting. Have you identified different learning styles?
Professor Zhang: Yes, we can categorize people into two general styles, in terms of searching for health information: monitors and blunters. Monitors are people who are actively seeking information and wanted to know as much as possible. But blunters don’t want to know too much. They don’t want to make decisions on their own; they delegate this to other people.
When people come to our lab, we measure their information seeking style, monitor versus blunter, because this has an impact on their behavior when interacting with search engines. We assign them to two types of predefined tasks, and then we observe their behavior.
One task is straight fact‑finding. For example, we ask them to find out the side effects of the supplement Creatine. This is just factual research. The other type of task is exploratory. For example, finding out the relationship between diabetes and hypertension, and what can be done to alleviate the problems.
Heather: Have you been able to come up with any sort of conclusions based on the research you’ve done to date?
Professor Zhang: We have some preliminary data, but not the whole picture. People who are monitors will spend more time on tasks than blunters. The monitors want to know as much information on a particular subject as possible. They want every aspect of the subject. But blunter is happy with a small amount of information, and some of them are actually trying to avoid information.
Heather: Have you been able to categorize the difference in monitors and blunters based on demographics, based on income, based on education level? I’m curious whether a monitor is a higher income or more educated person. Are they older? Are they younger? What do you think would be the characteristics of a monitor, or do you even know at this point?
Professor Zhang: In terms of a demographic perspective, no. It’s a personality trait, rather than the impact of socio-economic status. Some people are cognitively demanding. They want it to understand the problem, but some people they don’t want to understand the problem, or they just let it go.
As you can see, there’s a lot more to the business of search than we ever suspected!
It seems that for blunters, a few important bullet points at the top of a webpage would be enough… and for monitors, reams of information would be appreciated. Are your potential customers monitors, blunters, or a mix of both? And how can you take advantage of this information to get more business?
Let me know in the comments how you would take advantage of this information.
Stay tuned for more of my talk with Professor Zhang in the next post.
Author, Internet Marketing Speaker, Trainer and Consultant
About Heather Lutze:
Heather is the acclaimed speaker, trainer, and consultant who literally wrote the book on search engine marketing. Two books, in fact—The Findability Formula: The Easy, Non-Technical Approach to Search Engine Marketing and Thumbonomics: The Essential Business Roadmap for Social Media & Mobile Marketing. Her writing and in-demand keynotes are delivered with the same witty, “no-geek-speak” style that has managed to demystify internet marketing for countless business owners. Breaking free of corporate “cubicle” jobs over ten years ago with nothing more than a dream of entrepreneurship and a computer in the basement, Heather built her business, The Findability Group, into a multi-million dollar company. Today she leads a dedicated and slightly obsessed team of search marketing pros—their mission—to connect clients with their perfect customers online.