Get Inside Their Head – The Psychology of Search

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Why Did You Type That?

How much benefit will SEO add to your business? SEO seems to be half art and half science, and the benefits from your SEO campaign are only as good as the person you hire to optimize your online presence. Your SEO professional needs to understand how to define your target market as well as understand what drives the choices of your market. This quality is what separates fantastic online marketers from the mundane. Does your SEO professional consider the underlying mentalities that drive the actions and choices of your market, or do they just see your target audience as numbers in a keyword or analytics tool?

Keyword research tools are provide invaluable insight into search traffic statistics, and modern online marketers couldn’t do without them. However, they do little to explain why and how users search for the solutions to their problems. Understanding the mentality, psychology, and behavioral patterns of your target market is a powerful tool that can be used to help you rise above the white noise in your industry. Having a better understanding of human behavior as it relates to web searches is crucial knowledge if your business has even a small online presence.

Formulating a Question

Understand that first and foremost, users don’t find themselves in front of a search engine page by happenstance. They pulled up their web browser because they have a concrete, definable problem. Perhaps their problem is boredom and they seek to entertain themselves with the latest version of Candy Crush. Maybe they don’t know how to spell a word, need to locate auto repairs in their local area, need to find an over the counter solution to their health problems, or find local eateries. Essentially, there is a knowledge gap that users are seeking to fill – and they turn to the Internet to solve their problems.

People are Dynamic and Difficult to Predict

We have all heard the expression, “Different strokes for different folks.” It seems that this expression also applies to the methods people use to employ the Google search engine to find their information.

In a recent study conducted by Blue Nile Research, queries made by participants were analyzed to measure how often they were fragmented (only two or three words) or complete (four or more words). There seemed to be a 50/50 split, and this study identified two patterns of behavior regarding search engine users.

Some people like to fragment their query so they can click through several links on the first page (perhaps additional pages, too) of results to find their information. On the other hand, people that make full or long-tail queries generally want to find exactly what they are looking for on the first try.

Query Phrasing

In addition, the study uncovered the fact that users usually phrase their queries in different ways. The study asked users to make queries for a specific problem, and it was discovered that users used anywhere between 2 and 8 words to structure their query. That is all over the map! Furthermore, though it was more common to use less words, no single word count (2 through 8) accounted for even 30% of the queries.

Question Phrasing vs Non-Question Phrasing

Digging a little deeper, the study also showed that as much as 27% of users phrased their keywords in the form of a question. On the other hand, some people directly type a statement into the search engine. People take different approaches to find the same information, and you need to cater to all types of users to gain a larger share of traffic from your search terms.

Variations in Interrogatives

Furthermore, it was noted that people choose different approaches to phrasing their questions. People use different interrogatives to craft their query, and you will want to tailor your content and SEO keywords to cater to these different approaches. For example, the study noticed differences such as the following:

  • Why is my ankle swollen vs. What makes an ankle swell
  • How to fix a broken coffee maker vs Why my coffee maker won’t turn on

Including different variations of these interrogatives that seek to solve the same problem in your content will help you appeal to more readers.

What This Means for Your SEO Strategy

Understanding the different ways people search for their information certainly affects your SEO strategy. While you may think that targeting a prized high traffic keyword will be the centerpiece to your online marketing strategy, you need to remember to adopt a well-rounded approach.

For example, given the spread of keywords people used in one example from this study (anywhere between 2 and 8 words for the same problem), failing to target long-tail keywords could mean you are missing a massive chunk of your target market. Ultimately, you need to understand that people’s thought processes are inherently different, and you need to adapt your marketing strategy to appeal to these different processes. If you don’t, you could be losing boatloads of free traffic to competitors.

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