Biz Tips: Search Intent Across the Funnel: How to Break Down Search Journeys

Biz Tips: Search Intent Across the Funnel: How to Break Down Search Journeys

Biz Tip:

Search Intent Across the Funnel: 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 suffer as well. 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.

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 searches based on their needs, based on their behaviors, and based on 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 do 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’ve got awareness, consideration, 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 very simplified and it’s very linear.

Applying the Funnel in the Real World

Now, it’s helpful as a guide, but it’s not what actually happens in the real world. Nobody really walks directly step-by-step through this type of process. We can use it as a starting point, but real life’s a lot messier. We need to really look at the user, how they behave through the entire funnel process to really understand their needs and to break down the intent. If we look at intent, there’s 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 SEOs. We’ve got four breakdowns here, we’ve got informational queries, navigational, commercial investigation, and transactional.

Informational Query

An informational query is when somebody is looking to gain general knowledge on a topic. This is like, 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 really not committed to it yet, they’re just looking at ideas.

Navigational Query

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

Commercial Intent

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


Lastly, we have a transactional. Now, this is when somebody’s 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 actually purchase a product.

Understand the Context of Intent

Now, something that’s really important to understand is that 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 derives around context. We have to understand the context. Context is really set at an emotional level. Whether you’re marketing to engineers or whether you’re marketing to creative people, emotions are going to drive the purchase behavior of them. It’s just going to be different emotions. We’ve got to understand that again, 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.

Six Different Types of Emotional Search Intent

These are six different types of emotional search intent that Google has surfaced in some of their articles on Think with Google. We’ve got these six and I think they’re very good categories. They’re ones that we can use 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, we don’t understand who our buyers are, we don’t understand what their needs are, we’re not going to create the content that’s going to engage with them and drive them towards a purchase.

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. Now thrill me, is similar, but this is a quick adventure, just a few words. They’re looking just to kind of browse a little bit more, they’re looking to be thrilled, they’re looking to kind of find new things. So surprise me, they want to be entertained, thrill me, they want to find something new. So these are kind of interesting emotional intents, because they could definitely shift the way you’re driving a user. With a surprise me, you want to show them uniqueness about what you do. You want to show how you’re different, you want to show 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 like “What kind of shoe am I?” They’re just kind of looking for a journey to kind of go on, find new things, and maybe uncover new ideas.

Now impress me, this is about influencing and winning and 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, they want to know what they’re buying 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 again, you’ve got 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, this 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 really 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, this is about simplicity, comfort, and trust. These are people who want an uncomplicated process. They want it super simple and super 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 really somebody that needs to be reassured, your message is just going to miss and they’re not going to convert.

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 is a lot of how-to content out there. This is kind of where that would fit in. If you’ve got products or services or courses or whatever that are going to walk people through these and allow them to make that step, that’s really good, but this is also where you may have location-based stuff. So, “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, right? 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 typically react through their funnel in order to make sure that we match their intent and create the right context. This is a really interesting article from Think with Google. They’re talking about matching the emotions, matching the user’s needs. This is kind of layering on what we just talked about in the last slide. As you can see, Beth here, she’s got a 126-day search journey with over 2000 touchpoints. During this journey, she takes a number of different actions and interactions. She searches different through 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 actually 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 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 really needs is things to do while she’s there possibly. So this is where, as a hotel brand, you could look for those related queries where you could maybe show up here in her journey much earlier and becoming someone to trust.

Now, again, you need to understand who Beth is and Beth likes State Park, so it looks like she likes going on 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 and look outside of that normal funnel and really 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. Now, 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 actually going to take the trip. Notice what happens, right? We can assume now she’s on her trip ready to go, “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 does 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 really 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 also 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, whether that’s YouTube, whether that’s social, whether that’s maps, and 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.

Reality is, a lot of us focused on top of the funnel, when we look at those really broad terms with high volume keyword 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, right? Not only have we got 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. So how do we actually do this? Well, we can leverage 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 terms, right? 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 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, what are some fun things to do in Toronto. All of these are really good starters, but you don’t just want to stop there. You always want to leverage these things and actually look at the SERP results.

Let’s say we did this over here and we put this in Google search. We’ve got the knowledge panel, we’ve got the CN Tower, Royal Ontario museum. You can actually start aggregating now pieces of content, right? 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, 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 strategy and better serving their end-users. They’re doing it, why can’t you? You totally can, you just got 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, it’s pretty low competitive density, which means if you have good intent, you have good content and you do a good job, you have a chance of ranking and driving really relevant traffic to your website. We need to get out of just top of the funnel, but really looking at how people moving 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 steal an artist.

We can use the People Also Ask to start understanding and start to ask ourself, “Where does this fall in the buyer journey?” And as you keep opening these questions, Google’s going to get more and more. I think this is an opportunity for us SEOs, for marketers to really take advantage and really 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. If you have any questions of what we talked about, please comment below. We’d love to continue that conversation with you. Until next time, happy marketing.

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