The Importance of SEO at Each Stage of the Buyer’s Journey

Aligning the right content with specific need states along the buyer’s journey is a fundamental aspect of a modern content marketing strategy. Top brands like Hubspot, Pardot, and The Content Marketing Institute have been defining and discussing the buyer’s journey for years, and many of these discussions have created new strategies and roadmaps for content marketing teams. But if SEO isn’t a major part of those strategies, you may not be seeing the level of performance you could be.

Focusing on the buyer’s journey and related strategies is critically important for ensuring the success of your digital campaigns, but neglecting SEO principles during that process will deliver sub-standard results.

For example, ranking on page one for an informational keyword is a step toward awareness, the first step in a buyer’s journey roadmap. If your content and optimization are aligned with keywords that signal informational or educational intent, but buyers arrive at your page with a direct conversion or purchase intent, you’ve got a mismatch. Those buyers are likely to bounce and move on to a competitor who invites them into the next stage: consideration.

Good SEO aligns query intent to the right stage of the buyer’s journey.

Buyer's journey through the different stages

Identify Keywords, Content, and Landing Pages for Each Stage

The first step in aligning your content marketing with the buyer’s journey is to identify the keywords, content, and landing pages that pertain to each stage.

The four stages of the buyer’s journey are:

  • Awareness
  • Consideration
  • Conversion
  • Retention

For each stage above, you’ll want to leverage your understanding of buyer intent and persona information to perform keyword research, organize content assets, and optimize landing pages. Take a data-driven approach by using your analytics data to inform the details of your new or updated website pages.

Awareness Stage

Some marketers overlook the importance of the Awareness (or Discovery) stage because it’s associated with informational or educational searches (non-transactional). That’s a mistake since information searches account for approximately 80% of all search queries, and informational and educational content is critical for generating inbound ranking signals that improve SEO performance of your entire site, including pages in subsequent stages of the buyer’s journey.

To optimize for the Awareness stage:

  • Identify informational or educational keywords.
  • Identify landing pages with the highest traffic and content associated with these keywords.

Once the Awareness keyword list is complete and mapped to existing website pages, analyze the data for each landing page. Before making changes to high-traffic landing pages, record all of the following information:

Screen Shot 2017 06 07 at 5.32.45 PM

If a landing page targets the right keyword for the awareness phase of the buyer journey, has high traffic, a low bounce rate, and a below average conversion rate, revise it and optimize it for the target persona. If an important keyword does not have a good corresponding landing page on your site, you’ll want to create one.

Typical content formats that work well in the Awareness stage are:

  • Blog Posts
  • Guest Articles
  • Infographics
  • Free Tools and Templates

Important: Calls-to-Action (CTAs) for Awareness pages, especially for B2B services with longer sales cycles, should not be to “Contact us.” That’s not a realistic next step from someone who just found out you exist. Instead, draw readers into the next phase of the buyer’s journey by offering:

  • White Papers
  • eBooks
  • Videos
  • Pre-recorded Webinars

Once you’ve defined the right CTA for each landing page that matches visitor intent, be sure to follow best practices for conversion optimization.

Consideration Stage

In the consideration stage, prospects are already educated; they are comparing details, overcoming objections, and reviewing options. Common places to find consideration keywords is in your FAQ section, form submissions, and by talking to your sales team.

Optimize landing pages and search engine snippets, so they speak to your buyer’s top concerns during the consideration phase. Once a prospect in the consideration stage clicks on your landing page, they should be able to easily navigate the site and find information quickly. Include buttons and links to your FAQ page, data sheets, and assets that will help them during the consideration process.

Helpful tip: If you have a site search feature, but haven’t set up Site Search Reporting in Google Analytics, now is the time. The search data will give you a goldmine of keywords to target during the consideration phase.

Once you’ve identified a list of consideration keywords, don’t forget about modifiers that indicate buyer intent:

  • Affordable
  • Best
  • Comparison
  • Review
  • Top
  • Troubleshoot
  • Solution
  • Provider

Create assets that will appeal to your top-level personas in the consideration stage and quickly move them to the conversion stage:

  • Comparison data sheets
  • Free trials
  • Video tutorials
  • Access to industry statistics and data

Top brands are beginning to offer interactive content in the form of surveys, questionnaires, and interactive tools like calculators, pre-formatted spreadsheets, etc. The Consideration stage is the time to stand out from the crowd, get creative!

