Customer’s Path to Purchase to Win at the Pay-Per-Click Game
When it comes to online, pay-per-click (PPC) advertising,
most companies make the same mistake: Every keyword they use drives
prospects to their homepage, as they believe their homepage is the
best and broadest place to drop prospects. This single mistake costs
companies thousands of dollars each year in lost sales and increased
In order to choose and use the right keywords at the right
time in your pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns, you must be clear about
your customers’ intent at each stage of the buying cycle and their
search. Consider, for a moment, how people search. Typically they’ll
start with a very basic search term and view the results in a search
engine. Unsatisfied with the results, they add another term onto
their search string. Still unsatisfied, they add another search term
… and then another … and then another … until they get the results
This process of adding keywords to a generic initial search
term until “valuable” or “relevant” search results appear is called
a “keyword tail.” For example, let’s say that John Smith of Dayton,
Ohio has a broken television on the Friday before the big game. His
TV is too big to fit in his car, and he is freaking out! John turns
to the Internet to find a possible solution to this problem. He
starts by performing a search using the keyword “television.”
However, this does not give him results that address his pain. So he
incrementally adds keywords that get him closer to easing his pain
and solving his problem. Here’s what his keyword tail might
ultimately look like: Television + Repair + Sony + Dayton, OH + On
Site Repair. If the ad John Smith clicks on immediately takes him to
a relevant page that provides the information he is seeking, then
that’s the repair shop that’s likely to get John’s business.
Unfortunately, the path to purchase doesn’t usually take
place quite so quickly. The various buying stages typically occur
over time, instead of in one sitting. John Smith’s situation simply
illustrates how searchers add terms in an iterative process until
they get what they’re looking for.
On the path of purchase, there are times when broad,
informational terms are appropriate. Someone might type in the
generic term “mountain bikes” because he wants general information
about mountain bikes – brands, features, prices, and comparisons.
And if he’s using that term and staying on that page, then you want
to deliver what he’s asking for. But people don’t type in “mountain
bikes” when they’re ready to buy one. Rather, they type in a much
longer keyword with lots of specifics added.
The Three Buying
The various stages in the buying cycle prompt different kinds of
consumer searches. During the information phase, the search
query usually involves one- or two-word generic information terms.
The shopping cycle usually involves two- to three-word
generic terms. And during the buying phase, consumers
are likely to use four-word or longer keywords with less generic
terms that include brand names and detailed specifications.
The key to PPC success is knowing how your prospects shop
during each phase. Therefore, you need to think like your prospects
and customize the results you give them based on their search terms.
Simply having every searcher land on your homepage is a formula for
disaster. Here are some details to consider for each phase.
During this stage, customers don’t know what they want yet. They are
only aware of a pain, a problem, a need, or a desire that they’re
trying to solve or meet. It is akin to customers driving around the
outside of a mall, not sure what stores they might visit.
Your broadest terms – the most “generic” keywords – are your
informational keywords. These are the shortest search terms, usually
only one or two words. What you provide the searcher at a one-word
keyword search should be different than when they type in a longer
keyword string. Always keep in mind the searcher’s pain, desire and
intent, which are revealed by their search terms. When the
customer types “television” into the search box, he or she is in the
information and research gathering stage. That customer is not ready
to buy. Therefore, having your prospect go to your homepage for
general information would be appropriate at this phase.
As a general rule, the higher the price-point of an item, the
longer the information stage. A customer looking for a $2 widget
will usually move through information-gathering rather quickly,
whereas someone researching $2,000 televisions will have a much
longer information-gathering stage.
Shopping Phase: Once customers have moved past the research
stage, they begin shopping – looking at and comparing features,
sizes, colors, brand names, price-points, and retailers. In the
world of online purchasing, this is akin to someone walking around
the mall and visiting the various stores. This phase is when
customers put more words onto their search terms, such as “Sony
Silver Flat Panel” and “Sony Plasma 37 Inch.” They add more
modifiers onto their root search term and more specific keywords in
order to get more detailed results. Longer and more specific search
strings indicate that the customer is in hardcore shopping mode.
At this point, rather than drop someone off at your homepage
for general information, you want to deliver prospects directly to
the specific information they’re looking for. So if you sell
televisions, and the prospect types in “Sony Plasma 37 Inch
Television,” you want them to land on the page that features that
specific product. Only you know how long this phase generally lasts
in your own business and what the most important information to
deliver at this point is.
Purchasing keywords are the longest and most specific searches of
all, indicating that the prospect is ready to make a buying
decision. Your customer is at the cash register and opening his or
her wallet. While there is no single term that will absolutely tell
you they are ready to buy, there are certain assumptions you can
make based on the length and specificity of the keyword phrase.
Therefore, at this point make sure you bring people directly to your
shopping cart page.
Note that your longer, more specific, highly-targeted keyword
phrases will have a lower search volume than more general terms.
That should not cause you undue concern, however, because their
conversion rate will be higher. In other words, the targeted
purchasing keywords will put you in front of customers who know
exactly what they want and who are ready to buy. When customers type
in keywords like “Television 32 Inch Sony Flat Screen Plasma Denver
Colorado,” they are done shopping. They have decided on what
they’re going to buy and in what geographical area. If you go to the
extra effort of running a long-string, highly-specific keyword in
your campaign such as what the prospect would typically type during
this phase, you’re going to be right there when the person’s credit
card is coming out.
Your Path to
You may be
wondering why you can’t simply run PPC campaigns with purchasing
terms only in order to get in front of customers when they’re ready
to buy. The answer is that sometimes you have to start building
trust, authority and name recognition with prospects before they’ll
buy from you. Even if you offer something totally unique or
phenomenal, prospects won’t consider you a real contender unless you
build the relationship with them.
ultimate goal is for your company to be found easily under every
keyword or keyword phrase that is relevant to your business—and
at every stage in your customers’ path to purchase. That’s how you
get business from the Internet. So pay attention to your customer's
path to purchase, give them a great user experience by keyword, and
you will win in PPC advertising.
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