A lot of the work that we have done at High Peak has been centered around the Consumer Journey. This “journey” is something that maps out the thought process that a customer makes when they start thinking about a product or service that they want to buy. Putting together a map like this will help optimize the types of content that you are creating and optimizing for at each stage of this journey.
Before we discuss the SEO ramifications of customer (or consumer) journeys, I’d like to review what it is that WE mean when we refer to this. We have been researching user/searcher intent for nearly a decade in various capacities and in various content and product verticals. We’ve come up with a pretty good summary of the types of content that users look for at different stages of the consumer journey that work well in most situations that we’ve encountered.
We have broken the consumer journey into 4 different stages [quadrants]. Two of which are before the consumer (or business) makes a purchase and 2 that occur after the purchase. The stages that we’ve come up with are:
- Core Research
- Pre Purchase Price Shopping
- Enhance the Use of the Product/Service
- Extend the life of the product (or get ready to replace)
The image to the left illustrates the types of content that we’ve determined work best for the consumer during these phases. You should also keep in mind that while consumers look for this information –> they don’t necessarily look online for this information. They could ask friends/work-mates/strangers/etc. for their opinions on things, so consumers can begin looking for this information online at any stage during the journey.
In the Core Research phase, there are 3 key types of content that consumers look for when they are first researching products. These three key pieces of information are what we call “Best Picks”, “Product (or Service) Reviews” and “Product Comparisons” are great examples of the most useful pieces of information that a consumer would want. Product reviews should not only provide opinions about products, but they should also speak about the various options and features of the products. As the consumer narrows the universe of products that they are considering, the questions that they will ask will become more specific. If you think about how a consumer would step through this process some questions that they might ask are:
- What is the best laptop for my college student?
- What is the best laptop for running my small business?
- Dell Laptop Reviews
- Does the Dell XPS 13 have a touch screen?
- Is the Dell XPS 13 better than the Lenovo Yoga?
- Dell XPS 13 vs. Lenovo Yoga
Each of these are pretty popular search terms that all illustrate different questions that a consumer will want to understand before they decide on what product they will be buying. As content publishers you will want to think through this first phase of product research to construct very well thought out and very well written answers to as many potential consumer questions that you can come up with. This will significantly increase your probability of having your pages display when a searcher enters a search query.
The second quadrant/phase of the consumer journey is “Price Shopping”. In this phase of research the consumer is looking to answer a few key questions:
- How much should i pay for this product?
- When should I purchase this product?
- Where should I purchase this product?
From a marketers perspective, this is likely to be the most valuable quadrant as this is right before the consumer becomes someone’s customer. The purpose of this quadrant from the consumer perspective is really simple. They want to find the best deal that they are comfortable making for a product or a service that they are purchasing. After they make their decision here, they are going to be purchasing the product, and as we all know, this is happening more and more online as compared to a person doing the research and driving to the store. It still happens, but where’s the fun in that.
The third quadrant occurs immediately after the customer makes their purchase. We call this the ‘Enhance Use’ phase of the product cycle. From the perspective of a content creator, the types of information that would be useful in this phase are the pieces of content that will help the consumer use the product and use it most effectively for their use. This information can take a couple of forms. First, the content can be some simple “getting started” content. How to turn on the device, how to set it up, how other people use it to get the most out of it. Some content publishers can do well here, but many consumers do opt for the manufacturers help site –> until they learn that they are better product makers than content makers.
One thing that content publishers have to keep in mind about “Quadrant 3” is that this may actually be the piece of content that triggers an “initial consideration” (see diagram above) for a new product or service purchase. Content publishers can perform very well in this quadrant by providing useful information and tips to a consumer and also providing new ideas for new purchases. A few examples:
- I recently purchased a piece of web ranking software. The service that I needed to make it work better was an IP address proxy service.
- When more and more laptops became wifi enabled to access the internet, we all needed our printers to work the same way, so new searches around ‘wifi printers’ grew.
The final quadrant is what we call “Extend the Life” of the product. The information/content in this quadrant can take a lot of forms depending on what a consumer is looking for. The economics of content creation will limit (to a degree) what a content publisher will want to do in this quadrant. A really great content model in this quadrant is User-Generated Content (UGC). Help forums like Reddit’s Technical Support or Toms Hardware forums are great resources for finding someone to help you with some very specific problems that you need answers to. Where a content publisher can do well in this quadrant are around product replacement/upgrade rumors. The tech “news” sites like CNet and Digital Trends all do very well when it comes to rumors around new smartphone features. These search terms can also provide a great traffic spike. Whoever has the first post about the next killer iphone feature is almost guaranteed a 50-100,000 user pop on the news.
Search Optimization for the Consumer Journey
Okay, now that you have the basic understanding of the Consumer Journey and what we mean by this, how does this translate back to SEO? I would point to RankBrain for this part of the discussion. RankBrain was launched by Google back in 2015 and has become (according to Google) the third most important component in the current search algorithm. There’s a lot of discussion about what it is and how it changes how it helps to present search results.
Our understanding is that RankBrain helps to determine the user intent based on the search query that they enter. As an illustration, I’d like to present some queries around the Consumer Journey for the purchase of a new laptop. The table below illustrates the search results (as of 2/15/17) for various queries from several of the quadrants described above:
The most striking thing in the table above is the “Dell XPS 13″ query. You’ll notice that there are some qualifying sub-terms that help to illustrate the intent of the user and how Google, and possibly RankBrain, determines what to present to the user. In the ‘Dell XPS 13” query, Google has determined that user is no longer ‘just’ doing product research, they are getting ready to make a purchase. This is the reason that the first 4 and 5 of the first 6 results go to Dell or to Amazon so that the user could purchase the product. The highlights illustrate pieces of the term that may have helped that result make the first page.
Now, how can this help your optimization efforts. The first thing to note, is that if you are not directly selling products to consumers, it will be much more difficult for you to rank well for terms that point towards a purchase. From an effort perspective, you should expend the most effort around where you are likely to perform well.
How You Should Optimize Your Content:
The following are a few steps that you should be taking to optimize your content around the consumer journey.
- Select sub-terms that work well with the way you create content and optimize on slightly longer search terms that contain this subterm. In the example above, a content publisher that optimizes around “Dell XPS 13 Review” has a much better chance of ranking for that than for “Dell XPS 13”, because of the research qualifying term.
- When working for and earning backlinks, make sure that you use the qualifying term in your anchor text.
- Know your competition and look for your opportunities to win. Trying to land on the first page of queries in very crowded and competitive categories can and will frustrate you, so you have to look for opportunities where your probability of great ranks are highest. This may mean a little more keyterm research and rewording some content, but moving up 1 place can effectively double your visit levels.
- The most important thing to do when optimizing your content is to make certain that you are answering the questions of your visitors. One of the best ways to optimize your content is to add new answers to existing content without upsetting what you are already performing well on. What I’m NOT telling you to do is stuff a bunch of keywords into your content because it will “help”. What I’m saying is to add in new content into existing pages that answer new questions, provide additional information on questions you’ve already answered or provide information based on some updated information that’s become available. When you learn how to do this without messing up your existing success, that’s when you start winning.