The Consumer’s Journey in Making Big-Ticket Purchases

When we look at consumer behavior and what drives the purchase decision, it’s helpful to look specifically at smaller price points vs. big-ticket items. There are definite differences in the path-to-purchase for big-ticket items (i.e., items costing $500 or more).

[Today, Sue is hosting Ronda Slaven, a VP Research Insights and Thought Leadership at Synchrony Financial, as a guest blogger for The Consumer Connection.]

When we look at consumer behavior and what drives the purchase decision, it’s helpful to look specifically at smaller price points vs. big-ticket items. There are definitive differences in the path-to-purchase for big-ticket items (i.e., items costing $500 or more).

When I think about how I purchase shoes, for example, I go through a very different process than when I purchase a mattress. For shoes, I don’t spend a lot of time researching, and I must admit: Some shoe purchases have been impulse buys. But I can’t say the same for a mattress or flat screen TV.

Path to PurchaseIn the 2016 Synchrony Financial Major Purchase Study, we asked consumers specific questions about what they go through when they purchase items costing more than $500.

The results show that consumers spend a certain amount of time researching, both in-store and online. Additionally, some consult friends and check online reviews, and about one third of consumers explore financing for the purchase. But, guess where the purchase is ultimately made? Eighty-two percent of respondents said they ultimately purchase the big-ticket item in-store. Surprised? Let’s explore this further, and add some more numbers to the picture.

For 85 percent of consumers, the path-to-purchase for big-ticket items starts with online research. The vast majority of people used the internet to explore prices and purchase options, up from 80 percent only a year ago. Let’s dig a little deeper:

  • Ninety percent of consumers said they compare prices and promotions to ensure they get the best prices.
  • Eighty-two percent said they wait to make purchases until they get the best deal.

So, comparison shopping is a major part of the big-ticket purchase process.

Let’s go to the next step: in-store research. Even though in-store research takes more time and planning than online research, our study shows that about 70 percent of consumers research the items in physical stores. That’s a pretty healthy percentage.

And how much impact do friends and online reviews have on the purchase? Well, more than half said they consult with friends, and 38 percent check online reviews.

Now, after all this research on the actual purchase, how about financing it? About one third of consumers said they research financing options. It’s a good idea for brands to introduce financing as part of the purchase process, as 47 percent said they might not have made a purchase, or would have shopped with a competitor, if financing was not available. Additionally, 71 percent of cardholders said they prefer retailers that offer promotional options.

And to reiterate, about four in five people purchase the item in a store. For costlier purchases, people like to touch it, feel it, ask questions and feel confident that they know what they’re getting. After all, it’s more complicated to return a washing machine purchased online than it is a pair of shoes.

So, what is the implication for brands selling big-ticket items? Consumers value more than just price when shopping for a high-cost item. The value equation includes price comparison, consumer reviews and cost of shipping/delivery/installation, as well as financing options. Retailers who ensure that their website and communications strategy include these elements come out as winners. And as the digital channel continues to play a prominent role in the shopping journey, brands should consider strategies that increase their online presence, such as search engine marketing and website optimization.

Customers are looking for a seamless shopping experience. It’s important that brands demonstrate value early in the sales process, serve up detailed information through online channels and provide great customer service for that ultimate in-store purchase.

Note: The views expressed in this blog are those of the blogger and not necessarily of Synchrony Financial. All references to consumers and population refer to the survey respondents.

6 Metrics to Consider When Choosing Your Target Keywords

Consider all the advantages of thorough keyword analysis. Online marketers who are well-versed in research techniques can reach more customers while also finding entirely new audiences. They can identify trends and predict changes in their markets. They can audit their SEO strategies and stay in front of the competition.

SEO KeywordsKeywords are the bridge between you and your customers — and in search engine marketing, the ability to pinpoint great keywords can be the difference between success and failure.

Consider all the advantages of thorough keyword analysis. Online marketers who are well-versed in research techniques can reach more customers while also finding entirely new audiences. They can identify trends and predict changes in their markets. They can audit their SEO strategies and stay in front of the competition. This can’t happen without knowing your best keywords.

Here we’ll review six metrics to consider when researching your keywords. Brainstorming is always a good first step, but it’s what you do with your keyword data that can take your SEO to the next level.

