When users look for information online, they usually begin their journey on Google. In fact, 93 percent of online experiences begin on a search engine, and Google is the most popular engine.
In the early days of Google, they set out to answer users’ questions. Today, Google still answers your questions, but it’s much more complicated than before. Google changes their algorithm relatively frequently as they discover better ways to power the engine, but when they rolled out their 2018 changes, they didn’t just make a few tweaks—they changed the way searchers and search history are understood.
The search giant has begun analyzing factors like searcher intent and journeys, an understanding that only time and ridiculous volumes of data could truly inform. Google has taken these factors into account to better understand what searchers are actually looking for when they enter a phrase or question.
They call their new way of conceptualizing your use of the engine your “search journey.” And it makes perfect sense. If you’re anything like us, your use of the engine isn’t linear—you type a phrase, browse the results, happen upon a better word to describe what you are looking for, return to the search bar to enter a new phrase, browse the results again, and the process continues.
Google Search Journey’s AI utilizes information about people’s search behavior and interests, browsing history, purchase history, and more to understand the context of a user’s query, rather than the words alone, which allows Google to present results that users are ready to see—so the results meet you where you are in your journey.
What Fueled The Changes?
Google wanted to go beyond understanding words and into understanding the context of searches. This allows the search engine to offer not just answers to questions, but solutions to problems, tailored to a user’s specific position in their search journey. But wait…how does Google know enough to be able to do that?
Google’s artificial intelligence takes into account what you have searched for in the past and what sites from those searches you have spent time on to predict what you might want or need next. It uses this information to know how much you already know about the topic of your search.
Say you’d like to look at car seats for babies, and you enter a broad search term, like “car seats.” The old algorithm might give you links to sites that sell car seats, because it wanted to offer relevant answers to your query. It based these answers off keyword match, relevancy, and proximity. Before showing product pages, though, the new algorithm might show you links to blog posts about the best car seats for babies or information about car seat safety, because the new algorithm places a huge focus on the intention behind the search and views search as a journey.
How Search Journeys Work
For starters, Google can better predict what you need so you are better served. Google does its best to deduce the underlying motivations behind each search to provide the best results for its users.
Take this example of a search journey:
You need to find a florist for your wedding. You start by performing some Google searches with phrases like “wedding florist near me” or “florists in birmingham.”
Once the results hit, you find the page titles that match your interests best, and you click through a few pages. You aren’t ready to make any calls or commit to any one florist yet, so you take a mental note of the ones you’re interested in and put the search to rest for a bit.
After thinking on it, you’re ready to pick the florist search back up, but this time, you’re more prepared to make a call and a purchase. You search the same phrase again, “florists near me,” but this time, Google might present you with reviews of the florists you saw in the first search or with information about how to choose a florist.
Google Search Journey’s AI understands that users start with a problem, search for a solution, consider all their options, and then make a final decision. Google is able to provide its users with relevant information for each stage of their journey by understanding the journey itself and each user’s stage in it through search history tracking.
How Do Search Journeys Affect SEO?
The introduction of search journeys by Google provides SEO professionals with a more nuanced understanding of the users themselves. SEO-ers are now focused on mapping keywords for specific stages of the buyer journey rather than casting a wide net with little regard for what users know and need at specific times. And as you might have guessed, the SEO process affected most by the advent of search journeys is keyword research.
Identifying user intent has changed the keyword research game. If your user is looking for education, you want to educate. If the user is ready to convert, you want to convert them. But without understanding user intent, you can’t effectively do either!
The new keyword research process goes a little like this:
- Categorize keywords by type: informational, navigational, or transactional
- Map your keywords for each stage
- Create content that meets users at each stage of their journey
Informational Keywords and Content
Informational keywords align with the first stage of the search journey. Users have identified that they have a want or a need, and they have begun to look for a solution. But what they are most in need of now is information and education.
Keywords of this type are broad and unspecific, like “keto diet” or “weight loss plan.”
When writing tailored content for informational keywords, we usually opt for writing longer form blog posts that address user questions and concerns. Since this is the most inquisitive stage of the search journey, the blog content naturally takes the form of guides, how-tos, and listicles.
Navigational Keywords and Content
Navigational keywords direct users to a specific brand, product, or service. At this stage of the search journey, users have already surveyed their options and are now in the process of making a decision. Google Search Journey’s AI will probably present users with content from sites they are already familiar with, which Google knows through search history.
Keywords in the navigational stage might include “keto diet reviews” or “weight loss experts,” and might even include the names of specific weight loss experts in the query.
Content tailored for navigational keywords typically comes in the form of branded pages, like optimized service pages or “Contact Us” pages. This is because Google knows the user is becoming more comfortable with the idea of converting at this point. Branded content becomes more effective at this stage, and contains more specific industry-related and product-related terms.
Transactional Keywords and Content
Transactional keywords drive users to the final stage of their journey: conversion. This is the point when the user has already completed a good amount of research, explored multiple options, and has decided to take action.
Keywords for users in this stage include “apply,” ”buy,” “discount,” “where to buy,” etc.
The Search Journey AI knows how close a user is to conversion, so it will show more action-oriented search results—pages that ask for calls, form submissions, purchases, or some other conversion action.
Content for transactional keywords is usually shorter form and consists of instructions for submitting, calling, ordering, etc.
Ready to Revamp Your SEO Approach?
In the world of SEO, we are tasked with constantly adapting to a changing landscape—and search journeys are just the latest update. If you’re invested in updating your strategy but want to learn more, reach out to our team of SEO gurus. We’d love to talk!