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Google’s Shift from Answers to Journeys: What Does It Mean for SEO?

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Google’s Shift from Answers to Journeys: What Does It Mean for SEO?

From dog training to fidget spinners, when users look for information, they usually start their journey with a Google search.

It used to be that Google’s algorithm tried its best to give users the answers they were searching for. However, today, things aren’t that simple.

With concepts like user intent and the buyer’s journey becoming increasingly important, Google has revamped its algorithm in order to better understand what users are actually searching for when they type in a phrase or question.

But when Google announced their new update in 2018, no one expected that they would not only be changing their algorithm, but that they would actually be changing the way we think about user searches and search history altogether.

Enter Search Journeys.

Why the Change to Search Journeys?

With Search Journeys, Google uses AI to better understand the language that users use when they search.

That is, Search Journeys looks at context – and uses that knowledge to show users content that is most relevant to where they are at in their journey rather than simply giving them an answer to a question.

Google’s AI looks at where users have been, what they have searched for in the past, and what they are likely to look for or do next.

This challenges the way that we have previously seen web searches. It also reveals how Google uses prior search history in an entirely new way in order to present users with better, highly-tailored results.

The Problem with Answers

When users go to look something up online, they first go to their chosen search engine and type in what they want to know.

This could be “painting tips for beginners”, “family lawyer in pasco”, or “how to make a wicker chair”.

In the past, Google focused on giving users the best answer to their question. What was “best” was determined by a variety of factors, like keyword match, relevancy, proximity, and others.

Problem is, the old algorithm didn’t account for what a user meant to do. Rather, it simply tried to find the best fit (i.e., answer) to what they searched for.

Further, Google wasn’t predictive in what to show users next based on previous searches or where they were at in their “search journey”.

The Purpose of Following the User Search Journey

Now, Google knows that there can be a variety of things that users are looking for when they type in a given term, and that there can be many different stages to that process.

Here’s an example of a user’s Search Journey in action:

A user starts their search for a family law attorney in Pasco. They Google a few terms, like “family lawyer near me” and “best family lawyer in pasco”.

After visiting a few law firm websites, making a mental note of who to hit back later, they decide to think on it a bit.

A week later, they Google the same terms again.

Only this time, Google knows what websites they have visited and for how long. The algorithm knows that they aren’t really looking to explore new options, but are wanting to decide between the options they found in their first search.

So, Google may show the user reviews of the law firms they checked out already, or present them with content focused on how to hire a lawyer.

Already, we can see how this lines up with what we already understand about the buyer’s journey.

Users often start by looking for a solution to a problem, then they weigh their options, and then they are ready to buy.

With Search Journeys, Google’s algorithm uses user history to figure out where a user is at in their journey and then present them with content that fits.

How Do Google Search Journeys Work?

The introduction of Search Journeys was built upon a similar concept as Knowledge Graph – a technology that looked at the connections between people, places, things, and facts. However, Search Journeys added AI in order to understand how these connections are built and how they grow over time.

Basically, Search Journeys use this information to understand how user searches and intentions change the more users learn about a topic that they’re interested in.

Activity Cards

Search Journeys uses something called Activity Cards to remember articles and webpages that users have visited after searching a particular topic.

This Activity Card appears at the top of a user’s search feed. It shows users the webpages they have previously visited and how long ago it was that they last viewed the page.

This is so incredible from a user standpoint because it reminds users of what they searched for last and why it was of interest to them. Further, it gives Google important data for what content to present to users next.

But, there is so much more to Search Journeys than the flawless integration of previous search history into search feed. It helps Google generate results that are most likely to match where users are at in their journey – rather than simply presenting them with an answer to a question.

Google Collections

Along with Search Journeys and Activity Cards, Google has also developed what they call Collections.

Collections allow users to save information and content in a Collection in order to refer back to it later. It is similar to what Pinterest does with Boards, but on a much wider scale.

Users can save an article, webpage, or picture to their Collection. They can then visit the Collection later, rename it, edit it, delete anything they no longer want, and even share the Collection to others through a simple link.

Then, within the search results, Google will provide users with even more content relevant to what they have already saved. That’s because the algorithm now has more contextual information to understand where a user is at in their Search Journey.

Users are then presented with content that deepens their knowledge about the topics they are interested in.

What Does This Mean for SEO?

For SEO professionals and digital marketers, the introduction of Search Journeys presents a new way to understand search – primarily, the why behind what users search for.

It’s importance to map keywords to stages of the buyer’s journey, whether it’s the Information, Decision, or Buying stage.

Google Search Journeys use AI and advanced data to determine what stage users are at when they search for something.

For instance:

  • Are they looking for more information about how to solve a problem?
  • Are they ready to compare different solutions and make a decision about what’s best for them?
  • Have they decided on the best solution and now are looking to buy/sign up/hire?

