3 stereotypes about online behavior that could be hurting your ad targeting strategy

The Russian version of the study can be found here.

Marketers sometimes rely on outdated stereotypes about how men and women behave on the internet rather than basing their decisions on target audience data. We wanted to see if we could refute or confirm some of the most commonly held beliefs about ad targeting, so we studied how women and men interact with Yandex.Direct ads, whether they search for products associated with the opposite sex, and if women actually spend significantly more time searching for things before purchasing them.

Stereotype: men are less susceptible to ads and click on them less frequently. Display ads work better on women.

To test these hypotheses, we analyzed all clicks on Yandex.Direct ads for the 4th quarter of 2018 and looked at who clicked on ads more frequently overall (without drilling down into specific categories).

Men and women click on ads with equal frequency

stereotypes about online behavior - clicks

On search, men were responsible for 49% of clicks and women — for 51%. On ad network sites, this situation was reversed — men were responsible for 51% of clicks and women — 49%. Additionally, the CTR for ads was identical between men and women.

Men click on video ads more frequently, but women are more likely to view them in their entirety

People tend to think that women click on video ads more frequently, but the opposite is actually true: video-network ads enjoy higher clickability among men (but not by much – 0.29%). Women, however, prove to be a more captive audience: they watch videos all the way through 3.29% more frequently than men do.

As far as Yandex.Direct video ads in particular are concerned, men click on them 4% more frequently than women do.

Women search for discounts more frequently than men, but they click-through on ads that mention discounts at equal ratesstereotypes about online behavior - discounts

You might think that women are more interested in discounts than men, but that is only partially true. Women initiate two-thirds of searches for sales, discounts, promotions, and Black Friday events. However, this does not mean that men are not as interested in finding a good deal. Clicks on ads that include information about sales and discounts are almost evenly distributed among men and women.

Stereotype: there are certain categories of goods and services where almost all related searches are made by members of one or the other gender. The reasoning goes that it doesn’t make sense to target ads for those categories of items to the other gender.

To test these hypotheses, we grouped all searches for 2018 into a few categories and figured out what percentage were entered by men and women respectively. Here’s what we found out.

Women are much more interested in men’s clothing than men are in women’s

stereotypes about online behavior - men's clothing

Obviously, people search for clothing for friends and family members of the opposite gender, but we wanted to see how things break down with searches for clothing.

Women enter 40% of search terms for men’s clothes. Their interest in menswear remains constant throughout the year, but peaks noticeably in February. The first uptick in interest occurs on the evening preceding Valentine’s Day and then holds steady through February 22 (Defender of the Fatherland Day is Feb. 23rd in Russia). Search levels fall back to normal following these holidays. Clothing is the second most popular gift to mark February 23.

However, men search less frequently for women’s clothing as gifts. There is no corresponding uptick in searches preceding International Women’s Day on March 8th initiated by men. Women actually enter 80% of the searches for women’s clothing leading up to that holiday. This distribution has not changed much over the past year: the percent of men who searched for women’s clothing only increased by one percent (from 19% to 20%).

Our advice: Even if your audience is comprised overwhelmingly of one gender, you might lose potential customers who are very motivated to purchase if you decrease your bids for the opposite gender. Men who are searching for dresses or high heels are probably going to go ahead and purchase them.

Men also search for tailors and dry cleaners

Men initiate close to 30% of searches for tailors and similar services such as tuxedo rentals. One interesting point to note about women’s search behavior is that the uptick in searches for tailors is more noticeable among women during the fall season than it is for men.

Men also initiate more than 1/3rd of searches for professional housekeepers. It seems that everyone wants to kick off their spring cleaning in February.

Both genders search for grocery delivery services

Nobody enjoys lugging heavy bags back from the store with them. Men search for grocery delivery less frequently than women but are still responsible for a significant percentage of such searches (43% versus 57% among women).

Our advice: When you advertise cleaning or food-delivery services, keep in mind that men and women search for these things at nearly equal rates.

Women are more interested in mortgages and investment vehicles

stereotypes about online behavior - investment vehicles

Despite the fact that men take out mortgages more frequently, 61% of searches for them are initiated by women. The same goes for investment vehicles such as CDs: men search for them at a rate of 40%.
It’s interesting to note that searches for investment vehicles are seasonal and start to increase in April and September – November. Furthermore, women display considerably more interest in this topic at those times. On the other hand, while women’s interest in this subject starts to wane in December, men’s interest remains stable.

Women perform a large percentage of the searches for laptops, but men are much more likely to search for gaming consoles

Female gamers are out there, but they are not as prevalent as men, so it’s not too surprising that men enter 80% of searches for gaming consoles. However, the percentage of women initiating such searches has risen slightly over the previous year (from 18% to 20%).

The gender search gap is not as stark for laptop computers: women are responsible for 32% of searches in that case (an increase of 2% from last year).

We also uncovered some insights about smartphone searches: they are equally popular as gift ideas among men and women, but women receive them as gifts much more frequently.


Men’s interest in climate-control devices is more seasonal than women’s

Men search for climate-control devices more frequently than women (they are responsible for 65% of searches in this category), and they start actively seeking out products like air conditioners in the summer. However, the percent of such searches initiated by women has increased from 33% to 35% in the past year.

Men and women search in equal numbers for large household appliances, but women are more likely to search for small appliances

Refrigerators, ovens, and dishwashers fall into the category of large appliances that men and women search for equally. However, women perform 56% of searches for small appliances.

Stereotype: men spend less time searching for products and services.

To figure out how much time men and women spend searching for goods and services in the categories we’ve already mentioned, we calculated the average time that elapsed between a user’s first and last search in 2018 related to a given category.

Overall, women don’t spend more time searching for items than men, but there is a noticeable gender difference in some categories

stereotypes about online behavior - time spent searching

We can’t definitively say that women spend more time searching for items or services they need — it all depends on the category.

  • For some categories, women display more interest (measured in the number of searches) and spend more time searching for those items. So, for example, women spend more time searching for women’s clothing, food delivery services, and large and small appliances. Men, on the other hand, spend more time searching for men’s clothing, gaming consoles, and climate-control devices. However, women and men spend nearly the same amount of time searching for notebook computers (26 vs. 28 hours).
  • In other categories, there is a clear distinction between the number of searches entered for a given category and the time spent searching for it. For example, men are only responsible for 20% of searches for women’s clothing, but they spend 2.3 times longer searching for it than they do for men’s clothing. This same distinction also applies to large appliances: men and women enter the same number of searches, but women spent almost twice as much time studying the results. Women also spend about twice as much time searching for mortgages.

Our advice: People spend a lot of time searching for large appliances and other expensive items. This means that it’s especially important to set up retargeting for these categories so that you don’t lose potential customers as they move down the sales funnel. We recommend that you don’t apply a short time limit for bringing back potential customers who have yet to convert. Customers you may think you lost could still be making their purchasing decision.

You may be surprised by some of the categories that predominantly men or women are interested in (and they can change from one year to the next). We were surprised to discover that even our own hypotheses turned out to be off in some cases. The main takeaway is that you should take a close look at your target audience data rather than relying on stereotypes. Automatic strategies can help you target your ads more effectively because the system analyzes user behavior for you.