Welcome to the experience economy.
Where the customer experience is more important than the product itself.
Your customers are currently armed with omnipresent internet access and a ravishing thirst for information. They know what they want (context, meaning, value) and they know where to find it (Hint: it starts with a capital ‘G’).
And so begins the rich tapestry of the customer journey.
KPMG International released a report in January 2017 studying online consumer behaviour over the prior 12 months, and the story is loud and clear. Here are the juiciest cuts from the global sample:
- Less than 35% of online shoppers made the purchase on the same day as first thinking about that product
- 30% bought over one week later
- Generation X made 20% more purchases than Millennials
- Baby Boomers had the highest Average Transaction Value
And from the Australian respondents specifically:
- 72% of consumers performed an online search prior to purchase
- Only 24% of consumers actually saw the product in store before purchasing
- Australians spent 1.2 hours researching online before buying
For better or worse, search engines are becoming the default solution for all of life’s problems. When these problems are of a commercial nature, it’s up to marketers to meet their customers queries with useful solutions; before, during, after and independent of transaction.
Each of these is an opportunity to ‘Wow!” the proverbial pants off a potential purchaser with a valuable experience.
If you aren’t gearing your search engine optimisation (SEO) strategy toward the moments that matter for your customers, you risk slipping out of their mind entirely as their journey marches on.
Even if you were to magically reappear when it comes time to convert, from the customer’s point of view, it’s often a case of “Where were you when I really needed you?”
In this customer-dominant, experience-focused competitive environment, brands of all shapes and sizes are climbing over one another for a chance to chaperone their audience through a noisy marketplace. Central to this pursuit is the process of mapping the customer journey.
Sure, your core market offerings will still be what brings home the bacon. Customer journey-aligned SEO has not, and will not, replace a quality offering. But it will enhance the experience and that’s what clever marketing is all about.
Scrapping it out with your competitors at the product or service level is no longer sufficient. It’s time to pull on the gloves at the experience level now.
As marketers we need to broaden our perspective of what really matters to the people that matter to us: Customers.
If you are making your customer’s life easier, you are making your own life easier.
We are going to look at the customer journey, specifically through the lens of SEO. This will provide a clearer picture of how the two are related and why they should be edging toward the top of your to-do list.
By developing a deep understanding of how your customers navigate from Zero Awareness to Sheer Delight, you can start forming one of the central pillars in an effective, customer-centred SEO strategy.
Why should I create a customer journey map?
First off, a customer journey map serves more than just SEO.
Investing in customer journey mapping also pays off when looking at:
- Visual design (online and offline)
- In store layout and atmospherics
- Paid search marketing (Google AdWords)
- Social media
- Email marketing
- Customer relationship management
- Brand positioning
- Competitor analysis
- Product development
- Service design
More broadly, your customer journey map will help achieve two hefty business goals:
- #1. Customer Empathy - Walk a mile in your customer’s shoes to truly understand their needs and pain points. Until you really capture the essence of that ‘Aha!’ moment that your customer goes through, it’s hard to deliver an outstanding experience. Check out these 8 killer examples of how empathy has spawned innovative content marketing.
- #2. Growing a Customer-Centric Approach - Documenting your customer journey map and making it visible and accessible helps to put the customer at the heart of the organisation. It shows that you make decisions based on the end user of your products or services, which can have a profound effect on culture, strategic development and your bottom line.
How do I map my customer’s journey?
There is no hard and fast way that journey mapping must be completed. The process and outcome will depend on:
- The size of your business
- The complexity of your offering
- The level of customer involvement
Here’s an example of a customer journey map for an online banking service, created by Norah Salman.
The most important thing to remember is that this process is designed to humanise your customers; to enter their life-world and face the same challenges they do. Remind yourself that there are real people behind the clicks and pageviews.
Base your framework around phases of the journey. For example, you might decide that your customers go through Inspiration, Research, Evaluation, Crunch Time and Return phases.
Use your intuition and your existing knowledge of the market to guide you.
Since you are mapping a series of events over a loose time period, a visual representation will help to display your work.
Track down as much data as possible from both online and offline sources to inform the next stages of your customer journey map.
You most likely have a goldmine of customer insights waiting to be put to good use.
- Your customer service email inbox
- Your business social media account direct message inboxes
- Blog comments (or social media comments on blog shares)
- Google Analytics/Social Media Analytics
- Google Search Console
- Frontline customer service staff
- Previous customer surveys or feedback forms
- Actual customers (crazy, right?)
Now you are ready to get cracking on the journey mapping.