Conversion Stage

Conversion keywords are probably the easiest to identify, but they’re also the most competitive. These are often the keywords you are (or could be) targeting in your PPC campaigns. If you are short on time and can’t devote maximum effort to every stage, it pays to focus on the Conversion stage.

Capitalize on the Details

Build out persona data with the following conversion details:

  • Geographic data
  • Device type

Google Analytics can help you track geographic and device data, and Twilio can help you track conversion data from customers who reach out to you via phone. Use the geographic data to help you improve local SEO, and make sure these landing pages are optimized for mobile if your conversion traffic comes from mobile devices.

Build Trust

Prospects in the conversion stage are ready to make a decision, and your landing page should give them access to information that helps them overcome objections.

Here are a few content suggestions to help them trust your brand and move forward:

  • Tags/Snippets with a call to action or question to draw them in and click on your page
  • Copy that helps them assess ROI
  • Copy that alerts them to free trials, customer service, client testimonials
  • Graphics that tout awards, industry affiliations, and other trust indicators

Retention Stage

A study by the inventors of the net promoter score, Frederick Reichheld, found that increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%., yet the Retention stage of the buyer’s journey is often overlooked. Retention content and keywords keep your customers coming back to your website for updates, education, and new product news.

There are many ways to target this stage of the buyer’s journey, but here’s a great use case: by leveraging alert features on popular marketing automation platforms, you can find out right away when existing clients are returning to your website to seek more information. That action could indicate some confusion or dissatisfaction, which you’ll be able to quickly nip in the bud.

Don’t assume, however, that your website will be the first stop for an existing client who has questions or concerns. Mostly likely they’ll go to Google. If you’ve anticipated and optimized for search queries that occur in the Retention phase, showing up in the top of the results will assure your clients they’re working with the right partner.

Identifying retention keywords isn’t difficult; reviewing sales data on customers who have purchased more than one service or item on two different dates will give you answers. Email marketing campaigns will also deliver valuable insight into the type of content that attracts existing customers and keeps them coming back for more.

The importance of building an email list through your SEO and content strategy is another blog post in and of itself, and not to be underestimated.

Julia Nitschke from Aweber puts it this way:

“Your website visitors have already shown interest in what you’ve got to offer. Next step: get these visitors on to your email list. Once they’re on your list, you’ve got a direct line of communication and can nurture the new leads and customers to move them down the marketing funnel and retain their business.”

Other retention content ideas and options:

  • Educational blog posts
  • Free training and webinars
  • Product updates and upgrade options
  • Industry news
  • Problem-solving tools
  • Limited-time free trials for new products and services
  • Customer surveys in exchange for participation rewards

Retention content is a lot like social media: It should be timely, relevant, and helpful. Blog posts and articles are an easy way to add retention content to your site and distribute it for client or customer base.

Helpful tip: Use Google Analytics tracking correctly to monitor and analyze returning website visitors.

Returning Visitors

Although marketing automation platforms can help you track known visitor behavior with pinpoint accuracy, you’re not always going to know who your site visitors are. To understand the behavior of returning visitors to your site, be sure to set up accurate tracking for New & Returning Visitor reports.

Users vs session - different events throughout the buyer's journey
Image Source: Google Analytics Support

When analyzing performance data to develop content ideas for the Retention phase, consider creating a segment in Google Analytics to view content performance only for visitors who have visited your site X times before, where X is some number you determine to be relevant.

Be aware of session expirations and new sessions. Remember, a single user can open multiple sessions, especially when you consider the fact that most will be using multiple devices to access your content.

SEO rankings should be a long-term goal for your content marketing initiative. The value in an organic top-of-page-one listing far outweighs the ROI on a blog post or article that was popular on social media. Taking the extra time to create and optimize SEO landing pages for every stage of the buyer’s journey will deliver much more than rankings; it will ensure that prospects connect and engage with your brand at the right time, in the right place, with the right message.

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