With the growth in Search Engine Marketing over the past few years the competitive landscape has become extremely aggressive. Search terms, both organic and paid, are becoming increasingly difficult to target. This is due in large part to the following factors:
- Paid search traffic is getting more expensive as an increasing number of companies bid for top positioning.
- Organic search algorithms have evolved and become more difficult to “game”. Companies can no longer expect heaps of organic traffic just because their SEO firm has built-out a sophisticated backlink profile.
Because traffic aquisition has become such a competitive (and costly) activity, web marketers will need to place more emphasis on converting the traffic they already have. Additionally, marketers will need to start intercepting potential customers earlier in the buying process if they want to remain competitive.
These two objectives can be accomplished by building a search marketing funnel with highly targeted touchpoints that guide the customer through the buying process. Each touchpoint can also serve as a landing page where search traffic can be poured in at every step.
Understanding the buying process
Most purchases are made because someone has a problem. A problem can be obvious, such as a broken water heater, or the problem may be more subtle, as may be the case for purchasing the latest iGadget.
Whatever the case may be, consumers work through different stages or steps when evaluating a purchase:
- Identify a problem
- Search for solutions to the problem
- Compare different solutions
- Take action by purchasing the solution they feel is best
In order to target consumers effectively, a unique conversation should be crafted that appeals to each customer segment and their unique needs (problems) at any point in the buying process. We want to make the customer believe that we know exactly how to solve their specific problem – that our product or service was created just for them.
Building the funnel
- Define the customer. Try to understand their needs and uses for the product or service you are offering. The most effective method involves a post-purchase survey that will help to reveal the need(s) your product or service fulfilled.
- Create a “conversation matrix” that maps the advancement through different stages of the buying process for each customer’s unique need / problem.
- For each box in the matrix, conduct keyword research to discover the most popular search queries that customers use to navigate to the next step in the buying process.
- Develop targeted landing pages based on the keyword research that are optimized for both organic and paid search. Each landing page should include a call to action inviting the user to move forward to the next step in the funnel or buying process.
Each box within the matrix represents an intersection of a customer’s problem or need with a stage in the buying process. These combinations will be used to drive the exact language or conversation used in each touchpoint / landing page within the funnel. This creates a highly targeted conversation that speaks to the customer’s precise needs, making the page more relevant and leading to higher conversions.
Now that the concept has been outlined, the following will demonstrate how to build a funnel using a fictional setup.
The Air Buster filtration system has been the leading HEPA-based air filtration unit on the market. Unfortunately, the manufacturer forgot to trademark the name, and a competitor has come out with a competing model called the “Air Buster Buster”, which includes an additional UV light to remove bacteria, viruses and mold from the air.
You have decided to sell the new Air Buster Buster in your eCommerce store. Online competition for this product is fierce, and you need to intercept potential customers before they reach a competitor’s product detail page.
Based on market research, you have identified 3 primary customer needs that the “Air Buster Buster” can satisfy: allergies, asthma and mold.
Visualizing the funnel
The following illustration provides a visual representation of the search funnel built from the preceding matrix. Search engine users can enter the funnel at any stage in the buying process and progress through the funnel steps you build.
(Click the image below to see a larger version)
Using a setup like this will allow you to target customers at any stage in the buying process via SEO or PPC – not just customers that are only ready to buy a specific product. This provides an opportunity to intercept customers earlier in the buying process, which means they’re more likely to buy from you instead of the competition. Additionally, if you catch the customer early, you can control the process and tilt it to your advantage.
The above example only demonstrates three uses for our fictional product. To drive even more traffic and sales you can dream up as many uses and landing pages as you’d like. Just be mindful to include as much unique and useful content on the landing pages as possible. If the pages are too similar they are likely to be devalued by the search engines, so it is important to prioritize your customer’s needs and select the ideas likely to generate the most traffic.
Also, keep in mind that these landing pages / steps in the funnel do not have to be hosted on your website. In fact, the process may appear more credible if some steps are hosted elsewhere.