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“The Customer Journey” is a phrase you’ll hear often in marketing.

It is used to describe how a consumer becomes aware of your brand and interacts with it during the purchase funnel.

In essence, it is the summation of the touchpoints your customers have with your company.

The term “customer journey” is a bit of a misnomer, it suggests that we should only pay attention to people who have bought our product or service.

The journey we should be tracking starts way in advance of that final step.

It also doesn’t necessarily end in the coveted sale or conversion.

Every interaction a person has with your brand, whether a customer or not, is of importance.

These touchpoints will influence their discovery of your products and services.

They will impact decision making and ultimately, they will affect whether they become a loyal customer.

Offline & Online

Something that might be hard to link is the impact of these interactions with SEO.

As digital marketers, our focus tends to be on traffic coming to our sites or digital properties.

By ignoring other channels, or offline relationships, we are missing out on valuable data about our market.

A customer might first come across a brand through a billboard advertisement.

They may have heard about it from a friend.

These early stages of awareness will impact how the brand is perceived.

In turn, they may have an effect on the likelihood of an organic search later on.

Offline interactions range from hearing about the brand in passing all the way through to purchasing an item in a physical store.

These moments will influence a user’s likelihood to search for that brand or service in the future.

Time

Customer journeys might not be linear, or quick.

Think about the first time you heard about the manufacturer of your car.

You may have been a child when you first came across them. They might have been only slightly on your radar as a brand.

How many years of seeing advertisements, being a passenger in your friend’s similar model car, and walking past their vehicles in parking lots before you became a consumer of that brand?

In that time:

  • How many product recall notices have you seen for that brand?
  • Seen one of their models that have broken down?
  • Been aware of emissions scandals they were involved in?

Every time you have heard about or experienced that brand will have contributed to your overall perception of their vehicles.

Every customer journey is different.

It is a collection of experiences that brings a consumer closer or further away from a purchase.

Third-Party Influence

Your perception of a brand will not have been influenced only by them.

As marketers, we cannot completely control the messaging that goes on around our brand.

Due to that, there will be negative comments and perceptions forming that we need to attend to, but won’t always be aware of.

How Does SEO Fit In?

SEO is a very important factor in how a potential or existing customer might view your brand.

Touchpoints in organic search happen all the time during the purchase funnel.

The image below shows a typical conversion funnel.

A consumer becomes aware of your product or service, considers their options and eventually purchases.

Conversion funnel

Conversion funnelConversion funnel

Every step of this funnel could have a search associated with it.

Take someone looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint.

They may start with the search “how to reduce carbon footprint.”

A website, which sells vegan products, might have a page that answers this.

At that point, the consumer becomes aware of vegan food as a possible answer to their initial inquiry.

They are interested in the idea of substituting some of their regular food items for vegan products.

Their follow up search might be “is vegan food good for the environment?”

They may begin to consider vegan products as a viable purchase.

Their searches might resemble “healthy vegan food”, or “vegan recipes”.

By the time they have decided they wish to purchase some vegan food to try they may begin to compare products.

“Cheapest vegan sausages” or “where to buy vegan cheese” are the searches they conduct next.

The point at which they decide to order vegan products is down a long journey of searches and interactions with brands.

Let’s not forget the conversations they may have had with friends, family, and colleagues in person and via social media.

Before Conversion

SEO is critical to the consumer journey prior to a sale or conversion taking place.

Organic is often an early touchpoint for a brand online.

When an individual is looking for a solution to a problem a search engine, or YouTube search is often conducted.

Zero-Click Searches

These searches might not result in a click.

A featured snippet might provide all the information a searcher needed at this stage.

The brand that provided the answer may benefit from the awareness generated, however.

Discovery Searches

Before a consumer even begins looking for a product or service like your brand’s they might become aware of you in some other way.

This can lead to discovery searches.

For instance, as a resident of the UK, I have heard only a small amount about a “baby peanut” being featured in some U.S. advertising.

I had no idea who “Mr Peanut” or “Baby Nut” are, however.

A quick search yielded a lot of information about the Planters brand and their advert, which I had not heard of before this search.

A touchpoint; seeing something on social media about the “Baby Nut” advert, led me to become more aware of the Planters brand through an organic search result.

Verification Searches

A searcher might also have heard a rumor about your brand and look to verify if it is true.

For example, a quick search for “is Nestle bad”, yields pages of results.

During my search from the UK, Nestle’s own website was not on the first page.

There was nothing from the brand to counteract the negative press I was seeing in the SERPs.

Your consumers might be exposed to messaging about your brand that is not favorable to you.

This early touchpoint may have a disastrous impact on their consumer journey with your brand.

As marketers, we need to be on top of any negative sentiment that exists online about our brand and ensure that we are the ones answering those verification searches.

The easiest way to stop negative sentiment online is to deal with the issues that have caused it.

