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:
68% of online experiences begin with a search engine.”
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.
Every customer journey is as unique as the person who travels it.
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.
Understanding search intent helps you map your website content to specific points on the customer journey.
A Customer Journey Map Example
A journey map is a powerful tool that helps marketers anticipate customer needs by combining the elements of storytelling and visualization.
While experience maps take various forms depending on industry context and business goals, most of them contain some common elements and underlying guidelines.
For example, here’s what it might look like when a business that sells organic food creates a customer journey map centered around search intent:
1 – Pre-Awareness:
A new mom wants to know healthy choices to feed her baby. So, she Googles, “what’s good to feed my baby.”
An informational blog article about why organic food is the healthiest option for babies appears in the search results, and she clicks through to learn why she might want to feed her baby organic food.
2 – Awareness:
This customer’s initial research has made her aware that organic food is a potential solution to her problem. So, she investigates further with a query such as, “benefits of organic food for babies.”
An article that explains what makes organic food an especially great choice for babies prompts further consideration of organic food as a potential solution to her problem.
3 – Consideration:
As she considers whether or not she should feed her baby organic food, she worries that it might be too expensive to be a feasible solution to her problem, so she might query, “is organic food expensive?”
A core page that provides a cost comparison of organic food vs. conventional choices might illustrate the relative affordability of organic food, convincing her that organic food is a viable solution to her initial question about what to feed her baby.
4 – Conversion:
Now that the mom is open to trying organic food, she wants to know her options. She might Google “best organic baby food.”
An informational page that details the difference between their products and other options on the market convinces her to try that organic food brand. Links from that page to various products will enable conversions.
Product pages and product descriptions that tout the features she’s looking for will confirm her choice and make it effortless to complete her purchase.
5 – Post Conversion:
After the purchase, she’s more likely to become a repeat customer if relevant offers and articles continue to show up in her search results as she progresses on her journey as an organic food consumer.
Recipes that feature organic food or blog posts about packing healthy lunches for kids keep her engaged with the brand and reinforce the feeling that the website is a trusted source of helpful information.
These web pages are all about “organic food,” but each one is targeted to a specific intent that maps to a particular customer journey stage.
How SEO Strategy Intersects with the Customer Journey
If you’ve already considered search intent, you’ve already taken the first step toward building an SEO strategy.
Now that you’ve mapped meaningful touchpoints along your customer journey and dug into the corresponding search intent for each of them, you can go deep into some meaningful keyword research (or bring in a keyword research SEO expert to help) that will map to the words your customers might use to find a solution like yours.
A comprehensive SEO strategy should target prospective customers at every stage of the journey with high-quality, keyword-rich content that matches their search intent.
Keep in Mind:
Content includes everything from service pages to blog articles, FAQs, and product descriptions.
How to Use SEO to Shape the User Journey
In simple mathematical terms, WHAT (broad keyword) + WHY (search intent) = a reshaping of the traditional customer journey in real-time. Rather than creating an offer and broadcasting it to the world at large, SEO brings a targeted message to a prospective customer exactly when they’re looking for it. SEO is how you make sure that all signposts lead to your solution at every junction point along the consumer journey.
Looking For a Partner On Your SEO Journey?
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