Metric No. 1: Search Volume

Gauging the popularity of various keyword terms is a great way to start your research. Obviously, if more people search for a keyword term, then you’re more likely to get visitors to your website by achieving high rankings for that query. Granted, earning high rankings is difficult on more popular keywords, but search volume is still a fundamental element of keyword research.

To determine search volume, use the Google Keyword Planner found within the AdWords interface. Check out the 12-month volume graph that appears with your keyword to see how volume fluctuates throughout the year. Also, remember to factor in the search volumes of closely matched keywords.

Metric No. 2: Search Volume Trends

Do search volumes for certain keywords change over time? This is good to know, especially when you feel like you’re suddenly underperforming for certain search queries. You can glimpse monthly keyword trends in the Google Keyword Planner, or you can review your website’s analytics data to see how traffic from various search queries has fluctuated over the years.

Not all keywords have significant upward or downward trends, but many do — especially given the seasonal nature of business. Home improvement keywords may peak in the spring and summer, then decline in the winter. Holiday keywords might have short peaks, but otherwise be flat. New cars, computers and other merchandise often debut with high search volumes that taper off over several months.

Metric No. 3: Competition in Organic Searches

A good way to boost your SEO more quickly is to identify relevant keywords with less competition. This can be easier said than done, especially in popular business verticals where the paths seem pretty well-travelled.

To check a keyword’s organic competition, use a service such as the Moz Keyword Difficulty percentage. Or, if you don’t want to start an account with another company, you can also use the AdWords competition metric to see how contested a keyword is in the paid results — it’s not the same, but it will give you a ballpark idea of what you’re up against.

What Does a Successful Content Marketing Website Do?

Your website has a tough job. It must appeal to your site visitors in a way that encourages engagement and moves those visitors toward action, and it must do this without necessarily knowing anything about your visitors when they first arrive. Once a visitor has been to the content marketing site or connected with you via social media or email, you have much more information to work with — assuming you have good CRM and marketing automation tools in place.

content marketingCheck out even more about personalization and artificial intelligence with FUSE Enterprise.

Your website has a tough job. It must appeal to your site visitors in a way that encourages engagement and moves those visitors toward action, and it must do this without necessarily knowing anything about your visitors when they first arrive.

Once a visitor has been to the content marketing site or connected with you via social media or email, you have much more information to work with — assuming you have good CRM and marketing automation tools in place.

But even without that information, your site needs to do the following:

  • Address prospects’ problems
  • Educate
  • Demonstrate your experience and expertise
  • Prove effectiveness of your solutions
  • Build trust
  • Provide a way to reach you

With all that is required of an effective marketing website, the planning and strategy that go into the site before the first line of code is written will have an enormous impact on how well your site performs. The tips below will make the process more productive.

Define Success

It often helps to begin at the end: Define what constitutes success. Is success adding a new subscriber to your email list? Getting a prospect to call or request contact with a sales person? Or is it actually completing the sale right there on the site?

If you know what you are hoping to achieve, you can design the site with that goal in mind. Or, we should say, with those goals in mind, because you’re likely to have multiple success points.

Adopt the Proper Perspective

Your site needs to be organized, written and focused on the world from your prospect’s perspective. Your organizational chart doesn’t matter. Nor do your mission, vision, values or your founder’s inspiration.

At least, not at first.

All these things will help bring your brand to life once prospects have been convinced that your solutions can help solve their problems.

Until then, though, nothing about you matters. So make sure your pages dedicated to early-funnel prospects are all about them.

Answer the Right Questions

You know the questions your clients and prospects ask. (If you don’t, stop reading and sit down with your front-line sales people and customer service reps. Their knowledge is going to help your marketing more than I possibly could.) Make sure your website answers those questions and, wherever possible, digs deeper to answer the questions your prospects don’t yet know to ask. This is a critical link in the chain from casual visitor to a prospect who is comfortable enough to engage with you more deeply.

Ask for Action

Every page of your website should lead naturally toward one thing: the next step in the buyer’s journey. That might simply be the next page on the site, subscribing to an email, downloading a white paper or eventually reaching out for contact with your sales team.

