Eighty percent of shoppers will research online before making a purchase according to Google. This behavior expands to business customers. 93 percent of tech B2B customers research products on the internet, predominantly via search engines.
Most who optimize know that optimization for brand, product/service, and location can greatly increase visibility in search engine results. However, many still struggle with connecting with consumer intent.
The 80/20 Rule
Non-branded search accounts for 78 percent percent of all search engine referrals, according to Google. This resonates with the theory that a well-optimized website should attract 80 percent of non-branded referrals, and only 20 percent of branded search referrals.
As the ultimate information destination for your product or service, your website can, and should, be the dominant authority for your solution by name. It should also be an authority on the problem the solution solves, how it compares to competing solutions, and offer compelling reasons for purchase.
Most brands find it easier to dominate search engine results for the name of their company, brand, product or service. The ongoing challenge for SEO professionals is to achieve visibility for non-branded keywords. This is easier to achieve when you can step away from the mechanics of SEO and think about connecting with your target customers.
Promote non-branded search referrals by helping customers make informed decisions, while speaking their language. Resist the temptation to limit website content to industry jargon, internal language or sales copy. And, deliver the information customers seek, in context to where they are in their quest for a solution.
The 3 Phases in the Purchase Decision
Research, Comparison and Buy represent the three basic phases of online purchase behavior. Connecting the dots between the customer’s problem and your solution promotes search engine visibility, referrals, and paths to conversion.
Optimizing for the research and comparison phases will increase visibility to customers that have not yet decided what product or brand they wish to purchase. Optimization to promote conversion requires delivering of compelling offers that close the deal.
To improve your effectiveness, consider creating personas for each of your customer types, identify what “makes them tick” in each of the three phases of the purchase decision, create path for each, and optimize accordingly.
Phase 1: Research
Research is the first phase of the online purchase decision. Customers use non-branded keyword searches to find information, answer a question, or find the solution to a problem. Because these customers aren't yet loyal to a brand, they are essentially up for grabs.
Introduce New Customers To Your Brand
Whether your customers are seeking to treat health symptoms, get a better night’s sleep, find a new place to live, increase profitability of a business, reduce tax liability, find a destination for a wedding, or purchase a more fuel-efficient vehicle, you can greatly increase clicks to conversion by addressing the human element.
Identify the questions most frequently asked, and even those less frequently asked, to present answers in a logical, meaningful way.
Optimizing for the Research Phase of Search
In this phase, customers don't yet know what product, service or piece of information will best meet their needs.
Keywords entered into the search bar will focus on finding information that will ultimately solve a problem. The more they know, the more qualifiers they add to the search engine query. The more words they add to the search, obviously the more refined the results will be, reducing competition to reach those customers.
If you wish to reach these customers, your website should answer every reasonable question, and be optimized accordingly.
A research-based search query might look something like:
- stop snoring
- natural ways to stop snoring
- devices that stop snoring
- pillows that stop snoring
- best way to stop snoring
The example below demonstrates how search engine results resonate with customers conducting research on search.
Targeted content, FAQs, tools, guides, studies, forums, etc. connect the dots between the customer’s problem and your solution. This approach to SEO is much easier if you execute create content with a long-tail SEO approach.
These assets become powerful landing pages that should also be used to advance to the next two phases.
Phase 2: Comparison
Once customers identify possible solutions for their problem, the comparison begins. This phase can include non-branded and branded search engine queries.
Comparison will require clear articulation of your solution, as it compares to other solutions you offer, as well as solutions it may be compared to.
Optimizing for Comparison
One of the most powerful way to win new customers in this phase is to answer every possible question about your solution, as well as your competitors’ solutions, on your website.
Optimization should include authoritative coverage on versions, features, models, services, and include ratings, reviews and exposure to third-party endorsements and/or media coverage.
When possible, post blogs that spell out features, benefits of solutions, and how they compare to competitive solutions. Visual tools that spell it all out complement the written word, so be liberal with infographics, comparison grids, video, etc. to attract clicks. After all, it takes more than top search rank to win the click!
Comparison-based search queries might look something like:
- pillows vs mouth devices to stop snoring
- acme vs other brand comparison
- acme pillow reviews
- cost of acme vs other devices that stop snoring
- which anti-snoring devices are safest
Note in the screen capture below how top search results explicitly set out to help the customer make the decision.
Attract Natural Links
The more thorough you are about articulating why your solution is best, the more likely you will be to attract referrals (the kind of links Google favors), shares, likes, etc., all of which provide queues that search engines are inclined to recognize.
Phase 3: Buy
This purchase is where many SEO focus their efforts. Hopefully now you can see how providing the “backstory” within the research and comparison phases serves as a natural progress to the purchase.
Search queries during the purchase phase are different from the research and comparison phase in that they must seize the moment by providing a compelling reason to buy.
Today’s consumer is more savvy than ever. There are several mechanisms that attract conversion. Some are geo-local, some by reviews and ratings, some by brand recognition, and many by price.
Optimize for the Conversion
Your website should be the best possible destination to purchase the solution you promote – unless you aren't in the business of direct sales to clients and customers, or there are other factors that play into the dynamic between yourself and retailers, VARs, distributors, etc.
If another website is offering a discount on your product, find a way to match it on the website. Even better, establish a “we will not be undersold” policy. Take it to the next level and pre-empt others who will offer discounts, and be sure to create a landing page to attract those clicks.
Purchase-driven queries often look like this:
- acme pillow discount
- best price on acme pillows
- lowest price on acme pillows
- acme pillow free shipping
When optimizing website assets to appear in search results that promote conversion, make sure to create optimized landing pages to receive these visitors. Please don't drop them on the home page and ask them to find their way to the deal – you're likely to lose the conversion you were so close to winning!
The example below demonstrates how discounts, dates, and specific offers appear in search results to promote conversion.
Optimize, Assess & Repeat!
This approach toward optimization works best if you practice long-tail SEO.
As with any SEO effort, measurement, analysis and ongoing optimization will be required to fully realize the potential created within each of the three phases of the purchase decision.
Landing pages, content, and conversion reports will reveal how effectively the website is meeting the needs of your customers, and closing the deal.