Yesterday I read a great recent article from Jakob Nielsen on e-commerce usability, and his comments on SEO rang true.  He describes the results from a large usability study of 200+ sites, and near the end talks about customer loyalty:

One of our study participants said, “If I have a good experience with something, I’ll stick with it forever.” Not all users are that loyal, but our research does indicate tremendous benefits from fostering customer loyalty in e-commerce.

In the web-wide tasks, we didn’t specify which site users should visit to make purchases. Not surprisingly, half of the users went straight to a search engine. But it was a bit of a surprise that the other half of users went directly to some site they already knew.

Bypassing the search engines’ tollbooth on the information highway is user loyalty’s first benefit. But the advantages reach much further.

Of users who started by searching the web, only 39% completed their task on the first site they selected from the SERP (search engine results page). That is, almost 2/3 of search users abandoned their first love and proceeded to do business elsewhere. This outcome demonstrates that SEO and good search engine ranking are necessary but not sufficient for Internet business success. It’s actually more important to satisfy users once they arrive at your site. Search users exhibit little loyalty to sites they happen to click on.

In contrast, users who bypassed search and went directly to a preferred site overwhelmingly gave their money to that site: 71% did so, while only 29% completed their task elsewhere.

Read the full article here.  Whether you’re in e-commerce or not, there’s a lot of interesting stuff in it.