What’s a Customer Journey and why does it matter to SEO?
“Customer Journey” is a phrase which you will often hear in marketing.
It is used to explain how a consumer is conscious and interacts with your brand during the purchasing funnel.
Essentially, it’s the summation of the touchpoints that your clients have with your company.
The phrase “customer journey” is a bit of a misnomer, implying we should pay attention only to people who have purchased our product or service.
The journey we are going to track starts way ahead of that final step.
It does not necessarily end in the desired conversion or sale, either.
Every interaction that a person has with your brand, whether a customer or not, matters.
These touchpoints will impact your product and service discovery.
They will have an effect on decision-making, and will ultimately affect whether they become a loyal customer.
Offline and Online
The impact of these SEO interactions is something that could be difficult to link.
As digital marketers we tend to focus on traffic coming to our sites or digital resources.
We are losing out on valuable data about our competition by ignoring other channels, or offline relationships.
A customer may first identify a brand through a billboard advertisement.
Maybe they have heard from a friend about it.
Such early awareness stages will impact how the brand is viewed.
In turn they may have an effect on the possibility of a later organic quest.
Offline interactions range from learning about the brand going through all the way to buying an item in a physical store.
Such moments can affect the likelihood of an user searching in the future for that brand or service.
Customer journeys may not be linear, or quick.
Think of the first time you have heard about your car’s manufacturer.
When you first came across them you might have been a child As a brand, they could have been just slightly on your radar.
How many years of seeing ads, being a passenger in a similar model car for your mate, and walking past their vehicles in parking lots before you became a consumer of that brand?
How many recall notices you saw for that brand?
Seen one of their broken-down models?
Did they know about the emission scandals in which they were involved?
Any time you’ve heard or seen the brand will add to your overall vehicle understanding.
Each journey with consumers is different.
It is a collection of interactions that bring a consumer closer to a purchase, or farther away.
They alone will not have influenced your view of a brand.
As marketers, we can’t control the messaging going on around our brand completely.
Because of that, negative comments and assumptions will form that we need to attend to, but will not always be aware of.
How is SEO Fit In?
SEO is a very important factor for how your brand might be perceived by a future or current customer.
Touchpoints in organic search occur during the buy funnel all the time.
The image below shows a typical funnel for the conversion.
A consumer is aware of your product or service, takes their choices into account and finally makes purchases.
Every step of this funnel could be related to a search.
Take somebody who is looking for ways to cut their carbon footprint.
They may start with the “how to reduce carbon footprint” search.
A website that sells vegan products may have a page that responds to this.
The consumer becomes aware of vegan food as a possible response to their initial inquiry at that point.
The user then becomes aware of vegan food as a possible response to their initial inquiry.
We are interested in the idea of replacing vegan products with some of their regular food items.
Maybe their follow-up quest “Is vegan food good for the environment?”
They may start to view vegan products as a viable purchase.
Their search can look like “healthy vegan food” or “vegan recipes.”
By the time they decide to buy some vegan food to try they could try to compare items.
“The best vegan sausages,” or “where to find vegan cheese,” are the next searches they carry out.
The point they decide to order vegan products is down a long journey of searches and brand interactions.
Let’s not ignore the conversations they may have had in person and via social media with friends family and colleagues.
SEO is critical for the user fly before a sale or conversion occurs.
Organic is often an early touch-point for an online brand.
When an individual is looking for a solution to a search engine problem, or youTube search is often done.
Those searches may not lead to a click.
At this stage, a featured snippet may provide all the information a searcher would need.
However, the brand which provided the response could benefit from the awareness generated.
We might become aware of you in some other way before a consumer even starts looking for a product or service like your brand’s.
That may contribute to searches for discovery.
For eg, as a UK resident, I have just heard a small amount about a “baby peanut” being featured in some U.S. advertisements.
However, I had no idea who ‘ Mr Peanut’ or’ Baby Nut’ was.
A quick search gave a lot of details about the brand Planters and their advert, which I hadn’t heard about before this search.
A touchpoint; seeing something about the “Baby Nut” advert on social media, led me through an organic search result to become more aware of the Planters brand.
A searcher might have heard a rumor about your brand, too, looking to check if it’s true.
A quick search for “is bad for Nestle” for example, yields results pages.
Nestle’s own website wasn’t on the front page during my UK search.
The brand had nothing to combat the negative press that I was seeing in the SERPs.
Your consumers may be subjected to negative messaging about your brand.
This early touchpoint with your brand can have a disastrous effect on your consumer journey.
As marketers, we need to be on top of any negative feelings about our brand that occur online to make sure we are the ones who respond to those searches.
The best way to avoid negative emotions online is to fix the problems that triggered it.
