Understanding search behaviour is an extremely important aspect online marketers must consider when optimising sites, researching keywords and generally boosting their clients’ brand awareness. For years marketers in the real world have applied basic psychological principles to sales strategies and ad campaigns. Online marketing is no different.
Generally speaking (because there are always exceptions, aren’t there?), people use the internet to find something. They have a purpose. They might want to find an emergency service, learn how to make something, read a movie review, buy a phone, get some news or have a laugh.
Intent determines queries
Also generally speaking, searchers can be divided into browsers and buyers. Browsers tend to use broader, more generic search queries, like “vegan boots”.
Someone using this query is likely just to be testing the waters, seeing if such boots exist and if they do where they are available, what they are made of and what styles there are.
Someone with more purpose might search for “vegan cowboy boots” (suggested by Google), “winter vegan boots” or “vegan boots cape town”.
(By the way, good luck if you’re after vegan boots in Cape Town because you won’t find any, although you will find some vegetarian recipes, some vegetarian-friendly restaurants, and, bizarrely, a result for ostrich boots.)
You want browsers to come to your home page to see what you’ve got. You might want to send them to your About Page, so they can get an idea of your policies. You might also want to send them to a services or products overview, so they know what’s on offer. Your keywords or phrases would be along general lines.
There is a chance that you will convert a browser into a buyer, but chances are not great – browsers want to see what other people have to offer. What you want to do is create such a good impression that they have no choice but to come back once they’ve weighed their options.
You want buyers to land on your products/services pages. More targeted keywords deserve more relevant results. You can’t have someone looking for vegan cowboy boots land on your vegan hiking boots page. So you need to be very careful to match your landing pages to your search terms. You also need to structure your site to cater to the needs to specific buyers.
Use your website goals
One of the best things about the human race is that everyone is different. But, this also poses some problems, especially when you’re trying to cater to a specific audience that doesn’t necessarily use a specific set of keywords.
This is where your website goals can help.
If you just want to use your website to create awareness of your products and services then you can focus on appearing for more general terms and attract browsers.
If you want to use your site to generate leads and close sales, however, you want to focus on more targeted, niche keywords to attract people who are done browsing and want to burn plastic.
The website experience
The psychology of search doesn’t end once you’ve landed traffic. You need to incorporate psychological thinking into website design.
Brad says that you need to consider whether your landing page meets expectations, answers the question posed in the query and provides easy clues as to what to do next.
Graham Jones, who is my new favourite person online, labels himself an internet psychologist. If you want to understand your audience his advice is invaluable. He says that your website needs to make up for the fact that online consumers can’t actually see, touch or smell your merchandise. The overall shopping experience, which plays such an important role in purchasing decisions, is lacking. He uses Amazon as a great example of a website that compensates for that lack by providing a great deal of user interaction. There are reviews, recommendations, wish lists, detailed product information and the opportunity to write your own reviews.
He also mentions the importance of colour and says that steadfastly sticking to your brand colours may not be the way to go when you want to influence people on your website.
I recommend him most highly.
Someone else you might want to read is John Ferrara, who has written an excellent piece on factors that affect user behaviour.
He mentions things like topic expertise, search experience, cognitive style and situational idiosyncrasies.
Give him a go, he’s very informative.