As any good marketer will tell you, understanding your customers’ mindset as they move through the customer lifecycle is imperative to running successful campaigns. This is especially true in search marketing, where it’s vital to understand the basic mechanisms behind how people search. This information, for example, is the foundation for keyword selection, ad copy, and even bidding strategies. And though the psychology of search is a deep subject, there are simple, practical models that can help you quickly gather and use consumers’ search behavior information when designing your search campaigns.
One such model is the Visitor Intention Model, which postulates that there is a correlation between the phrases people type into search engines and their purchase intent. In other words, you can predict where someone is in the customer lifecycle as well as how likely that person is to buy something from you based on their search phrase.
Under the Visitor Intention Model, search engine users tend to fall within one of three primary categories: Browsers, Shoppers, or Buyers. (They may also fall into two secondary categories, Informational Searchers and Navigational Searchers, but for our purposes we’ll focus on the former three, which are most pertinent to search marketers.)
The following is a quick primer to get you up-to-speed on each category of the Visitor Intention Model, including how to use a searcher’s keywords to identify which category they belong to and how to appeal to searchers in each category through your campaigns.
Searchers in the Browser category are in information-gathering mode. The search phrases they enter tend to be short and not very specific like “Las Vegas,” “coupons,” or “spyware.” And while traffic tends to be high for this group of terms, Browsers are generally looking for information rather than products and are unlikely to make an immediate purchase.
As such, paid search ads targeting these phrases tend to have a very low return. In fact, Browsers actually tend to click on natural search results more often than ads. And when they do click on ads, Browsers will often click on more than one as they gather as much information as possible — usually starting at the top of the page and working their way down, becoming more selective as they go along.
Both search engines and advertisers respond to this low effectiveness, and as a result we often see few ads or even none for popular browse queries. (Instead, the search engines often will use the space on the page usually dedicated to advertising to place general information on the subject searched, often taken from sources such as Wikipedia.)
Nonetheless, engaging with Browsers can lead to sales down the road for some PPC marketers. A good paid search strategy is to provide these potential customers with educational information about your product or service category via articles, technical advice, white papers, and so on. Don’t focus on price, delivery, or guarantees, because many Browsers won’t care and may actually be turned off by aggressive pitches at this point in their shopping journey. Also, try capturing their email address so you can stay in touch and make it more likely for them to return to your site again in the future.
In contrast to Browsers, Shoppers have an identified need and are considering their options. They are closer to a purchase decision and are generally using a search engine to compare different products or services. And while there are more Browsers than Shoppers on the search engines at any given time, you’re far more likely to make a sale to a Shopper.
Shoppers’ search queries can often be identified by their two- and three-word phrases that contain comparison words such as “best,” “cheap,” or “review.” These keyword phrases tend to have both decent traffic and conversion rates.
Descriptive terms about your product or service work well when marketing to Shoppers, as do head-to-head comparisons with competitor products, feature lists, and third-party testimonials, because they give Shoppers what they need: information to help them make an informed purchase decision. By appealing to Shoppers’ information-gathering need, you can often convert Shoppers to Buyers or at least capture their information for when they are ready to buy. An effective means of doing this is with email capture immediately followed up with limited-time promotions.
In contrast to Browsers and Shoppers, Buyers are ready to buy now. They might be looking for a specific product, or just for the first product that seems to meet their needs. Their search for information has largely been completed, and they spend less time on the search engine and more time on vendors’ websites.
Phrases with four or more words or phrases that refer to specific products, SKUs, or model numbers are used by Buyers to find what they want quickly.
Aggressive emotional or impulsive appeals often work with Buyers because the logical part of their brain has already been satisfied through prior research. Often they just need the slightest push to buy from you. An effective strategy is to tempt them with promotional offers as well as cater to instant gratification: “fast shipping,” “high quality,” “low price,” and so forth.
The following chart provides examples of different keyword types in the Visitor Intention Model:
Not Sure of the Category?
Not every keyword phrase falls neatly into a single category, so try split-testing multiple ads. The best performers will often tell you the category to which the keyword belongs. And if your split tests don’t determine a clear winner, then try experimenting with negative matching to eliminate ad impressions for clearly off-target search queries.
Another powerful technique is to use organic search results to guide your paid search ad copy. Although the organic search results generally cater to a different demographic, in many cases the top results will give you a strong indication of what searchers are looking for. Try incorporating these factors into your ad copy as well.