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The search process is quite simple and very complex at the same time. I’m not talking about algorithms and results, but how people going to a search engine actually conduct a search process.

Understanding the psychology behind the search process makes us better advertisers and SEOs.

Let’s examine how people search in order to learn how to connect with them.

The first step is why people go to a search engine.

People don’t go to a search engine to browse the web. They go there because they have a question to be answered.

The question could be how to spell a word, where to buy a book, a nearby plumber’s phone number, or how to back up MySQL. The potential questions are limitless.
The basic reasoning is simple. You don’t know a piece of information, and you wish to find it.

What determines the search query?

Most people don’t think in words, most of us think in concepts and pictures. The way those items are translated into words are known as ‘keywords’ or the ‘search query’.

While that sounds simple, this is very complex. Consider this scenario:

It’s February in Chicago and the temperature doesn’t break 10 degrees for two weeks. On Saturday evening, the frigid air causes the pipes in your basement to freeze, and then to burst, which floods your basement. You’d like a plumber to come out immediately to pump fix your pipes and get rid of the water in your basement.

This is a scenario which happens almost every year in Chicago. What are the ways someone could interpret those events to type them into a search engine? This is by no means a comprehensive list, it’s just a small sample set of possibilities:

  • plumber
  • Chicago plumber
  • weekend plumbing services
  • broken pipes
  • flooded basement
  • how do I get water out of my basement?
  • emergency plumbing services
  • 60626 plumber
  • plumber website
  • plumber phone number
  • emergency pipe repair
  • frozen pipe help

The list can go on and on. Each one of us interprets events differently. We also describe the same scenario differently. However, each query is relevant, and each of the above keywords is how people look for answers.

The SERPs – Expectations

The next step is typing your query into a search engine. SERPs stands for ‘search engine results pages’.

It is important to remember, as humans, every time we do an action, we have an expectation of what is to come.

In the current scenario, we would expect to see results about finding a plumber in Chicago who can come to our house on a Saturday evening to fix the basement.

If we see ads and websites that don’t connect with our current interpretation (the keyword query), searchers are less likely to click on them. The closer the ad (or website description) matches our query, the more likely searchers are to visit that website.

The SERPs – Connecting with Answers

The query is typed, the enter key is hit, and within seconds the searcher is presented with many possible answers.

At this point in time, there are five possible scenarios:

  1. The searcher sees a possible answer and clicks on a result (ad or natural result)
  2. The searcher doesn’t see anything that meets their expectations and refines their query
  3. The search clicks on another result type (maps, images, etc) looking for an answer
  4. The searcher decides to try the search on another engine
  5. The searcher abandons the quest for answer

The marketers job is to connect with the searcher. The ad or result should be waving it’s hand and saying ‘I have your answer, come click on me’.

If one of the results on the page connects with the searcher, holds the promise of an answer, and meets the searchers expectation, a click generally occurs.

The Landing Page

You achieved the click, brought a new visitor to your website, now what? The battle for conversions is not over.

You must still meet the searchers expectation. Before the searcher clicked from the SERP to your website, they had an expectation of what information they would see on the landing page.

  • Does your landing page meet their expectation?
  • Does it contain the answer?
  • Does someone know what to do next?
  • Should the searcher hit the back button?

The page must meet the searchers expectation. It should be a continuation of the ad copy for the landing page to convert. Any forms should be simple. You aren’t trying to surprise the visitor, you are just simply answer their question and telling them the answer (i.e. the plumber’s phone number) , or how to achieve that answer (shopping cart).

The Search Process is Linear

  1. We search because we’re seeking information.
  2. We all interpret events differently, how an event is interpreted determines the search query.
  3. When one does a search, we have an expectation of the search results possibilities.
  4. An offer on the SERP page should connect with the searcher and hold the promise of an answer.
  5. When one clicks on SERP result, they have an expectation of the website.
  6. The website should direct the visitor to find the answer.

When all of the above are done in a fluid process – conversions happen. Searchers find information. Businesses make money. The process continues.

The concept of search is simple, I have a question and I’m looking for an answer.

The process of meeting people’s expectations is complex.

Understanding the Psychology of Search should put you on the road from simply ensuring your website is on a search result to driving conversions for your business.

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