According to a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle, the new CEO at Yahoo, Carol Bartz, is making sure to invest in one area of increasing concern to Yahoo: sociologists and behavioral psychologists. The thinking is that learning about what drives online behavior will give the ailing company a competitive edge over its rivals (namely Google), who focus more on building a better mousetrap, or search engine. Some of the results of studies commissioned by Yahoo social scientists are intriguing, such as:
While a search algorithm figures out which online documents refer to Madonna the pop star and which refer to the Virgin Mary, it takes sociologists talking to real people to discover that when they enter the search term they almost always just want to listen to a song, watch a video or buy concert tickets.
In my opinion, this is a wise investment. Utilizing the academic disciplines of sociology and psychology is a smart way to gain insight on not just what people search for online and how often, but what drives their searches, and, what’s more important for e-advertisers, what makes them click on a banner ad and why. The article goes on to describe a study that aimed to accurately measure the impact of Internet display advertising across online and offline sales, and while the results showed that there was a slight increase in in-store purchases as a result of viewing online ads, the study also showed that these results were only true for those over 40, hardly the sought-after demographic by advertisers. Is this because young people simply tune out the advertising they see online? More of Yahoo’s in-house social scientists will have to research this to find out.