As someone in SEO, sometimes I can be too caught up with the technical side of things to pay much-needed attention to what really matters: users’ behaviour.
As Google’s guidelines suggest, these are the 3 reasons why people search:
- They want to do something. These are transactional searches, conducted by users in order to take an action (e.g. shop backpacks, Microsoft office install without license, IT 2017 movie free download).
- They want to know something. These are informational searches, conducted by users whose sole purposes are to gather information and do some research (e.g. Picasso biography, Pitt and Angelina divorce, is human the smartest species in the world?).
- They want to check out something. These are navigational searches, often associated with brand-related queries, conducted by users who want to know more about a brand or a company.
It’s quite obvious that SEO isn’t limited to just being there when customers are ready to spend. It requires brands to be constantly present throughout the buyers’ journeys. It needs to let customers know that we exist, we have a solution to their problems, we’re better than the rest, and we’re still here when they’re ready to spend again in the future.
A Buyer’s Journey
It’s not enough to know what types of searches a target audience uses, but also what information they should be served when arriving to your site. This knowledge allows us to serve the right content to the right users at the right time. Furthermore, it allows us to identify the most appropriate factors or metrics to use when measuring the overall effectiveness of our SEO campaign.
Below is an elaboration of the 4 stages of a user’s journey and how SEO can come into play in each of these stages.
1. Recognise a problem
A user’s journey starts with problem recognition. Nobody searches for something they don’t need or want in the first place. Even just looking for something as trivial as a celebrity’s birth date is a need for information in and of itself. While this can be an internal process where customers generally figure out their own problems, it’s not a foreign concept that branding and traditional marketing have, for an eternity, tried to influence it by convincing them to need certain things. But that’s a whole other topic.
With SEO, the same influence is possible, but to a lesser extent and with a more immediate effect. This is because its presence is limited to a small number of channels such as search engines and social networking sites. Additionally, it relies on customers recognizing their existing problems before convincing them to need something extra.
A good example of this is the work we’ve done for one of our clients, who offers dental-only insurance plans. We target individuals who recognise that they need a certain dental treatment and want to learn more about it. We provide them with what they need (i.e. the information) then take a step further and insert additional information to inform them of our dental plans, which help them save on dental costs. This approach has worked a treat with landing pages initially created for informative purposes now accounting for 10% of all conversions site-wide.
2. Search for a solution
This is the second stage of the journey, where users actively search for a solution to their problems. This is where informational searches are essential to increasing your brand awareness. At this stage, customers mainly look to gather information and identify their options. As such, a large amount of traffic to your website may not result in conversions, at least not immediately. Having a high level of brand awareness today doesn’t guarantee that your sales will skyrocket tomorrow. Yet, so long as you’re on top of customers’ minds, you’re more likely to have a conversion later down the track than your competitors.
This can be translated into SEO by acknowledging that there are problems your product or service cannot solve, and then going out of your way to be helpful – regardless of whether or not that would bring you sales. For example, if your products are surfboards, your SEO efforts should not be limited to just selling surfboards. Instead, you can also provide a beginner’s guide to surfing to those wanting to learn how to surf, or a surfboard buying guide to those wanting to know how to pick the best surfboard for themselves. In so doing, you will increase your brand awareness (by ranking for informational keywords), and engage with users in a more meaningful way (by being genuinely helpful).
3. Evaluate their options
Let’s just start this one with a cold hard truth: you’re not the only one with a solution to your customers’ problems. Even if you are, it’s only a matter of time until you’re outshined by someone with a better option. Therefore, it is vital that you have some unique selling points that are dependable and hard to replicate.
There are a great many factors that could impact a customer’s decision – the most common of which include service level, quality and price. It’s important to know that not every customer will evaluate these factors equally. Some are more price-sensitive while others prioritise quality. Stick to your guns and defend your market positioning. Don’t alter your values in order to protect the bottom line.
Translate this into your SEO campaign by emphasising your key strengths and unique selling points at every touch point. Aim to provide your target audience with as much information as possible to help facilitate their decision-making.
4. Make a decision
This is when customers decide that your product or service may be the best option for their problems. Searches conducted at this stage mainly serves to justify said decision. These may include users looking for customer reviews and testimonials about you, determine your pros and cons compared to other alternatives, test your product or try out your service for free.
It’s vital that your prospective clients are able to support their decision with more than one tools. Consider providing as much materials as you can. Some examples include client testimonials and ratings, free product or service trial (if possible), free consultation, case studies, product brochures and so on.
It’s also important to go beyond Google Search. Users employ a variety of platforms for information gathering including review sites and social networking sites. Be sure you’re present on these channels too if they apply to you.