The difficult task here is balancing the need to maintain this tight focus while also presenting the visitor with reasonable options for their next steps. Again, planning and strategy will determine what those options should be and how they should be presented.

If you’re successful at defining success, moving prospects toward that end goal and giving them opportunities to engage and commit, you will have created all the elements for success. You’ll have a content marketing site that converts visitors to subscribers, subscribers to leads and leads to clients.

Learn even more about the convergence of technology and branded content at the FUSE Enterprise summit. Artificial intelligence and personalization will be featured among many other techniques and technologies.

 

6 Pro Tips to Customize Your Local SEO to Your Type of Business

Local SEO is a big deal. Whether you run a small business or a larger company with several locations, you risk being invisible to ready-and-willing customers without a viable local SEO strategy — you might as well take the signs off your building and wave as shoppers pass by. Capitalizing on this growing trend isn’t rocket science, but it does take a bit of work.

Grass Roots SEO: 5 Ways to Win Over Local ConsumersLocal SEO is a big deal. Whether you run a small business or a larger company with several locations, you risk being invisible to ready-and-willing customers without a viable local SEO strategy — you might as well take the signs off your building and just wave as shoppers pass by.

What exactly is local SEO? It’s what gets you found when people speak “chimney sweep company in southeast Portland” or “24-hour laundromats in Phoenix” into their smartphones. Search queries are becoming increasingly conversational as Web users shift from desktops to mobile.

Of course, local SEO benefits traditional desktop searches, too (i.e. “Portland chimney sweep company” or “24-hr laundromat Phoenix”). But local SEO flourishes by capturing mobile users in your neighborhood.

Capitalizing on this growing trend isn’t rocket science, but it does take a bit of work. Here, we’ll review six pro tips to customize your local SEO strategy according to your type of business.

Tip 1: Get Squared With Google My Business

Google My Business (GMB) is a free listing service that can get your business seen on Google Search and Maps. In addition to being a valuable tool for consumers, you can use GMB to read and respond to customer reviews, learn how customers find your website online and more.

Just one listing is needed for businesses with single brick-and-mortar locations. If your business has multiple locations, then you’ll need more GMB listings. Or you can hide your address in GMB if you don’t want your address shown, which is useful for home-based businesses.

In a nutshell, your customers must be able to find contact information that’s local to them. You can’t cultivate a good local SEO strategy without that foundational step.

Tip 2: Localize Your Website Content

People who search for goods and services on Google aren’t interested in general, non-specific information — they want localized information that’s relevant to where they live. They want to see local contact information, familiar locator maps and endorsements from neighborhood organizations. They also want to see exactly how you serve their neck of the woods.

If your business is based from a single brick-and-mortar location with just one service area, then your website should have pages for each service, product model or category of products you provide. If based out of more than one location, then your website also needs pages for each business location with unique contact information prominently displayed. Single-location businesses with multiple service areas need separate pages for each major city or region they serve — you get the idea.

Tip 3: Don’t Thin out Your Content

Thin content is an SEO killer. Website content is regarded as thin when it’s too short, low-quality or hardly changed across several pages. The problem is that thin content creates a poor user experience. Google doesn’t want to give its users a bad experience so the ranking algorithm penalizes websites with thin content.

Why does this matter for local SEO? Some marketers attempt to cut corners by reusing content when making region-specific webpages. Don’t do this! Invest the time (or money) to get unique, high-quality content for each of your locations or service areas.

How Google’s Paid Search Layout Affects Organic Search Results

Changes to Google’s paid search results are making it harder for SEO experts to get traffic to their websites the old-fashioned way. As always, though, online marketers are finding ways to adapt — but with less real estate available, it isn’t easy. The big change came earlier this year, when Google stopped showing paid search results on the right side of its search engine result pages (SERPs).

search-engine-76519_640 googleChanges to Google’s paid search results are making it harder for SEO experts to get traffic to their websites the old-fashioned way. But as always, online marketers are finding ways to adapt — but with less real estate available, it isn’t easy.

The big change came earlier this year when Google stopped showing paid search results on the right side of its search engine result pages (SERPs). Google made the change to streamline the user experiences for mobile and desktop, following the announcement that mobile searches now outnumber desktop searches worldwide. But all changes have consequences. To make up for losing side-rail ad placements, Google added extra ad space to the top of some SERPs. Organic search results had already been forced down the page by videos, images, news listings and the Knowledge Graph. The additional ad listing is enough to force organic results completely below the fold, requiring users to scroll down to find them.

