February 15, 2006, 12:00 AM

AOL posts best conversion rate among four search engines, new index finds

AOL Search’s median conversion rate of 6.17% in January led 6.03% at MSN, 4.07% at Yahoo and 3.83% at Google, according to the WebSideStory Index. Demographic differences among engine audiences may account for the spread.

Across natural and paid search, AOL Search generated the best median conversion rate of four top search engines at b2c e-commerce sites during the month of January-6.17%. The data are based on the WebSideStory Index, a new benchmarking register that pulls from millions of users visiting sites that use the analytics provider’s HBX analytics technology, which represent about $3 billion annually in online sales.

The index shows that during January, MSN Search generated a median conversion rate of 6.03% for the same category of sites, followed by Yahoo at 4.07% and Google at 3.83%. Ali Behnam, senior digital marketing consultant for the company, says demographics differences among users of different engines could explain the difference in conversion rates.

“With portals rich in content and services, MSN and Yahoo may tend to appeal to a more buyer friendly demographic. Google, meanwhile, may appeal to more browsers, those with less of intent to buy,” says Behnam. The takeaway is that search engine marketers may want to consider demographics in allocating budgets, he adds.

The four top engines each posted a conversion rate well above the median average for all search engines, which was 1.97% in January. This compares with a median average of 2.30% for Q4 2005, reported by WebSideStory last month.

Another factor contributing to the higher conversion rates at the top engines may be the use of high-end analytics at the sites in the index, according to WebSideStory. “Our clients are steeped in web analytics best practices and are not buying search engine traffic that does not deliver,” says Jeff Lunsford, CEO. “In addition, they understand how to convert visitors into buyers once they arrive at the site.”

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