Negative press stories, forum discussions slating your products, and a Google My Business listing littered with 1-star reviews need to be addressed, not buried.

During Conversion

SEO will impact and be impacted during a consumer’s conversion journey.

Consideration Stage

At the consideration stage, it is important for content on your website to address concerns or blocks to conversions your purchasers might have.

If there are common searches around “is a vegan diet healthy” then as a vegan food supplier this is something that needs to be addressed on your site.

Not only will it help with the top-of-the-funnel organic searches it can help with conversions for other channels too.

Comparisons

A consumer might be comparing your product with a competitor’s before buying.

Content on the site that addresses your brand’s benefits, pricing, and customer support can answer those comparison searches.

As with consideration stage searches content you create to answer “[X brand] vs [Y brand]” searches can help with the conversion of traffic from other channels.

After Conversion

SEO does not just impact a consumer journey up to the point of sale, it also can help keep a customer loyal to your brand.

After-Sales Support

After a product has been bought there may well be follow-up questions a consumer has.

“How do I set up my [brand] printer”, “how do I change the ink cartridge in my [brand] printer?” and “where can I buy replacement ink cartridges for my [brand] printer?” will seem like familiar searches for anyone who has brought a printer.

SEO will be a common touchpoint for consumers looking for follow-up support from their brand.

As marketers, we cannot assume that our consumers will head straight to our brand’s site to find these answers.

Impact Future Consumers

We all know how important reviews are for conversion.

One of the primary places for reviews to be left is on an organic search property – Google My Business.

Not only do reviews on Google My Business potentially impact its rankings, as stated by Google, it will also affect how future consumers perceive your brand.

A disgruntled customer can impact future sales by leaving negative reviews.

Ensuring that reviews left on your Google My Business property (and elsewhere) can give your brand the opportunity to correct misunderstandings and show your efforts to rectify problems.

This can work to turn a consumer’s negative experience with your brand into a positive one as well as show that to potential future customers.

How Can We Use SEO to Affect the User Journey?

SEO can be highly effective in making the consumer’s journey with your brand smooth and positive.

Work With Other Departments

It is important to not isolate SEO or digital marketing from the rest of the business.

There needs to be an understanding of how a user might journey through a website once they have landed on it.

This means the UX, CRO, and SEO teams need to be working together.

This way users can find the information they arrived on the site to find and move through to conversion easily.

Align SEO With Other Marketing Channels

Make sure you are aware of upcoming campaigns that might influence what users search for in relation toy our brand.

For instance, “Baby Nut”, could (and may well) have a page on the Planters website introducing those curious about the character to the Planters brand.

However, without this consideration, the clicks are going to news outlets, competitors or forums instead.

Use Your Tracking Data

Traffic tracking programs, like Google Analytics, allow you to identify how visitors from different channels are interacting with your website’s content.

Using reports like Google Analytics’ “Top Conversion Paths” allows you to identify which touchpoints are contributing the most to conversions on your site.

This data is invaluable in understanding how the consumer journey on your site is being impacted by SEO.

If organic search is often following another channel in a conversion path look more at the preceding channel.

  • What paid advert did they initially arrive on the site from?
  • Which display advert led them there?

Understanding the preceding touchpoints can help you to tailor the content on your site to more effectively follow on from the initial interaction with the site.

Spend Time Where Your Audience Is Talking

Getting to know what your audience is talking about can help enormously with ensuring that you will be providing the right content at the various stages of their consumer journey.

For instance, looking on an industry forum could provide you with an understanding of what consumers are interested in and what information they will respond well to.

Use that within your long-tail keyword research to meet the needs of your target audience.

If you notice that there is negative sentiment growing about your band within this community then it gives you opportunity to address the problems before they end up as negative reviews on your Google My Business listing, or on the review websites that are competitors in the SERPs for your brand search terms.

Don’t Forget Your Internal Site Search

Searches carried out on your site are a goldmine of information about what your audience is interested in but cannot find on your site.

JP Sherman of Red Hat gave a highly informative talk at Search Y Paris in February 2020 on using site search more effectively to understand the intent of your consumers.

This commonly used touchpoint in a consumer’s journey can be a make or break for them depending on how well your site search returns what they are looking for.

The same practices that make us effective at SEO on the likes of Google and Bing can be used in our site’s internal search functionality to improve user discovery of content.

Looking at what users are searching for on your site search can also give a clue as to what information they want to find but can’t currently.

It might be that the information doesn’t exist on your site. In which case, consider creating it.

It might already be there but buried so deep that users can’t find it from your navigation systems.

Conclusion

The consumer journey is a succession of touchpoints your audience has with your brand.

Throughout this journey, SEO plays a part.

Not only can it influence the experience a consumer has with your brand, but it can also benefit from understanding the other touchpoints they will encounter.

Don’t forget that SEO can only be successful if every part of a user’s experience with your brand is a positive one.

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Image Credits

In-Post Illustration: Created by author, February 2020