SEO and Psychology: The Behavior of the Online Consumer

In 2013, Google gave $1.2 million in awards to people researching social computing. Why do you think that is? Because Google is trying to understand how people interact with algorithms. Have you noticed that each major technological update correlates to a consumer behavior trait that has changed the landscape of search? Google’s algorithm leans more on psychological concepts than ever before. Shouldn’t we, as digital marketers focused on staying on top of search trends, understand the same psychological concepts that have (and will continue to) change the landscape of search?

Ever-evolving algorithm updates

In 2005, Google launched its “personalized search” algorithm update. This was the first time they created an update that was specifically tailored for consumer satisfaction rather than business needs. This algorithm is the one that uses your search history to deliver better results. In 2010, Social Signals was launched – noting that a person’s habits among social media platforms directly affect how they shop and what they look for on the Internet.

Since then, there have been four major Google algorithm updates since and they’ve drastically affected consumer experiences:

Consumer behavior: People land top search results and are unhappy with the information provided due to bad content, misleading information, etc.

Google response: Panda update, 2011. Knocks sites with poor quality content from top search engine results.

Consumer behavior: A site has a referring link to something they may want, but it leads to spam, perhaps from the offender purchasing links to boost results.

Google response: Penguin update, 2012. This algorithm update was formed to catch sites performing these, now black hat, technique. Sites that slipped through the Panda cracks could be caught in this one.

Consumer behavior: People have to type in multiple combinations of terms to get the desired result. Life would be a lot easier if Google knew what someone was talking about without them having to spell it out word for word.

Google response: Hummingbird, 2013. This was a complete algorithm overhaul that introduced search “entities” – a way for bots to use association and synonyms to better understand a user’s intent, which delivers desired search results faster.

Consumer behavior: People are utilizing mobile search more than ever and are increasingly frustrated when they have to constantly expand page size, constantly scroll, and run into trouble clicking call-to-action buttons.

Google response: “Mobilegeddon”, 2015. Google gives a boost to mobile-friendly sites.

The More Specific the SEO, the Better the Results

It’s not enough anymore to simply manipulate page content for a top spot on search engines. Companies must understand why people search for the topics they do, and what they offer to the consumer that other brands don’t. Your metrics should be based on goals that address specific customer needs alongside your business needs. Go a step further when determining who your market is. Don’t just say, “Middle-aged, blue-collar, men.”

Dive deeper: Unmarried men with an income of $40K-$60K annually, between the ages of 30-45 and rely on mobile search due to busy schedules. For example, if your brand deals with customers who are always on the go), you know that you’ll need a quick sales funnel with snappy, to-the-point content and a site that is well-optimized for mobile. This is solely based on the behavior of your target audience, and the more specific your understanding and execution of it, the better off you are.

Your Site Is a Storefront

People tend to judge a company based on their online presentation. That means you should treat your website as less of a placeholder destination and more as a salesperson. Every word placed on your site should be strategically selected to elicit a reaction in response to your consumer’s behavior. Like a confident, knowledgeable salesperson, your site should sweep the consumer up, and direct them exactly where they need to go.

Look, if someone comes to your site and faces broken pages and spam links, they’re not returning. If they have a clean experience, they may convert and refer people to your product. You must analyze how the people who land on your site behave. Who’s going straight for the “Shop Now” button? Who browses a few pages before they leave the site? What does that mean? This is why usability testing and A/B split testing are becoming crucial to the success of your online presence. If you can take reactive steps to enhance your site after gathering behavioral data, you can shoot to the top of the search totem pole.

All About Psychological Principles

Dr. Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence, touches on principles that should be applied to all aspects of marketing.

Reciprocity – If you do something for me, I’m likely to return the favor.Commitments – If I commit to something with you, no matter how small, I’m more likely to commit to things with you in the future.Affinity – I’m more likely to trust people that remind me of…well…me.

Social Proof – If others have done something before, I may do it too.

Authority – I’m more likely to listen to someone with a “voice” rather than an “average Joe”.

Rarity – If something feels like it is one-of-a-kind, I’m more likely to jump on it, because there’s a chance I won’t have the opportunity to do so later on down the line.

Make people want to commit to your top-notch product so they’ll come back for more. Help a smaller brand build their presence – they may return the favor for you down the line. Show consumers that you have the experience to solve their problem because you’ve been there before. Promote your authority in your space.

Traditional search strategies are just as relevant as they’ve ever been. It’s how we approach these elements that are changing. The Internet is a hub of information utilized by humans to answer a question or solve a problem. But if you understand what a person wants, you can take steps to answer their question. This is why search engines are constantly evolving. They want to understand people and so do you. This is what psychology is.

If you can synthesize psychological concepts into your digital marketing strategies, you’ll find that you may end up one step ahead of the competition.

By Jess Carson

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