How to Break Down Search Journeys

How to Break Down Search Journeys

Search is a powerful medium to engage with your audience across their entire journey. Many in the SEO world focus solely on “top of the funnel” content. While this may drive traffic, the quality and engagement can also suffer. In this video, I’ll share how you can leverage the entire marketing and sales funnel to uncover high-intent search terms that drive quality traffic to your site.

Before we dive in. Let’s define search intent.

What is Search Intent?

Most people who use search engines do so with the intent of finding something specific. This could be anything from a piece of information to a product or service. Search intent is basically what a person is looking for when they enter a query into a search engine.

There are four main types of search intent:

  • Navigational: The user is looking for a specific website or page.
  • Informational: The user is looking for information on a particular topic.
  • Transactional: The user is looking to buy something.
  • Commercial investigation: The user is comparison shopping or researching a purchase.

Understanding what someone’s search intent is can be helpful in a number of ways. For one, it can help you target your marketing efforts more effectively. It can also help you create better content that is more likely to rank well in search results. Finally, it can even help you improve your overall website design. Take the time to understand search intent and use it to your advantage!


Video  Transcript: 

As we talked about in the intro, we’re going to be talking about understanding search intent across the funnel. We want to look at how users change their search queries based on their needs, behaviors, and where they are in the buying process. This plays a huge role in deciding the type of content we need to create, how we need to optimize our pages, and how we make sure that we’re driving the right traffic to our site, as opposed to just traffic in general. If we look at the traditional funnel, it looks something like this. You have awareness, consideration, and conversion or decision stage. And depending on the funnel you look at, you might see some stages in between. But the reality is the funnel is overly simplified and linear.

Applying the Funnel in the Real World

It’s helpful as a guide, but it’s not what happens in the real world. Nobody walks directly step-by-step through this type of process. We can use it as a starting point, but the real life is a lot messier. We need to look at the user and how they behave through the entire funnel process to understand their needs and break down the intent.

If we look at intent, there are a number of ways that we can define this from a marketing standpoint. But I think Ahrefs does a good job of defining intent from a keyword standpoint when it comes to search engine optimization (SEO). We have four types of search intent here, we have informational queries, navigational, commercial investigation, and transactional.

Informational Search Intent

An informational query is when somebody is looking to gain general knowledge on a topic. For example, ‘how do I get more traffic?’ They just want a larger idea, or maybe finding a number of ideas on how they can achieve that goal, but they’re not committed to it yet. They’re just looking at ideas.

Navigational Search Intent

The next would be a navigational query. This is where they know what they’re looking for to an extent. For example, maybe we have an on-page SEO guide, which we do, and they might say SMA marketing on-page SEO guide. They know what they are looking for and the direction they want to go, or at least the business or the website that might have that information.

Commercial Search Intent

The next type would be commercial intent. This is where somebody is looking to make a purchase. They want to get more information on products they’d buy, best keyword research tool, best smartphone for 2021, or top screen recording software. Those are all different types of queries that people could use in order to do some investigation.

Transactional Search Intent

Lastly, we have transactional intent. This is when somebody is ready to make a purchase and they want to know what the price of a specific query is. This could be the pricing for SMA marketing. ‘How much does it cost to get started with you? What’s the best or the cheapest price for a smartphone?’ A transactional query is where somebody is trying to purchase a product.

Understand the Context of Intent

Something that’s important to understand is that user intent can shift. One term can mean one thing for one person, and it can mean something completely different for another person. And it all revolves around context. We have to understand the context. Context is set at an emotional level. Whether you’re marketing to engineers or to creative people, emotions are going to drive their purchase behavior. It will be different emotions. We have to understand that when we’re doing our research, when we’re creating our site content, and when we’re looking at driving the right users to engage with us.

Tools are great, but if we don’t understand the emotional intent, who our buyers are, and what their needs are, we’re not going to create the type of content that’s going to engage with them and drive them towards a purchase.

What are the Six Types of Emotional Search Intent?

There are six types of emotional search intent that Google has written about in some of their articles on Think with Google. These are:

  1. surprise me
  2. thrill me
  3. impress me
  4. educate me
  5. reassure me
  6. help me

 We can use these types of emotional search intent as a starting point when we’re doing our preliminary research. We can’t just go right to tools. Tools are great, but if we don’t understand the emotional intent, who our buyers are, and what their needs are, we’re not going to create the type of content that’s going to engage with them and drive them towards a purchase.

Surprise Me

The first one is ‘surprise me.’ Here they’re looking for something fun or entertaining, they’re looking for unique iterations. They’re looking for something different. They’re just looking to be surprised. This is somebody mindlessly searching the web for new information. Maybe they’re looking for cool ideas within their space.

