Think the most popular online activity is e-mail? You're right, but search engines are quickly gaining. As a matter of fact, close to half of all Americans who log on will make use of a search engine. In turn, search engine marketing is gaining greater prominence, which is impacting the health insurance leads that are generated through them.
In 2002, only one-third of all Internet users performed online searches. Today, that statistic has increased to 49 percent. According to a 2008 study by the Pew Center for Internet and American Life, searches are now the second most common usage of the Internet, falling only behind e-mail, which is used by 60 percent of users. Other uses stated by participants were checking news (39 percent), checking weather (30 percent), researching hobbies (29 percent), surfing for fun (28 percent) and using social networking sites (29 percent).
But why the overall increase in search engine use? Again, the study listed several reasons: (1) site-specific search engines on nearly every Web site, (2) ubiquity of broadband Internet connections at home, and (3) fine-tuning of search engines and consumer confidence in the results they deliver.
For health insurance agents, this presents a fantastic boon. By nature, search engines turn out higher quality leads, and for top producers who have long eschewed traditional lead-generation routes for the expediency of technology, the numbers are adding up.
While the increase in search engine usage was the key finding of the Pew study, the research yielded an interesting breakdown of this group's demographics, as well. For example, individuals who use search engines on a normal day typically have a higher education; younger Internet users are more apt to search; and males search in higher numbers than women. Search engine usage also rises according to income:
- Of online Americans with annual incomes under $50,000, more than one-third use a search engine on a typical day.
- Of all online Americans with incomes between $50,000 and $74,999, more than 56 percent use search engines on a daily basis.
- And of Americans with incomes greater than $75,000, more than 62 percent of them log on every day and use a search engine.
So, what is everyone searching for? Health insurance shows up as one of the most popular entries. Here again, the Pew Center reports some interesting numbers. In the same study, they found that about 30 percent of all online Americans are turning to their preferred search engine to research a topic that falls within the health insurance category. That's nearly 42 million American adults each year.
And with the number of overall searches climbing every day, health-related issues are gaining popularity in tandem. According to a 2006 Pew Center study, nearly 113 million American adults -- about 80 percent of all American Internet users -- used search engines to research a health-related topic.
Take the example of Martha in Seattle, who is approaching retirement age and knows that this means big changes for her insurance coverage. Because she has a few choices available to her, she wants to be as informed as possible, especially in knowing her options and how they compare. Chances are that she will start her research online. On any given search engine, she can not only search for general guidelines for retirement planning in regards to health insurance, she can also search for answers to specific questions. What's more, Martha can research pending legislation to troubleshoot how proposed health care reforms may alter the future outcome of a health insurance decision she makes now.
Another common occurrence is when a son or daughter of an aging parent goes online to research an item like health care plans on behalf of their parent, who may not be as well versed in Internet searching.
Better leads by nature
Among industry leaders, it is becoming accepted wisdom that search-engine-driven health insurance leads are intrinsically more valuable. They are leads that weren't solicited by ads or other devices; nobody forced the topic of "health insurance" onto them. They actively searched for the health insurance Web site, deliberately taking the necessary steps to become a health lead. These leads have health insurance on their minds, want information and are that much more receptive when agents do speak with them.
Top producers know that obtaining quality leads for health insurance is half the battle, if not more. Even unlimited resources for direct mail or yellow pages ads can't compare to self-identified leads. As people increasingly search for health-related information online, the number of high-quality leads that this generates will rise along with them, creating a win-win situation for agents and their customers.
In the age of the Internet, working harder is being replaced with working smarter. Expanding your business today doesn't require a significant budget to achieve awareness in new markets. High-quality Internet-generated leads help you bypass the usual cost of entry and go straight to closing sales.