As a seasoned marketer, you’re well-versed in the principles of the customer journey. But with the advent of digital marketing and the evolution of natural language processing in search engines, the journey is more complex. Prospective customers are blazing unique trails through the online landscape to find what they need. How do you create signposts to define a customer journey that guides them to your solution?
The answer has little to do with tactics and everything to do with strategy. In today’s marketing, the touchpoints of the customer journey aren’t linear. Online customers can bounce across screens and channels to find what they need in the way that works best for them.
But, no matter how unique each user journey is, most of them share at least one thing in common:
In this article, I’ll dive into how SEO can help you shape the customer experience, mapping search intent to content that meets prospects where they are with the information they need to take the next step toward your solution.
By the time you’ve reached the bottom of this page, you’ll know how to create an SEO-informed user journey map that uses keywords and search intent to lead the way from search to purchase.
Let’s get started!
First, let’s lay the groundwork with some definitions.
Customer Journey, Defined
The classic definition of a customer journey is the sum of experiences that prospective customers have when they identify a need and seek a product or service that provides a solution. But you and I and every marketer knows how oversimplified that is. The customer journey is a human journey, and with today’s digital landscape, it can be highly complex. When someone seeks a solution for their need, they move from awareness to research — double-checking prices, reading some articles, consulting with friends, and checking reviews — all the while getting closer to a solution they can trust.
The Benefits of Understanding the User Journey
Understanding the consumer journey helps you create more effective marketing campaigns. When you know the path that your customers take to find you, you can grasp their motivations, anticipate their needs, and understand their goals.
Figuratively walking a mile in their shoes helps you identify touchpoints along the way where you can deliver the information that potential customers need — precisely when they’re looking for it.
How Have Search Engines Changed the Customer Journey?
Search engines have inexorably changed the customer journey. Yes, search engines make it easier for customers to find you, but it’s a bit of a double-edged sword since they also make it easier for customers to find your competitors. Searchers can also suffer from information overwhelm, and get trapped in analysis paralysis.
Being an online customer today can be like hiking in the woods without a trail map, coming upon an intersection of trails that all lead in different directions, and having no map to tell you the best way to go. As a digital marketer, you’re the modern-day park ranger, ready to lead customers to the solution they need. But how do you locate those users in the middle of the online woods and show them the way home — to your offering?
How to Use Search Intent to Map the Customer Journey
Every time someone uses a search engine, they’re looking for something (what) for a reason (why). Their question is informed by intent.
A common mistake that digital marketers make is to focus SEO efforts on broad keywords related to their products and services. In other words, they’re focused on the highest level of what people are searching for.
I’ve had countless conversations with stakeholders at previous companies, where the prevailing question is why we aren’t on the first page for the highest-level, broadest search query related to our products/services. Meanwhile, the more-specific search queries that get at the heart of the customer’s needs, are absolutely crushing it.
This is all-too-common in our industry. By focusing at the high level, you’re ignoring the critical information of why the customer would be performing that search.
When you understand the different reasons why someone might be looking for something, you can target the intent of their search with content relevant to where they are in the customer journey.
Understanding search intent helps you map your website content to specific points on the customer journey.
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