Obviously, the change is a huge win for marketers who invest heavily in AdWords. The prices for those top-ranked positions have increased, but suddenly you can buy your way to what used to be the top organic search result.

What does this mean for marketers who focus on organic results? The short answer is “it depends.” The full answer is a bit more complicated, and it starts with understanding Google’s goal of delivering the best possible experiences for people that use its search engine.

Imagine that it’s the dead of winter and your furnace stops working. If you don’t know much about furnaces, you might immediately grab your smartphone and search Google for “furnace repair” or “emergency furnace repair.” Try this now, and you’ll likely see four above-the-fold ad placements above a map with nearby companies beneath it. You’ve got to scroll pretty far down to find your first organic listing.

On the other hand, folks who are handy around the house might do their own troubleshooting before finding a repairman. They might end up making search queries such as “Bryant furnace blower won’t turn on.” They’re not actively seeking help; rather, they’re looking for answers for a DIY fix. Try that search query, and you’ll probably see a full page of organic search results without a single ad in sight.

Starting to see the big picture?

Organic SEO definitely took a hit when Google reshaped its ad layout, but only for buyer-oriented search queries. By showing more ads with these queries, Google realized it could increase its profits while still providing a high-quality user experience. Meanwhile, Google users in search of product details, research materials or other types of information are more likely to value organic results.

This leaves online marketers with several approaches to the change, and we’ll consider each one below.

Solution No. 1: Invest in AdWords

If you’re not already using Google AdWords, now is a great time to get started. Getting a top placement in the paid results can be much easier than organic SEO. In fact, savvy advertisers with compelling ads, strong landing pages and high bids can instantly get top-ranking placements.

Of course, paid search results have an obvious downside: They cost money. The days of converting tons of free traffic directly into sales are long gone. That said, don’t be intimidated by the thought of paying for traffic. With help from Google Analytics and tools offered within AdWords, it’s easy to monitor your advertising accounts and determine which campaigns are boosting your bottom line.

Secure Search: A Clearer Argument for Migration 

The boost in SEO rankings has proven to be small, as suggested, but there are now more compelling reasons to transition to a secure search. Now is a good time to revisit and reconsider implementing security into your technical improvement plan.

Search and Success: How to Make Your Website, Content and SEO Pay OffIn 2014, when Google announced that its search algorithm would soon give boosted ranks to secure sites, I recommended a cautious approach and suggested that site owners carefully weigh the pros and cons before migrating to a secure site environment.

At that time, corresponding boost sizes were undefined and for many companies, it was unclear whether the potential site disruption would be worth the expense.

The boost in SEO rankings has proven to be small, as then suggested, but there are now more compelling reasons to transition to a secure search. Now is a good time to reconsider implementing security into your technical improvement plan.

That Was Then

In 2014, I recommended the prudent approach of focusing on site speed improvement, with the long-term goal of moving to a secure environment. A small, unquantified boost in rankings was not worth the effort of making the immediate move to a secure environment. Unless site owners sped up their unsecured sites and placed protocols to continuously monitor and test that speed, going secure seemed expensive and ill-advised.

This Is Now

The basis of this recommendation has not changed, but the best time for implementation has. Instead of keeping the transition to a secure environment on the “maybe someday” list, it should be integrated into your 2017 plan.

The Pioneers Have Taken the Arrows

A great advantage of having taken a cautionary approach to secure sites is the ability to learn from the pioneers.

As with product planning, the pioneers take the arrows while settlers follow behind and take the land.

With regards to site migration, there are now enough collective experiences and a well-trodden path to provide guidelines for tech teams to follow. Shifting and redirecting thousands of URLs for a large site is still a significant mapping task, so migration will not occur instantaneously. But an ever-growing number of sites have already successfully made the shift, and you should consider doing the same.

Google Favors HTTPS

Google continues to advocate for a more secure Web.

Data gleaned from Google Chrome users has shown that users spend a greater amount of time on HTTPS pages than on HTTP pages — a rate that is increasing across both mobile and desktop access.

