One of the game-changing benefits the Internet handed to marketers is targeted marketing. The benefits of getting your content in front of someone looking for a product or service in your vertical, as opposed to throwing marketing dollars against the wall and seeing what sticks, are clear.
The logical extension of "targeted marketing is better than non-targeted marketing," is "targeted buyer-ready marketing is better than targeted researcher marketing." That is, optimizing or advertising for queries where the searcher is in buyer-ready mode ("buy white leather couch") is better than doing so for queries when the searcher is still in research mode ("white leather couch").
At first glance, these assumptions seem to stand up to scrutiny. Conductor research (disclosure: I work for Conductor) shows that long-tail queries do in fact convert at a rate greater than head terms.
But a closer look tells us that there may be more to the story.
This is because a high percentage of buyer/conversion-ready queries take place after an online research process. For example, a purchaser looking to buy a dining room table may start with the query "dining room table", progress to "modern dining room table", and finally to "buy modern 12 x 12 dining room table". Research supports these buying behaviors, but even a cursory look at our own online buying behaviors supports this framework.
Another way of looking at this is that a significant percentage of branded searches that show up in your analytics may in fact be downstream from an online research process like this one. Industry research shows that 86 percent of buyers begin their buying process with a non-branded search.
What Does This Mean for Your Marketing Strategy?
If a significant percentage of buyers/converters do in fact progress through a research process prior to converting, then an intelligent strategy reflects that fact. Many online businesses have a longstanding strategy of "crowding the register": exclusively optimizing and creating content for conversion-centric queries.
I recently heard a good analogy: this phenomenon is comparable to a guy in a bar who walks up to a woman and says, "Will you marry me?" Then, after drying off the drink tossed on him, he wonders, "Am I in the wrong bar? Is it the shirt?"
Bring Forth Your Inner 'Rico Suave'
The obvious solution for our misguided Romeo is to get to know the prospective Juliet a bit before jumping immediately to a marriage proposal. For us, that means engaging with the buyer earlier in the buying cycle. It means creating content that will help educate and inform the buyer to help them progress down the buying funnel and make an informed decision.
The benefits of this approach are, well, that we are no longer awkwardly and immediately proposing marriage; we're courting our customers rather than potentially alienating them with a push to purchase. But more importantly, we're connecting with the buyer earlier in the buying cycle, forming a longer-term relationship and a neural connection between a generic product or service and our specific brand. Hopefully, they'll draw on this connection when they are buyer-ready and plan to pull the trigger on a purchase.
If we're successful with this transition, we're likely to see an increase in traffic from both general research terms ("white couch") and branded-product terms ("lazy boy couch") as buyers return to our site late in the buying cycle.
An Example: Crafting the Table Saw Buyer Cycle
I fancy myself a bit of an amateur woodworker. (I'm more amateur than woodworker. My mother used to say she always knew which kindergarten art project was mine.)
Recently I was in the market for a new table saw and searched:
The search results were a mix of "educational" destinations – woodworking forums, a YouTube video, Dummies.com, and About.com. The only retailer that appeared was Rockler.com, a woodworking supply store.
Clicking through on Rockler's search result leads to a page that walks the reader through the various types of table saws and offers insight into what to look for when buying a table saw:
A gentle reminder at the end of the article (remember: the "researcher" isn't yet ready to purchase) reminds the reader that Rockler carries a wide variety of table saws that will meet many different kinds of buyers' needs:
I didn't end up buying from Rockler when it came time to make a purchase. However, I did draw on the neural connection established during the research process and took a close look at their offerings.
Step Away From the Register
Crowding the online register is a strategy that had its place as the internet developed, when competition for purchase terms was weak and online consumers were still figuring out how much they needed and trusted digital input.
Now, being ahead of the curve means reaching buyers earlier in the purchase cycle, providing them with the kind of information that will help them make an informed purchase decision.
Done right, buyers will return as they near the end of the purchase funnel. Done consistently, buyers will begin to see your brand as the go-to authority in your industry, which will make for a beautiful marriage.