How SEO Supports the Customer Journey

Miniature bus sits on a sunny beach.
When someone is looking to buy a product or service, they have many potential touch points with any given brand.

One of the major touch points is the search engine results pages. Because of that, your SEO strategy can help a person go from “just learning or browsing” to “sign me up!” or “ready for checkout.”

In this article, I’ll explain how SEO supports the customer journey as we discuss:

What Is a Customer Journey?

A customer journey, also known as a buyer journey or consumer decision journey, is the steps that a person takes on their journey to deciding to buy a product, service or convert in some other way.

There are many different theories on how the customer journey goes. One of the most well-known models is AIDA, which stands for awareness, interest, desire and action.

Illustration showing the AIDA model.
Source: SmartInsights.com

This classic model shows a linear journey that starts with a person’s awareness of the brand, product or service and ends with an action (like a purchase, download or something else).

However, some argue that the linear journey is no more — that it’s not that simple. Consumers are faced with many new touchpoints and more decisions than ever. McKinsey is one of the proponents of a cyclical consumer decision journey that looks more like this:

Graphic showing the cyclical consumer decision journey. Source: McKinsey.com.
Source: “The consumer decision journey,” McKinsey.com

Whatever model you choose to follow, know that there will likely be some form of awareness, consideration and ultimately a decision in the process. Gartner provides some useful tips on creating a customer journey map here and here.

You will, of course, have many different marketing channels to choose from to help your potential customer on their journey. SEO should be one of them.

How Does SEO Support the Customer Journey?

Research shows that when a person is interested in researching or buying, they first turn to the search engines.

  • Forrester research found that 71% of people turned to search engines for discovery and 74% used them for consideration/purchase.
  • Google data shows 43% of consumer goods shoppers have used search in their most recent shopping journey to become inspired, browse or research. And 82% of evergreen shoppers used a search engine related to their shopping.
  • BrightEdge research (2019) found that across five sectors, the organic search channel contributed the most revenue at an average of 44.6%. And B2B companies in particular generated twice as much revenue from organic search as from any other channel.

Depending on the industry you’re in, search engine optimization can support many stages of the customer journey from initial research to the decision-making process.

Let’s next look at the many ways SEO can support the customer journey using a very generic customer journey of awareness, consideration and decision-making.

Awareness Phase

Potential customers need to become aware of your product or service as they search online. One of the most obvious ways to ensure this will happen is to show up on Page 1 of the search results.

Keyword Research

Keyword research is how you begin to understand the search queries your target audience is using when they turn to search engines, and what they want when they are using them. This step is the foundation of your content and communications strategy for the organic search channel.

For more, read:

Competitor Research

Once you know the keywords you are targeting, you can begin to size up the competition. Who shows up in the top ten results for those queries? This helps you better understand not only what content Google thinks is relevant and quality for that query, but also what the competition is doing right (and wrong). The goal is to be least imperfect compared to competitors.

For more, read:

SERP Research

What kind of content shows up for the keywords you are targeting? Are there videos and images along with the blue organic links? Make sure you are creating the type of content that is relevant for that query.

For more, read:

An Optimized Website

To compete in the search results, you also need a website that is optimized from the ground up to provide a good experience for users to browse and for search engines to crawl. If you provide neither, it will be harder for you to rank on Page 1.

For more, read:

Consideration Phase

While potential buyers are in their research and comparison phase, they are learning more about your product, service or brand as well as considering others. Your job is to get them to choose you, and you can do that through various SEO strategies.

Optimized Search Listing

First things first, you need them to click on your content from the search results. So anything you can do to make your search listing stand out, do it! There are a ton of ways to optimize your search listing, and meta tags and structured data are two important ways to make your search listing stand out.

For more, read:

Content, Content, Content

This may be one of the most important things to get right. You will map the content you produce on your website to your keywords to help your potential customers along their journey.

Mapping your content to your keywords means understanding the intent behind them so that the content best answers the searcher’s query. It also involves planning out the architecture of your website — strengthening your topic silos, knowing which content will live in the main navigational pages/directories and which on the blog, and so forth.

Making your content high quality is another critical step. You must understand the guidance Google sets forth in its Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines and know what the top-ranked pages are doing as well.

As you create quality content, you will acquire links, which in turn will help generate more awareness. And, as people browse your website, you have the opportunity to present other types of content to help them along their journey, for example, a helpful e-book or guide they can download.

For more, read:

Decision-Making Phase

Along their journey, customers will have learned from you and added you to their list of companies to consider. But in order to seal the deal, people look at certain factors like reputation and how you compare to competitors.

Robust Decision-Making Tools

You’ll want to make sure your product/service pages are compelling and as useful as possible. Maybe you also have a landing page on your website that has a handy comparison chart of your brand/product/service compared to your competitors, or some sort of tool or widget they can interact with to help them make a decision.

Customer Reviews

Ensure you have a way of capturing your customer reviews and displaying them on your website. Customer quotes and a star-rating system can go a long way in helping your customer decide to go with you instead of your competitors.

Also think about things like your Better Business Bureau profile as well — many people go there to scope out a potential vendor. For businesses in the U.S., we recommend claiming your BBB profile and then monitoring and responding to reviews.

For more, read:

Refinement over Time

Customer journeys can change, algorithms can change, competitors can change and other things that are out of your control can change. So as you leverage SEO for your customer journey, make sure you are always tracking your performance through SEO tools and analytics.

And if something happens with your rankings, you need to better understand why and fix it right away.

For more, read:

There’s a lot you can do to support potential customers through the different phases of their decision-making process. But just make sure your search presence is strong to help people find you both up front and throughout their customer journey.

If you need help analyzing and improving your SEO strategy, contact us for a free quote and consultation.

Bruce Clay is founder and president of Bruce Clay Inc., a global digital marketing firm providing search engine optimization, pay-per-click, social media marketing, SEO-friendly web architecture, and SEO tools and education. Connect with him on LinkedIn or through the BruceClay.com website.

See Bruce's author page for links to connect on social media.

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6 Replies to “How SEO Supports the Customer Journey”

Great article much help

Very good information, I think it’s a great article!

it’s an amazing website with an amazing read thank you for providing us great and informative content.

If we talk about modern SEO then on-page SEO should be focused on serving the customers, and then it should look out for off page side.

Intersting article on SEO Supports as it helps with Customer Journey, nice read

Thank you for the post. I feel smarter and more intelligent by going through this blog post.

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