The Psychology of Search – 5 Ways To Optimize For User Demand

Search marketing has evolved with consumer behavior. Search engines, which exist to serve their users and not businesses, have continually updated their algorithms to better understand and deliver what people are seeking. They have also worked to better identify and separate the high-quality content from the low-quality so they are able to provide users with the information that will best serve their needs. Marketers no longer chase the algorithm, they optimize content for the user.

Algorithms and the User

When search engines first revolutionized the Internet by indexing web pages and making it easier for people to find content by subject, those at the forefront of the industry quickly realized the value of maximizing their visibility through these search engines. They surmised that a few identifiable criteria were used by the algorithms to understand websites and match them with searchers. Thus began the rise of ‘blackhat’ SEO tactics, such as keyword stuffing and backlinking.

The psychology of the consumer has been changing, however. Consumers are more sophisticated and better at inputting queries that help them quickly find what they are looking for. They are less likely to sift through second and third pages of results, especially on mobile devices.

As search engines have become better at predicting which pages will be the most useful, customers have also begun to realize that they have the right to expect relevant and valuable material. The industry has evolved to the point where if you want to appeal to the modern audiences, you must design content that focuses on these customers rather than the search engines. When your primary intention is to create highly engaging material that people can appreciate and learn from, you will succeed both in attracting your ideal customers and in ranking well with the search engines.

The Psychology of Search Marketing

To efficiently meet the needs of your modern customer, you need to understand the role of psychology in search and the success of digital content. Psychology can offer you the insights you need to understand what people are looking for and what will make them more likely to click. Search engines are working hard to understand semantic (thematic) meaning and the intent of the customer. Make sure you work to understand your consumer intent and design your landing pages, site, and navigation to answer the questions consumers have about your industry and business – even when they do not articulate them clearly.

1. Understanding Consumers and Personas

To create content that your customers will want to read, you must first know exactly who your customers are. This means digging deeper than your initial assumption of who might be interested in buying your products and services. You will learn this valuable information from two key sources:

  •  your market research
  •  speaking with your existing customers

Ask people interested in your business what exactly drove them to your company over your competitors. Learn about their pain points and what they want to see from businesses in your industry. As you speak with these people, you will begin to find that there are similarities in the motivations and backgrounds of many of your customers. You will start to categorize them into several groups known as your personas. Your personas will help you organize the ‘whys’ behind customer behavior. To maximize your use of personas, use the information you have gathered about customer backgrounds and pain points to create biographies for each persona, bringing this ideal consumer to life. Create paths for those personas to follow through your site, whether you do that in static development or through real-time personalization.

2. Creating Content That Resonates

Content today takes a variety of different forms. Your customers are not just expecting text, they are looking for images and videos that help to draw them into your material.

Images can be extraordinarily compelling across the digital ecosystem. For example, Tweets that contain images receive 5x more engagement than those that do not. Images are valuable because they give us something with which we can connect. The brain is wired to be visual, so images help the brain process information and understand your content up to 60,000 times faster than text. Images of people, particularly real customers or people at the company, can also be enormous assets for building relationships with prospective customers. Customers can relate to the people in the images and see themselves in their place.

Video has begun to play an increasingly important role in any successful digital marketing strategy. According to Forbes, more than half of senior executives indicate that they would rather watch a video than read text when both are offered. It also takes the benefits of images and amplifies them. Now instead of seeing pictures of past customers or company employees, potential customers can hear them speak, watch their body language and deepen their relationship with the company.

3. Optimizing the Content for Search

Search has changed drastically over the past several years. Google, along with the other major search engines, has continually put out updates to their algorithms that help them better sort through material to show highly relevant and valuable content to their users.

There are an estimated 500 Google algorithm updates per year. The mobile algorithm update of 4/21 was the most covered because Google gave forewarning of the change that would favor mobile-optimized sites. Most of these updates have been designed to reduce the effectiveness of blackhat tactics and focus on quality.jim-yu-second-image

Rather than trying to find the latest ‘trick’ to gain SEO advantage, you need to understand what search engines and users together seek: relevance.

