September 2022

The Stages of Potential Customer Search


Sales Funnel

Not all searches entered into Google or other search engines are equal. There are several important categories of searches that Internet users perform. In this article we focus on:

  1. Navigational queries
  2. Informational queries
  3. Transactional queries

We will discuss several stages your audience will move through as they progress from general interest to a specific preference and finally to a resolution of their needs. We will also see how several key search types aligned with audience intent and how you can utilize your knowledge of your audience to better drive the right traffic to your website. The best way to get inside the heads of searchers and figure out the types of queries they are using is to look at the stages of search and buyer intent throughout these stages.

This may change a little because a user isn’t always looking to buy something but the path and process will be similar. Users will start with a broad topic and gradually refine their search terms to be more specific as they discover exactly what they want. At the beginning of the purchase path, Organic Search helps customers gain awareness of your brand product or service. At this beginning stage, your potential customer has identified a need and is seeking a resolution. Let’s use an example potential customer to illustrate the search process.

The Awareness Stage

Let’s say Edward decides he needs a computer, but he doesn’t know what kind. Like most people, he turns to Google and enters the keywords best computers to buy. Looking through the search engine results; Edward quickly realizes that this search is too broad. To get the best results, he will need to refine his preferences and evaluate specific types of computers. Edward decides he would like a laptop instead of a desktop computer, so he refines his search to the best laptop to buy his results. He is shown a huge variety of different laptops and realizes he needs to narrow down his choices. There are different laptops for different uses. Some people use laptops for school. Others use laptops for gaming or graphic design. In this example, Edward decides he wants a gaming laptop, so he looks up gaming laptop reviews to help him decide on a specific choice. After reading reviews, Edward has decided on a specific laptop brand and model he wants.

The Comparative Shopping Stage

Occasionally, your potential customers will seek the best prices, the highest quality products, or the service provider or merchant with the best online reputation. In our example, Edward has narrowed his search and is homing in on the best gaming laptop based on customer reviews as well as the best vendor from whom to make the purchase.

The Purchase Stage

Edward is now in the purchase stage and searches for a specific laptop brand and model number.

So – your potential customers start with 1) general awareness of what you were looking for. They then 2) evaluate those choices and develop a specific preference. 3) They look into that preference and 4) decide and move on to the Purchase or Resolution Stage.

Having an Organic presence (via Organic SEO) is useful in all stages of the cycle but is more useful the closer you get to the actual purchase phase. You generally don’t need a lot of visibility during the initial stage of awareness, although it can be beneficial to have a brand presence here, so users recognize your brand or website later. It can be helpful to have organic visibility in both the evaluation and preference intent phase because the user may decide to convert and remember your site.

The purchase phase can be very beneficial to SEO visibility because this is where the user is actively looking to buy a product, hire a service provider, or perform a specific action. Their query means they do not have a specific site in mind for their purchase. If your site has visibility during this stage, you have a greater chance of attracting and converting users.

Stages of Consumer Search

Types of Search Queries and Searcher Intent

In addition to the stages of a search, you have specific types of search queries. Each type of search query has a different intent associated with it. These types of queries are navigational, informational, and transactional.

Navigational Queries

The first type of query is known as a navigational query. In this case, the user has a specific website in mind. Perhaps they have spent some time on a specific website in the past and enjoyed that site’s content. In this type of query, they search for the website or brand name directly and visit the brand’s website. Let’s use Adidas as an example. The high brand focus means that users are looking for your brand by exact name and will be more engaged with your website usually resulting in higher conversion rates.


Customer Reviews

Note: You should be constantly aware of your brand being mentioned on search engines results pages and social media platforms. A negative story about your brand may influence potential customers’ decision to visit your site let alone convert and make a purchase. You should also note that brand searches can pull up your Twitter account and your latest tweets. It’s important to ensure that your social media team always maintains brand focus on social channels and posts regularly.

Informational Queries

With these types of searches, people are looking to get a bit more information about a topic or to make an informed decision before making a purchase or hiring a service provider. This is the middle stage of the buying funnel. An example would be someone searching for reviews while looking to hire a local general contractor to install an HVAC system. Note that during this stage, users are more likely to notice suggested search queries. These are queries people have typed into Google when searching for a general contractor or a gaming laptop. When potential customers see the list of suggested queries, it may change the query they use. You can use suggested queries to generate potential content ideas for your website.

Transactional Queries

At this point, browsers are ready to make a purchase. They lean heavily on Google to provide the results they need for their search query. At this stage, your potential customer has decided to purchase a specific gaming laptop or hire a particular general contractor after reviewing all relevant information.

Note that not all transactional queries have to result in an actual transaction. Someone could be trying to sign up for a newsletter or create a free account. These are also steps along the road to becoming a paying customer.

These three types of queries are closely aligned with the stages of search and are great for ensuring that you are targeting the right keywords to match the searcher intent of your target audience and generating conversions

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