Google’s AI technology is able to figure this out and show users content that matches what it is they are actually searching for and are ready to see.

But you don’t have to be an AI robot in order to apply this to your own SEO strategy.

There’s much to be learned from the introduction of Search Journeys – from how to conduct keyword research to creating content that matches where users are at in their journey.

Journey-Focused Keyword Research

Identifying the intent of the user has been an important part of the keyword research process.

That’s because it isn’t enough to simply consider what terms you are trying to get a website to rank for, but also which terms will draw in the most relevant, targeted and conversion-ready traffic.

Now, it’s worth considering the buyer’s journey.

Here’s how to do it.

While doing keyword research, you can categorize your keywords by type based on what stage the user is likely at when they are searching for that term.

The three main types are:

  • Informational.
  • Navigational.
  • Transactional.

Informational keywords align with the first stage of the buyer’s journey – where the user is aware that they have a problem and are seeking a solution.

These tend to be “know” keywords that lead them to informative content.

Examples:

  • “do I need a lawyer”
  • “family lawyer in waco”
  • “best family lawyer in waco”

Navigational keywords help users find a specific brand, product, or service. They are already aware of the options and now are trying to make a decision.

With Search Journeys, Google will likely show users content from websites that they have looked at previously.

Examples:

  • “bob johnson law firm reviews”
  • “bob johnson law firm”
  • “directions to bob johnson law firm”

Transactional keywords match the final stage of the buyer’s journey – when a user has done their research, explored their options, and is ready to buy, sign up, or hire.

These terms tend to include:

  • “apply”
  • “buy”
  • “discount”
  • “where to buy”
  • “schedule appointment”

We can deduce that Search Journeys can identify when a user has visited a website and is closer to the Buying stage. Google may then show them content that’s more transactional in nature – urging them to schedule a call, submit an application, or buy a product.

Examples:

  • “bob johnson free consultation”
  • “call bob johnson law firm”

Map Your Keywords to Each Stage

By categorizing your keywords based on these three types, you can better identify what kind of content to create around each term.

You can also be confident that you are drawing in users at each stage of the buyer’s journey.

That will help you avoid creating solely informational or solely commercial content (both of which happen quite often) and miss out on more conversion-ready traffic. The transactional keywords, in particular, help you draw in traffic that is most likely to convert.

Creating Content That Matches Where Users Are At

With Search Journeys in mind, SEO pros and website owners can create content that is uber aligned with what users are searching for – and even match it to each stage of the buyer’s journey.

Doing so will help content creators reel in users from each stage; those looking for informational content, those looking for navigational/commercial content, and those looking for transactional (“buying”) content.

Types of Informational Content

Informational content typically takes the form of blog posts that serve to help users learn something or solve a problem.

Targeting those more question-based terms, this type of content tends to be your ultimate guides, how-tos, and listicles.

Some examples of Informational content could be blog posts like:

  • How to Know if You Need a Family Lawyer
  • 10 Ideas for Remodeling Your Kitchen
  • Why You Aren’t Losing Weight with Crash Diets

Types of Navigational & Commercial Content

Navigational content draws in users that looking for a particular brand. Similarly, Commercial content can target branded terms, but also terms related to the industry, type of business, or category of product.

An example of Navigational content is a Contact Us page that targets “[brand name] directions” or even just the brand name itself.

Commercial content could target terms like “best law firm in Waco” or “trusted Waco family lawyer” with an optimized service page or landing page.

If you are doing SEO for a business, they should ideally rank for their own brand name. At the same time, focusing on Commercial terms will draw in users that are looking for a certain type of business rather than a specific brand.

Types of Transactional Content

Transactional content is the content that draws in the users that are most ready to buy. You will typically have less of this content, especially if you only have one or a few sales pages.

For ecommerce stores, this type of content will be particularly helpful. You can optimize your product pages for terms like:

  • “buy [product]”
  • “buy [products] online”
  • “[product] discounts”

Optimize for conversions and you are likely to increase sales through this type of content.

Applying ‘Search Journeys’ to Your SEO Approach

Search Journeys makes it apparent that Google cares about where users are at in their buyer’s journey when they search for content online – and so should you.

If you are simply targeting keywords to match intent or answer user questions, you could be missing out on conversions on certain steps of your funnel.

By categorizing your target keywords and creating content that matches each stage of the buyer’s journey, you have the opportunity to attract users that are:

  • Looking for information.
  • Weighing their options.
  • Ready to buy.

There are conversion points to be set at each stage, and then you can move users down your funnel.

Will you be considering Search Journeys when you next conduct keyword research?

More Resources:


Image Credits

Featured Image: Shutterstock, modified by author, March 2019

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Jason Hennessey

Jason Hennessey is a serial entrepreneur and internationally known search engine optimization (SEO) expert, author and speaker who specializes in ... [Read full bio]

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