The SEO industry is evolving at a rapid pace. It’s an evolution driven by the emergence of new technologies and increasing consumer demand for hyper-relevant and customised experiences. It’s been the case for a while that search marketing is no longer a standalone discipline – the true power of SEO comes when it’s combined as part of an integrated digital strategy.
Nowadays, the customer journey is far from linear. It’s a smattering of interactions, emotions and experiences across a range of multi-channel touchpoints. Your audience’s interactions with your brand now take place in multiple locations, on numerous devices, whenever and wherever it suits them.
To unlock the secret to success in search, you must switch your mindset from company to consumer, and start with understanding user intent. One of the best ways to do that, and an approach we take here at Being Digitalz, is with the concept of micro-moments.
What are micro-moments?
Whether we know it or not, as consumers, our daily lives are shaped by micro-moments. A micro-moment is a moment of reflex. It occurs when a person instinctively turns to a device to act on a need – to learn something, do something, to watch or to buy. It’s a moment of need that drives online behavior and creates the opportunity for interaction with a brand. That moment you pick up your phone to find a route to your destination, to search for that product, or an answer to a burning question (what was that actor’s name?!)
In a 2015 article on the Think With Google blog, Sridhar Ramaswamy defined them as ‘intent-driven moments of decision-making and preference-shaping that occur throughout the entire consumer journey’.
Micro-moments can be categorized into four groups:
- ‘I want to know’ moments trigger searches for facts and information
- ‘I want to do’ moments signal a need for help or guidance with a task
- ‘I want to go’ moments typically lead to searches about places and events
- ‘I want to buy’ moments occur when people are interested in buying a product or service
All these moments have an underlying need and something that triggered awareness of that need. A trigger (‘I’m thirsty’) leads someone to seek a solution (‘where’s my nearest coffee shop’). Of course, many of these triggers are external influences, such as a conversation with a friend on social media or an advert on TV.
Identifying and understanding relevant needs through research helps to shape a sound SEO strategy. Adopting a user-centric approach to research provides much greater insight than the style of keyword research that has long been a cornerstone of SEO.
We have created a FREE guide that follows a typical customer journey and unpicks the breadth of content, formats, and choices they make along the way by following the micro-moments approach and the principles of Customer Experience Design.
How to approach research – traditional keyword research vs intent/customer journey mapping.
Understanding what people search for is of course essential. But for too long the SEO industry has placed excessive emphasis on the volume of searches, using this first and foremost to prioritize on-site optimization and content marketing campaigns.
Keyword research still forms part of the process, but it shouldn’t be considered the starting point. Instead, considering search as part of the broader customer experience (CX) provides a stronger context and a deeper understanding of where keywords fit into this bigger picture.
Informing keyword research Empathy Mapping
One of the processes we use here at Being Digitalz is empathy mapping, which is designed to plot out the needs, influences and pain/gain points for each target audience. These are collaborative workshops we hold with our clients to understand what they know about their customers. Working together, we visualize the customer (or user)’s persona in four categories:
- What they say and do
- How they think and feel
- What they hear
- What they see
Through empathy mapping, we are able to inform the focus of the keyword research and reveal needs that otherwise might not have been considered. It also sets the context that can then be used to design better solutions once the research has been completed.
Hearing from the horses’ mouth with stakeholder and customer interviews
There’s always another side to the story, so in addition to keyword research, our approach also includes stakeholder and customer interviews. This ‘hearing from the horses’ mouth’ validates or challenges the hypotheses developed during the mapping stage and helps identify any gaps.
Aligning this with the CX user journey model then helps to understand how search behaviors evolve as people move from one phase to the next. This adds a layer of insight to data about the keywords people use when they search.
Taking this two-pronged approach allows us to get into the heads of not only the brand but the customers too – understanding exactly what it is they want, how they feel, see and interact with the brand at different points in their journey.
The changing face of mobile and its importance for SEO
The rapid evolution of mobile technology is also changing the way marketers need to think about SEO strategy.
Google’s advances in natural language processing and determining the intent means its algorithms can now handle ambiguity much more effectively. For example, a search for ‘hotel deals’ doesn’t provide any indication of where the person is looking to go. However, if their previous search was ‘flights to Paris’, Google can join the dots and filter the search results accordingly.
Voice search is now being heralded as the next big thing, and Google’s announcement at its recent I/O conference demonstrated the ability of its assistant to automate phone calls with incredibly realistic voices and speech patterns.
While the commercial application of voice search from an SEO perspective is still to be fully understood, there’s no doubt that marketing strategies can’t be allowed to stagnate if brands are to keep up.
Micro-moments – the context king
In a game of top trumps against traditional keyword research, another winning card that micro-moment research plays is context. It uncovers the context behind people’s search habits within the overall context of their user journey. An individual keyword tells us something about what a person needs but it’s easy to forget that it often forms only a small part of their search.
In short – looking at the micro-moment shows us the user intent.
Let’s look at an example:
For example, a sports retailer would no doubt agree that the keyword ‘running shoes’ has commercial value to them. The user is looking to make a purchase (‘I want to buy’) and wants to actively consider their options. But what led that person to that point? For those new to the sport, there are several informational needs (‘I want to know’) prior to the consideration and purchase phase of their journey.
From the user’s point of view:
Let’s look at the following needs for someone who wants to lose weight:
- What type of exercise is best for weight loss?
- What’s the best way to take up running?
- What type of kit is needed?
A search for ‘running shoes’ fits within this journey, but at what point would vary from one person to the next – for some it might be the first thing they look for, others may seek more information first.
I speak from personal experience on this. Before I first bought a pair of running shoes, I had no idea of the different factors to consider – from the difference between road and off-road running to my running style and pronation. Researching this lead to an understanding that I would benefit from speaking to an expert who could assess my running style in person (‘I want to go’).
From the marketer’s point of view:
Considering this example from the marketer’s perspective raises important questions relating to content:
- What additional information will our audience need before they are ready to purchase?
- Which devices do they prefer using to search and does this change as their journey and needs evolve?
- How does that influence the format that information should be delivered in?
- What additional needs does the content provided trigger and how is this best enabled?
In this scenario, there’s an opportunity for the high-street retailer to gain an advantage over an online-only brand. The same applies to a sports specialist, even in comparison with a behemoth such as Amazon.
While they can’t compete on budget and brand power, they can be successful by finding better ways to meet people’s needs. Providing content and solutions that demonstrate expertise builds authority and brand loyalty.
- SEO today provides little in the way of silver bullets. As Google’s ability to understand how people value brands – and to apply that within an algorithm – increases, the bar to success becomes higher.
- This is why we focus on the customer from the start – using empathy mapping, customer and stakeholder interviews, keyword and micro-moment research to uncover their intent and map out their journey.
- If we understand precisely what it is the user wants, why and how they’re searching for it, and the micro-moment that triggered the search in the first place, we can create content that exactly meets those needs.
- For too long the SEO industry has been dominated by keyword research alone. The relevancy arms race is here and if brands are to win, they need to move away from the tickbox approach and into the customer journey for greater insight.
- Remember – you can’t understand your audience by looking at a spreadsheet, and that’s why integrating micro-moments into your SEO strategy provides a strong foundation to create better, more meaningful customer experiences.