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Jon Kaplan, Industry Director of Financial Services, Google
Jon Kaplan, Industry Director of Financial Services, Google
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Online Search Analytics Provide a Window Into Customer Behavior

2009 will bring an opportunity for carriers to leverage Web search data to understand how consumers purchase insurance online, Google's financial services head says.

Online searching is a proxy for consumer behavior. By examining how people search and what they're searching for, insurance companies can figure out better ways to connect with potential customers. Understanding how and when consumers are using the Web to look for information will help drive growth and help insurance companies navigate the next year.

Jon Kaplan, Industry Director of Financial Services, Google
Jon Kaplan,
Industry Director of Financial Services, Google
The good news for insurance companies is that lots of people are still searching for insurance products and services. In fact, because consumers have become more risk averse and are taking the time to seriously evaluate their insurance coverage, related searches on will likely be a bit higher this year as compared to last year.

Further, through research conducted by Harris Interactive, we have found that consumers do more searching for insurance products -- and more actively evaluate and consider changing their coverage -- when they go through major life events, such as graduations, new children and new jobs. For example, people purchasing new homes are most likely to change their insurance coverage. They also tend to recall more insurance advertising.

This means that it's important for insurance companies to think about using the Web to advertise around life events and decisions that may relate to adding or changing insurance coverage. For example, home insurance companies that use search marketing should consider having their ads appear next to search results related to new-home maintenance and repair. This allows them to reach people who are actively searching for the best way to protect and preserve the equity they have invested in their homes.

Contextual targeting is another tool that should be considered. Contextual targeting places online ads next to relevant Web content. For example, an ad for a car insurance quote may appear next to a blog post about buying cars. The placement would be performed automatically, using algorithms that crawl Web sites and match a particular page with relevant advertising.

One way to better understand what people are thinking about is to see what they are searching for. Google Insights for Search is a free tool that allows you to compare search volumes on across specific regions, categories and time frames. For example, you can use Insights for Search to see if more people in California are doing searches for "fire insurance" this year compared to last year, or if there was an unusual spike in related searches in other wildfire-prone areas of the country.

Such online analytic tools made 2008 a year of innovation for many insurance companies. Companies with a history of using search marketing expanded into other online platforms, such as contextual targeting and online display. This integrated marketing strategy allowed them to measure the benefits of reaching consumers through various media channels.

Innovative insurance companies have also worked to adapt their advertising messages to customers in various media channels. Some insurance companies have been able to track Web search trends regarding consumer interest in the current economic climate. These insights were useful in informing the adaptation of advertising messages around the stability of specific product offerings.

There likely will be more movement toward online marketing in the next year, especially because online marketing is measurable, allowing advertisers to know how each of their dollars is being spent.

The Web has put consumers in the driver's seat when it comes to finding information. But it has also made it possible for insurers to connect with consumers in a relevant, measurable and unobtrusive way. These advances will help carriers reach consumers in more-targeted, cost-effective ways and grow their overall business.

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