May 12, 2015

SEO Chart: How customers form queries in search engines to find content

SUMMARY: How do customers search for information online?

Maybe I should phrase it this way: Which words do customers type into search engine queries?

In this week’s chart, we’ll look at research focused on determining specific words customers use when formulating questions for search queries to help you focus the wording of your own content.
by Daniel Burstein, Director of Editorial Content

Blue Nile Research asked 183 randomly selected online users how they would formulate a search query for three specific scenarios…

Q1: Imagine you wake up one morning and find that your coffee maker no longer turns on. In the box below, enter the phrase exactly as you would type into Google to find a solution.

Q2: Imagine you wake up one morning and find that your ankle has swollen up to twice its normal size. In the box below, enter the phrase exactly as you would type into Google to find a solution.

Q3: Imagine you are in the market for a new laptop but have not yet decided on a manufacturer or model. In the box below, enter the phrase exactly as you would type into Google to research a new laptop.

View Chart Online

Click here to see a printable version of this chart

The above chart shows the results from an analysis of the open-ended responses to these three questions.

Customers want to know "how" to solve problems

Using the word “how” was the most popular way for customers to formulate a search query.

That makes sense. When faced with a specific challenge or opportunity, customers often want to know "how" to overcome it or "how" to best benefit from it.

However, this preference was not overwhelming. Only 38% of online users had the word "how" in their query — not even a simple majority.

Understanding the customer thought sequence

The search words used may indicate that different types of customers are in different stages in the buying cycle — even when faced with the exact same scenario.

For example, faced with the first challenge, a plurality of customers may want to know "how" to fix the coffeemaker. However, there may be a smaller group that is simply interested in knowing "which" coffeemaker is the best to purchase — right this moment, before they lose their caffeine buzz.

People may be browsing because they’re doing background research or just killing time, or they may be laser-focused on finding specific info in a short amount of time. As one survey respondent noted, "Different people search in different ways. Some people are very short with their search and like to click around. Me, I like to figure out the best way to phrase my search and find my answer right away rather than click around."

When creating content, it’s important to consider your ideal customer’s journey:
  • How would they approach a challenge or opportunity that could ultimately lead to the purchase of your product?

  • How can you serve them whether they purchase from you or not?

  • What information do they need in what sequence?

  • How many possible customer journeys are there (within reason), and how can you serve each of them?

  • What mode(s) could they be in, and how can you serve these modes with content (curiosity, research and information gathering, instant purchase, etc.)?

Possible variations among industries

There are variations among industries as well. This data, for example, covers consumer goods, health care and electronics.

In a previous Chart of the Week article, we shared discoveries about the most and least shared types of content for different industries. From that data we learned that how-to articles were the most shared content … in the food industry.

However, in the news industry, "what" posts were most frequently shared. In the lifestyle industry, "why" posts were most popular.

Start with "how"

While there are many caveats to this information and, really, all of the macro-level data we publish, once you start drilling down into individual and segmented customer behavior (and you should research to learn what works best for your unique segment of customers as well), don’t overlook the key lesson of this week’s chart.

"How" is a good place to start with your content marketing. If you’re not sure what type of content you should create to serve potential customers and attract interest to your products, start by teaching your customers "how" fix their problems and meet their goals.

Related Resources

Subscribe to MarketingSherpa Chart of the Week — Gain access to the data and discoveries to help you better serve customers and improve your marketing performance

Psychology of the Searcher: Patterns in how searcher formulate queries (by Nathan Safran on Blue Nile Research)

Search Marketing: Insights on keyword research and customer personas

Best Practices for Improving Search and Social Marketing Integration

Local Marketing Chart: How do customers search for products and services?

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