Google notes that more than half of pages loaded and two-thirds of total time spent by Chrome desktop users occur via HTTPS. The longitudinal data shows the prospects of continued growth, as both users and sites are adopting and adapting to a more secure environment.

A further incentive is on the horizon: In 2017, users of Google Chrome can expect to see clear designations on the browser bar whenever they visit insecure pages that accept usernames, passwords or credit card information.

Google intends to further tighten the ratchet by warning users of potentially harmful sites in 2017. This shaming of insecure sites should provide a stark incentive to make the move.

Take Action Now

As I see it, now is the time to complete the plans for your switch to a secure site. Set a specific date and then execute your plan.

But take caution in your move, and keep best practices in mind: Learn from the experiences of the pioneers, ensure proper crawling of your new secure site and protect your valuable search rankings.

Moving to a secure environment is no longer just something that should be done for the tiny boost in rankings — it is now a move to protect the reputation of your business.

Digital Marketing: It’s Not About You

Your prospects don’t care about you. They don’t care about what you do. What they care about is what you can do for them.

It feels appropriate to kick off this new column with that cold, hard truth because it’s how I start just about every presentation I give these days. The ideas captured in that assertion are the foundation for just about everything we’ll cover in this column: websites, content marketing and digital marketing.

digital guyYour prospects don’t care about you. They don’t care about what you do. What they care about is what you can do for them.

It feels appropriate to kick off this new column with that cold, hard truth because it’s how I start just about every presentation I give these days. The ideas captured in that assertion are the foundation for just about everything we’ll cover in this column: websites, content marketing and digital marketing.

The key notion here is that your marketing can’t be about you. This, of course, is no revelation. It’s been a basic tenet of marketing since marketing’s existence. Think of all the times you’ve been advised to talk about “benefits, not features” or to focus on your prospects’ pain points.

With the persistent encouragement to apply these techniques, it’s shocking how many corporate websites take exactly the opposite approach — it’s all about them and their products and why they are better than the rest. Remarkable, isn’t it, how every company is above average?

If you’re feeling brave, take a look at your own website right now. Does the me/we/our count outnumber the use of you/your? Is the first item on your main menu “About Us?” Does your home page copy talk about your decades of experience? If you said yes to any of these questions, you may have a problem.

You’re in luck, though. Solving these kinds of problems is exactly what we’ll devote this column to, along with:

  • Big picture strategy discussions
  • Tool recommendations
  • Implementation ideas for the Web, email marketing and social media
  • Integration recommendations for specific departments, including sales, customer service and product teams

Let’s get back to that home page of yours. In addition to checking whether the focus is on you or your customers, check if you’re committing any of the following deadly sins — we’ll lay them out here and dive into addressing them over the next few months.

Saying Too Much

One of the most common situations we find ourselves in when developing a new site is mediating between stakeholders in different parts of the company. They all believe their work is too important not to be featured on the home page. Of course, emphasizing everything means nothing stands out. You’ll be better served by editing ruthlessly and testing content to see what really performs best and deserves to be on your home page.

Saying Too Little

Currently there is a website trend of heavy imagery use paired with sparse copy. I’m sure the argument in favor of this practice centers on the emotional value of a powerful image packing the punch of a thousand words. But aside from looking like every other website out there, don’t you want to convey at least some basic sense of what you do and whom you can help? Don’t get me wrong — emotions matter in buying decisions. But it’s not all that matters.

Speaking to Everyone

Considering the topic of whom you can help, “everyone” is not a good answer. Even if your offerings really can help everyone, it would be foolish to believe you can stake out that territory successfully on a website home page. You need to pick your most important audience segments and speak to them. Yes, someone is likely to feel left out. The increased effectiveness you’ll have in your best segments, however, will more than compensate for losing out on a small number of less-than-ideal clients.

Making no Requests

Your website visitors will be more likely to take action if you suggest they do so. Having well-crafted offers and prominently featured calls to action are key to your website’s success. Now, that doesn’t mean asking for a credit card number after offering a prospect a small blurb of basic information. It might simply mean suggesting that they click through to another page that helps them get to know you better.

I look forward to getting to know you better over the coming months. Please reach out to let me know what digital marketing questions you’d like to see answered and I’ll include them in an upcoming column.