Thrill Me

‘Thrill me’ is similar, but this is a quick adventure, just a few words. They’re looking to browse a little bit more, to be thrilled, to find new things. With ‘surprise me,’ they want to be entertained, thrill me, they want to find something new.

These are kind of interesting emotional intents because they shift the way you’re driving a user. With surprise me, you want to show them uniqueness about what you do. You want to show how you’re different, how you’re not like everybody else, and that you add a new flare to it.

These thrill me ones, they kind of make me think of some of these online quizzes and questionnaires where people will take quizzes, such as, “What kind of shoe am I?” They’re looking for a journey to go on, find new things, and maybe uncover new ideas.

Impress Me

‘Impress me’ is about influencing and winning. It tends to be a lot more focused. These people know what they’re looking for, but they want to be impressed. They want to know that what they’re buying is the best and that it matches their needs. They want to know without a shadow of a doubt that you can match what it is they’re looking for. These tend to be more logical buyers on the impressed side. So, you have to create content from a logical standpoint, instead of ‘surprise’ me or ‘thrill me’, which are a little bit more of an emotional buying intent.

Educate Me

‘Educate me’ is about competence and control. This is thorough. They’re looking at reviews and ratings. It’s similar to ‘impress me’, but they’re looking for user backup. They want other people to verify it. These are people who are not adopters, these are people who want to make a wise decision and know that the decision they’re making is the best possible decision for them.

Reassure Me

‘Reassure me’ is about simplicity, comfort, and trust. These are the people who want an uncomplicated process. They want it simple and easy. They want it comfortable, and they want to know that they can trust you. You need to have those trust signals as well which sometimes come in the form of reviews and ratings. As you can see, somebody that’s looking to be reassured, they’re going to be very different than somebody who’s looking to be surprised. If you’re marketing to your audience, because you’re excited and you want to surprise them, but your ideal buyer is somebody that needs to be reassured, your message is going to miss and they’re not going to convert.

Help Me

Lastly, we can look at ‘help me’. These are people who want step-by-step very specific information on how to practically solve a problem. There are a lot of how-to, educational content out there. This is where that would fit in. If  you have products, services, or courses that will walk people through these and allow them to make that step, that’s good, but this is also where you may have location-based stuff. For example, “I need to find a cell phone repair shop near me,” That person’s looking to find help right away, so they want a location. They want to be able to find something. As  you can see, each of these plays a different role.

The Actual Flow of a Buyer’s Journey

We have to understand each of these and understand where our buyers live in and how they react through their funnel in order to make sure that we match their intent and create the right context. This is an interesting article from Think with Google. They’re talking about matching the emotions, matching the user’s needs. This is layering on what we just talked about in the last slide.

As you can see, Beth here has a 126-day search journey with over 2000 touchpoints. During this journey, she takes a number of different actions and interactions. She searches differently throughout her journey. Let’s take a look at how people actually flow through a buyer’s journey.

As you’ll see, it looks a little bit different than your traditional funnel. Beth starts her journey with search and she looks at Niagara Falls, State Park, Toronto things to do, CN Tower, Edge Walk, London, Ontario. She visits a couple of websites and she makes a couple of purchases. In the initial searches, there are 11 of them total, and it starts with her looking at Niagara Falls, State Park. Maybe she’s looking for somewhere to go. She’s looking at what she could maybe do, how far is that? She’s also looking at other things around the city of Toronto. She then looks at, “Okay, how far is it to walk to the CN Tower?” And then she also looks at an adjacent city known as London, Ontario.

She visits a hotel brand and ends up booking a hotel. During the search, she’s obviously planning some sort of vacation and she does this on January 27th. She’s looking for things to do outside of the city, but she’s also looking to purchase a hotel stay. If you’re a hotel company, one of the things you could do obviously is to inform her of things to do around Toronto. She’s looking to come to Toronto, she doesn’t just need a place to stay, she’s probably only going to be spending a fraction of her time in the hotel. What she needs is things to do while she’s there. So this is where, as a hotel brand, you could look for those related queries where you could show up here in her journey much earlier and becoming someone to trust.

It’s important for you to understand who Beth is and Beth likes State Park, so it looks like she enjoys walks. She might be pretty active. You can start to try to make some assumptions here and say, “Okay, well maybe Beth is a little bit adventurous, a little more outgoing. So maybe we can do things that are going to excite her, show her some new opportunities, because she’s looking for things to do in Toronto.

Instead of doing what everybody else is doing, how can we differentiate our content type and look outside of that normal funnel and serve our end customers at a whole new level and provide a ton of value.

Beth continues this journey and makes a ton of queries between the time she booked her trip here on January 7 to when she starts in June. Here’s the cool thing, her journey didn’t stop there. A lot of times we think once that person maybe has purchased something from us. Let’s take the hotel company here, maybe she purchased that hotel. Well, her journey doesn’t stop there, she’s going to take the trip. Notice what happens, right? We can assume now she’s on her trip ready to search for “Things to do near me.” Now she’s local. Now she’s in Toronto so she wants to look at, “What can I do around me today?” Again, this is where you can look for ways to optimize that content to be fresh, to be exciting because she needs something to do.