Poor press stories, slating of your brand forum discussions and a Google My Business page riddled with 1-star ratings need to be discussed, not buried.
During a consumer’s conversion path SEO will influence and be impacted.
At the consideration point, it is necessary to resolve concerns or barriers to conversions your customers may have for the material on your website.
If there are popular searches around “is a healthy vegan diet” then this is something that needs to be discussed on your site as a supplier of vegan foods.
With the top-of – the-funnel organic searches it can not only support, it will also support with conversions for other channels.
Before buying, a consumer may be comparing your product with a rival.
Web content that discusses the advantages, pricing, and customer service of your brand will answer certain searches for comparison.
As with consideration stage searches content you build to answer “[X brand] vs [Y brand]” searches, other channels will support conversion of traffic.
Not only does SEO impact a consumer journey to the point of sale, it can also help to keep a customer loyal to your brand.
There might well be follow up questions a consumer has after a product has been bought.
“How do I set up my [brand] printer,” “how do I change the ink cartridge in my [brand] printer?””And” where can I buy my [brand] printer replacement ink cartridges?”Anyone who has brought a printer would seem like familiar searches.
SEO will be a popular touchpoint for consumers seeking the brand’s follow-up support.
As advertisers, we can’t believe our consumers are heading straight to the site of our brand to find those answers.
Impact Future Consumers
We all know how important to conversion reviews are.
One of the key locations left for feedback is on an organic search site-Google My Business.
As mentioned by Google, not only do reviews on Google My Business potentially impact its rankings, but it will also affect how future consumers interpret your brand.
By leaving negative reviews a disgruntled customer will affect potential sales.
Ensuring that reviews left on your (and elsewhere) Google My Business property can give your brand the opportunity to correct misunderstandings and show your efforts to rectify issues.
This can serve to turn the negative experience of a consumer with your brand into a positive one as well as to demonstrate that to potential future customers.
How can we use SEO to affect the journey of the user?
How do we affect the user journey with SEO?
Working with other departments
It is important not to isolate SEO or digital marketing from the rest of the business.
There needs to be an understanding of how users can travel through a website once they have landed on it.
That means that the UX, CRO, and SEO teams have to work together.
This way users can easily find the information they came to the site to find and move to conversion.
Align SEO with other channels of marketing
Make sure you are aware of upcoming campaigns that could have an impact on what users are searching for in relation to our brand.
For example, “Baby Nut,” could (and maybe) have a page on the Planters website introducing those curious about the character to the brand Planters.
Without that care, however, the clicks go instead to news outlets, competitors or forums.
Using your Data Tracking
Traffic tracking programs, such as Google Analytics, allow you to recognize how visitors from different channels communicate with the content on your website.
Using reports such as “Top Conversion Paths” from Google Analytics helps you to recognize which touchpoints lead the most to conversions on your site.
Such data are invaluable in understanding how SEO is affecting the consumer journey on your site.
If organic search always follows another channel in a conversion path, look more at the channel that predates.
What paid ads did they get to the site initially from?
What advertisement show led them there?
Understanding the preceding touchpoints will help you tailor your site’s content to follow from the initial contact with the web more effectively.
Spend time when your audience is talking
Getting to know what your audience is thinking about will help immensely to ensure that at the different stages of their consumer journey you have the right content.
Looking at an industry conference, for example, might give you an idea of what customers are interested in, and what information they would respond as well.
Using this to meet the needs of your target market inside your long-tail keyword research.
If you find that there is a growing negative feeling about your band within this group, it gives you the opportunity to fix the issues before they end up as negative reviews on your Google My Business page or on the SERP review websites for your brand search words.
Don't forget to search your internal site
Searches performed on your site are a goldmine of information about what interests your audience, but can’t find on your site.
At Search Y Paris in February 2020, JP Sherman of Red Hat gave a highly insightful talk on using site search more effectively to understand the consumer’s intent.
This widely used touchpoint can be a make or break for them in a consumer’s journey, depending on how well the site search returns what they are looking for.
In the internal search features of our site, the same practices that make us successful at SEO on the likes of Google and Bing can be used to enhance user discovery of the content.
Looking at what users are searching for on your web search can also provide a hint as to what details they want to find but are not able to locate at all.
It may be that your site doesn’t have the information. Try making it in what case.
It could even be there but hidden so deeply that users can not find it from your search systems.
The consumer journey is a series of the touchpoints that your brand has with your audience.
SEO is playing a part all along this journey.
Not only can it affect a consumer’s encounter with your brand, it can also benefit from knowing the other touchpoints that they can encounter.
Don’t forget that SEO can only work if any part of a user’s brand experience is a positive one.