SEO isn’t just about keywords. It’s about helping your customers (the searcher) in the different steps of the customer journey towards a purchase.
By focusing solely on keywords, we forget there is an actual person behind that keyword. That person has different information needs at different times, and it’s our job to help her.
As an SEO specialist, you can better help your clients by going beyond keywords. If you understand the role of SEO in the different stages of the customer journey, you’ll get much better results.
This article explains what the conversion funnel is and how you can use the conversion funnel in your SEO projects.
A conversion funnel shows how your customer moves closer to the purchase of the product. In SEO, we often describe this in three different stages:
- Awareness: the customer is aware of a problem and starts looking for solutions
- Consideration: the customer knows various solutions to her problem and is finding out which one is best
- Decision: the customer knows what solution works for her and is ready to buy
We call this a funnel because in every step, some people will drop off.
Meet Judy. Judy has a busy life: a fun but demanding job, two kids, and active social life. She wants to stay healthy but doesn’t have a lot of time. She’s decided that she wants to eat healthier to feel better and have more energy. Judy is about to enter our conversion funnel.
She’s waiting on the train to go home and looks at her phone. She enters how to eat healthy in the search bar. She finds a great article that sums up many ways to eat healthier, varying from getting a personal dietician, healthy food delivery services, to healthy smoothies and slow juicers.
This is a typical example of a top-of-funnel search: Judy is looking for a solution to a problem, but she doesn’t know yet which solution.
Judy read the article and likes the idea of buying a slow juicer. It fits her busy lifestyle, and her friend Ben also has one and likes it. The thing is: she doesn’t know anything about slow juicers. How do they work? What different types are there? Is it really healthier?
So next, she starts digging up more information about slow juicers. She enters search queries like:
- Why is a slow juicer better?
- What is the difference between a juicer and a slow juicer?
- Is a slow juicer worth it?
After reading a few more articles, she’s made up her mind: she wants a slow juicer
There are hundreds of different slow juicers out there. Judy’s next challenge is to find the one that’s best for her. Her next Google query is what is the best slow juicer? She finds various review sites that help her find the perfect slow juicer.
Lastly, at the very end of the funnel, she googles buy big squeeze online, looks up the cheapest option, and places the order.
Looking at the steps I took to buy x, we can distinguish 3 separate stages:
- Awareness: Judy has a problem (not eating healthy), and searches for a solution.
- Consideration: Judy found a potential to her problem (slow juicer), and she’s looking for more info
- Decision: Judy knows she wants a slow juicer and is ready to buy one.
These stages together make up the conversion funnel. Understanding how these steps relate to the keywords used can help you improve your SEO results.
As an SEO specialist, your aim should be to be visible in all stages across the conversion funnel. That means you’ll need to create content across the entire funnel.
In the Awareness stage, people realize they have a problem, and start looking online for a solution. In our example, Judy wants to live healthier.
Content that performs well in the awareness stage is aimed at answering those questions. Ideally, this type of content is broad and customer-focused, not product-focused. If we’re searching for how to have a healthier lifestyle, we don’t want to see three different slow juicers. Instead, we want to see various ways of living a healthier lifestyle to find one that works for us.
That’s the real challenge of top-of-funnel content: writing to help your audience, instead of just promoting your product or company. Write the content that truly helps your audience, and you’ll rank eventually.
Some characteristics of top-of-funnel searches:
- People are unlikely to directly convert
- There is less competition for keywords
- There are fewer ads in the search results
- It takes longer to get results (if by results we mean sales)
The great thing about searches in the awareness stage is that your (potential) customer is still open to different ideas. If you’re the one providing them with the information they need, you can build trust. This comes in handy once they’re in a later stage when they are ready to purchase.
Of course, there’s a risk that the searcher reads your article, considers his options and buys somewhere else a few days later. You need to get creative to improve the chance that the customer returns to your site. Think of a call to action like:
- Sign up for our newsletter and get 10% off your next purchase
- Download our ultimate guide to a healthier lifestyle
In the consideration phase, a potential customer has more specific questions. They’ll want to compare different options to see what’s best for them.
These customers have made a decision that they want to buy a product, they just don’t know what exactly. That makes them super valuable to you as an SEO. This is the moment to help them with your content, present your brand, and bring them to the next step.
Valuable content in this phase can be:
- Competitor comparisons
- Comparing different models of your product
- Objective reviews
It’s important to look beyond your website in this phase. If there are major comparison websites out there, those will likely get most of the traffic. Your job is then to make sure your product is visible on those websites as well.
In the decision phase, the customer is ready to buy. She basically feels the money burning a hole in her pocket, and can’t wait to shop. Clearly, a customer in this phase is extremely likely to convert.
Some characteristics of bottom-of-funnel searches:
- Customers are more likely to buy
- Moe competition from other sellers
- More ads in the SERP
- More branded searchers, from customers who know what product they want.
Here's an example of a bottom-of-funnel, transactional search. As you can see, it's filled with ads, so searchers are less likely to click on organic results.
By mapping your keywords to the different stages of the funnel, you get a much better understanding of how you’re performing in those stages. This helps you decide what type of content is needed to grow.
Are you ranking well for your bottom-of-funnel keywords, and want to grow your customer base? Great! Let’s focus on the top-of-funnel keywords, to see if you can get reach a larger audience.
Or, are you getting a lot of traffic to your top-of-funnel content, but not a lot of sales? This can mean you need to focus on converting keywords, and at the same time make more of those top-of-funnel visitors.
To get started, open your keyword research file and try to map your most important keywords to one of the stages in the funnel. Are you focusing on one specific stage? Do you see opportunities in other stages?
As with everything in SEO, it depends. The deciding factors are:
- Your time horizon
Look at what your competition is doing. You’ll often find that in very competitive markets, everyone is after the bottom-of-funnel keywords. These searches are closer to conversion, and therefore more valuable.
If you’re a new entrant and find that you can’t rank for the bottom-of-funnel keywords, why not focus your attention on the top of the funnel? The amount of keywords is much larger, and you get the chance to build a relationship with customers who aren’t ready to buy, but may be ready in a short time.
With the right incentives to build a relation (sign up for our newsletter, download our free guide, etc), this can bring you lots of valuable traffic.
If you think you can rank for the bottom-of-funnel keywords, start with that. It will bring quick results, and you can expand to the top of the funnel later on. Unfortunately, it’s often hard to rank for bottom-of-funnel keywords in saturated markets.
If you have a high budget, you can aim to cover all stages of the conversion funnel. If your budget is limited (and let’s face it: it always is), then it might be better to focus on a specific part of the funnel, to see if you can get results there.
I know, everyone wants to see results quickly. But if you have a bit more time, it can be beneficial to focus on the top of the funnel.
For short-term success, aim for the bottom of the funnel. That will give you more conversions quickly, but keep in mind that it can be a lot harder to achieve success here. You’ll need a lot of good content, an optimized website and you need to be an authority on the subject.
By widening your view from just keywords to the entire customer funnel, you get a better understanding of your customer. This helps you provide more value, by creating the right content across all stages of the funnel.