Search has changed from focusing on the search engines and what they want to see to focusing on the user experience. The end goal of the search engine is also to have a happy user, so when you focus on the customer, both your reader and the search engines are happy.

Cut through the excess information and focus on providing information and content that your intended personas will appreciate reading.

You also need to look beyond the basic ‘keyword’. In the past, marketers relied on keywords to let search engines know their topics. Search engines try to match queries to content, but many people do not type in just a word to two. Instead, they use phrases and questions they want answered.

More than a quarter of queries were typed in the form of a question, with ‘how’ and ‘why’, representing more than half of those searches. When optimizing your content, you want to make sure that your valuable material uses keywords in a way that matches what your intended audience is likely to type into the search box. There are tech search engine tools that can help you understand what your customers are searching for and how well you and your competitors are meeting that demand.

4. Understanding How and Why People Share Content

People’s desire to share content is directly related to their relationships with the recipients and how the content will influence their relationships with friends and followers. The New York Times Customer Insight Group found 5 reasons that people shared content.

  • 49 percent of people indicated that they shared content as a form of entertainment
  • 68 percent indicated that they shared content that helped them define themselves
  • 78 percent shared content that helped them stay connected to others and nurture their relationships
  • 69 percent shared content that helped them feel more involved in the world
  • 84 percent shared content that supported a particular cause

When people share your content, it offers you value on many levels. One, it helps drive more traffic to your page, which is a great boost to SEO and ranking. It is also good for your reputation as those sharing are generally vouching for your brand. Finally, according to the NYT Customer Insight Group survey, 73 percent of the participants said that they were able to process information more deeply when they share it with others. When you create content worth sharing, you increase engagement with those original readers.

To leverage this psychology, you need to find ways to bring value to your readers and help them define themselves. When your content helps people pass along helpful or interesting information to their own connections, they become more likely to share it. As with the other aspects of customer psychology, the driving point behind these users is value.jim-yu-third-image

As you learn more about why people share content, it will become easier for you to leverage powerful tools like influencer marketing. Influencers are key people within your industry that have large followings of consumers in your intended audience. People trust these influencers as third parties to provide them with awesome and helpful content. When you get these people to share your content, the advertising potential can be extraordinary.

To leverage influencer marketing, you need to begin by identifying a few key influencers who have the audience to help them. Share their content and work on building a relationship. By producing high value pieces that will engage your influencers and their audiences, you will then position yourself to slowly take advantage of this technique. It often takes time to build influencer relationships and see the desired results, but when you accomplish them, the results can be very valuable.

5. Conversion Optimization and People’s Propensity to Buy

There is also a considerable amount of psychology involved in determining a person’s likelihood to make a purchase. Although people might like to think that their buying decisions are entirely rational and influenced only by the merits of the product, psychological factors do have an enormous impact on whether or not you are going to click the ‘Buy’ button.

One of the easiest psychological indicators for marketers to leverage is the power of peer pressure. Customers are heavily influenced by what their friends are doing, or at least what they perceive friends are doing, which means that adjusting your phrasing on conversion copy can increase the odds of people making a purchase. For example, in 2008, researchers Noah Goldstein and Robert Cialdini measured the behavior of hotel guests when encouraged to reuse their towels. The sign encouraging them to do so while indicating that most other guests in that room also reused their towel saw 33 percent more success than the control sign, which simply asked people to consider the environment and reuse the towel.

Psychology also comes into play when you are trying to convince people to sign up for your opt-in content. The human brain is constantly trying to gauge the risk and cost of behaviors, which includes purchases. That means your landing pages must show clear value for the user. You also need to minimize the ‘cost’ to the brain by making sure that you do not ask for more information than you absolutely need. Even one additional ‘optional’ field can diminish conversions.


Psychology can be a powerful factor in the development of successful content. Search has gone beyond trying to game search engines for maximum exposure. It now revolves around the end users, users’ intent, and what is useful and relevant for them.

To create content that performs well in search, you must understand what your user seeks so that you can anticipate desires, create useful content, and optimize it accordingly. Accurately targeting this demand through search engine best practices and content mapping, along with an understanding of social and influencer psychology can ensure that your content gets the attention and traffic you intended.

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