She’s looking for that thrill, she’s looking for something exciting. Then she also visits some site pages, she looks at some publications from travel brands, she maybe does a review site and some searching on Wikipedia. But she’s done a number of searches from when she started to when she went through her entire trip and when she actually experienced what she purchased. I think this is something important. There are some more opportunities you can look at here, whether it’s with Auto Journeys. What they’re talking about is that one-size content doesn’t fit all. There’s another great article that I’ll link to as well that goes through this researching brands.

As you can see, whether it’s Jill going through her journey with Ulta beauty or Justin looking for headphones, you see these touchpoints, over 500 touchpoints, 375 touchpoints, 125 touchpoints. People spend a lot of time trying to figure out what they want. If they don’t find it right away, they’re going to continue to search. They’re going to look at different mediums, whether that’s traditional search, YouTube, social, or maps. It’s our job to try to map the intent through the journey. Not just when they’re looking at top of the funnel, but all the way through the process.

The reality is a lot of us focus on top-of-the-funnel, when we look at those broad terms with high volume and then we write similar content as everybody else in the top 10. What if we took a little bit different approach and not only did we create good top-of-the-funnel content, but we also did it down here in the journey? So when Sarah is all the way through, not only are we here meeting her at the beginning where she’s looking for birthday freebies, but also creating a video, ‘how we can ship our chocolate to warm climates?’ Not only have we had her in the beginning, but we’ve also shown her that, “Hey, we can serve you where you are.”

Searching Further Down the Funnel

This is something a lot further down the funnel and it’s very specific. You’ll notice that the content, as you get further in these journeys, tends to be a lot more specific, which is something that we need to take into account as well. How do we actually do this? We can leverage SEO tools. We can use a tool like SEMrush. I’ll zoom in here so you can actually see it a little bit, it’s a great keyword tool. It allows us to do a lot of things. You can start typing these things in. Again, let’s say with that hotel company outside of Toronto, and we can go, “Things to do in Toronto.”

We can look at some of these keywords. Here we go, we get these little bit longer tail terms. There’s some competitive density. There’s also a lot of volume, but this is not just attracting people coming to Toronto, it could be attracting people who live there as well. You can also look at something like this where a lot of these SEO tools today have questions and we can start to look at these questions and see where they fit, ‘things to do in Toronto’, ‘must see in Toronto’, or ‘what are some fun things to do in Toronto’. All of these are good starters, but you don’t just want to stop there. You always want to leverage these things and look at the SERP results.

Let’s say we did this over here and we put this search phrase in Google search. We have the knowledge panel, we have the CN Tower, Royal Ontario museum. You can start aggregating pieces of content. But say I’m a hotel, I’m going to have all of these attractions within my website. I’m going to walk people through what they are and maybe give some of the reviews and talk about them.

You notice this is exactly what TripAdvisor does. We’ve already pulled that up over here, where they’ve created these aggregate pages of things to do and dining experience, and wine tasting. TripAdvisor isn’t supposed to be “content marketing,” right?

They’re a site aggregator, they’re a hotel or a travel aggregation site, but they know that if they meet people’s needs and help them find things to do, the next thing they’re going to need is someplace to stay. As you can see, they’re taking this approach in their content creation strategy to better serve their target audience.

They’re doing it, why can’t you? You totally can, you just have to take the time to do it. You can also use maybe a tool like Answer the Public, where you put in ‘Toronto’ and find all these questions around here. You keep going narrower and narrower and you niche down further and further and you start to have a plethora of new content that has honestly a lot less competitiveness.

Watch How People Move Through the Whole Process

If you look at these, some of these aren’t even competitive at all. Even some of these higher ones here like, ‘things to do in Toronto’ is pretty low competitive density, which means if you have good intent, good, high-quality content, and you do a good job, you have a chance of ranking and driving relevant traffic to your website.

We need to get out of just top of the funnel, but also look at how your potential customers move through the whole process. What are the questions they’re asking? And you can do that through doing your research, going into Google search, looking at here’s FAQ’s right here.

We can use the ‘People Also Ask’ to start understanding and start to ask ourselves, “Where does this fall in the buyer journey?” And as you keep opening these questions, Google’s going to get more results.

I think this is an opportunity for us SEOs, for marketers to take advantage and to create user-centric content, which is not just going to get results on the search engines but it’s going to get results where it matters most and that’s with your business.

I hope you guys learned something new today. Until next time, happy marketing.

How to Break Down Search Journeys

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in June 2021 and has been updated with fresh content.