Using a customer persona in your customer journey map is just like shopping for a friend’s birthday present. The more you know about your friend’s likes, dislikes, personal taste, pet peeves and daily routine, the easier it is to arrive at a splendid gift idea.
Ever tried to buy a gift for a total stranger? Nightmare.
To get started, create two customer personas that you best fit your ideal target market. Jot down as many of the following as possible:
- Product/Service category awareness
- Are they savvy using web technology?
- Where do they get their news?
- Where do they share their opinions?
Have a clear picture of what each customer persona is trying to achieve. Although the business objective and the customer objective may converge at some point, usually transaction, there is a clear distinction between the two.
Think carefully about the problem your business solves for the customer.
I’ve had this exact conversation a few times over the years and I think this example illustrates the idea well:
Let’s say a hardware store has ordered in a new range of shovels. The short term business objective is to sell shovels. Easy.
Jen wants to dig a hole as part of her backyard landscaping project, except she doesn’t know the first thing about landscaping, holes or how to dig them. Jen’s objective as a customer is not to buy a shovel, it’s to landscape her backyard.
It’s up to the hardware store to help Jen achieve her objective, first and foremost. The business objective (selling the shovel) is merely a by-product.
Customer Roadblocks and Pain Points
Australian businesses lose more than $720 per bad customer experience.
A customer journey map teases out the issues you didn’t even know you had.
No, not in a balding-psychiatrist-brown-leather-couch kind of way. This is strictly business, people.
Understanding roadblocks and pain points can minimise the resources the customer must contribute on their journey with your brand. It’s easy to focus on economic cost as the sole resource consumers contribute in a buyer journey.
In reality, to earn a loyal customer you are essentially asking for that person’s time, mental effort, travel and research costs, too.
Knowing where roadblocks and pain points commonly occur for segments of your target market means you can craft your content strategy and SEO efforts accordingly.
An absolute knockout example of a brand that understands their customers pain points and roadblocks is Lush Cosmetics.
Lush know their customers cannot stand the thought of purchasing cosmetic products that aren’t completely ethically sourced and natural: That’s exactly why they are Lush customers.
In the cosmetics industry, ethical concerns have been a huge barrier for consumers for a long time. Lush have reduced a significant pain point for consumers and used their site to target people searching for ethically sourced cosmetics in the process.
As the journey unfolds, your customers may invite you into the sphere of their daily lives for a second, a minute, or if you are really lucky, an hour.
Maybe it’s social media, maybe it’s a phone call, maybe it’s a search query. Whatever the case, you need to be ready, willing and able to help out when your time comes.
Not all moments on the customer journey will trigger a touchpoint interaction, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t significant.
Perhaps an important life event occurs, like the purchase of a first home. The delighted new owners consider upgrading their contents insurance policy, as the removalists heave the brand new 42” flatscreen out of the truck on moving day.
It’s not long before the excitement and champagne take over. The insurance talk is forgotten for the time being.
In the complex customer environment, the path to purchase is rarely a nice, linear sequence of events.
It is fragmented, turbulent and influenced by unpredictable external factors. No point in fighting it.
What we can do is provide value, in the context of the customer’s journey, by understanding the intent of our customers when they do turn to the search bar during key moments along the way.
Connecting SEO strategy to the Customer Journey Map
Once you overlay your Customer Journey Map on your SEO strategy, the opportunities begin to appear.
Targeting search terms related to your key product categories, sub categories or service offerings should already form the foundation of your existing SEO strategy. This provides the basic structure of the site, focusing on searches related to your core business.
Outside of these core terms is where the real magic lies. This is where you will start to find an edge over your competitors.
Organic search is more than just an audience acquisition channel and it’s more than just the mechanism for the moment of transaction. The richness and detail in your customer journey map is living proof of this.
The personas you have developed are real people. The customer objectives you have identified are on their to-do list. The pain points you discovered cause them to sigh out loud.
Your SEO strategy is a chance to show that you understand the entire customer experience and you genuinely can add value to the journey, beyond the sale.
For each distinct phase of the customer journey, cross reference the customer objectives and pain points with the existing pages on your site. Does your existing content deliver comprehensive solutions, in context? Are there opportunities to build evergreen pages that tackle long tail search queries?
Post purchase is also an underexplored area for search engine optimisation domination. Don’t assume that the questions end because money has changed hands.
Understanding that the customer journey is complex, non-linear and occurs across multiple touch points is critical to enhancing the overall quality of experience that your organisation provides.
Now you have the motivation and the framework to get the ball rolling and start reimagining how incredible a customer journey can truly be.
It’s time to become a champion of customer experience in your organisation.