Listening to and Seeing Searches

I introduced the concepts of learning to listen and learning to see in my last column. This time I'd like to demonstrate how these techniques apply to website design, specifically focusing on the Tourists and Locals who are coming to your site from search engines.

We'll start by listening and seeing visitors' activity on your website, matching their behaviors to something familiar, then creating the web analog of that familiar response.

Home page versus landing page: Part 1
Few people argue about what a homepage is on a website. In the extreme early days of the web there were few websites that had more than a single page. Those that did made sure those lower-level pages always had a link that would bring you "home" to the top-level page, hence the term "home page."

But what is a landing page? Matt Van Wagner, president and founder of FindMeFaster, an SEO firm based in Nashua, NH, explains it this way:

"While just about any page on your website can be an entry page for users randomly surfing the internet, a landing page is a different sort of entry page that can be designed with the knowledge that it is a likely first point of entry and with specific information about how and why a particular visitor landed at your site. Good landing pages quickly and directly connect what visitors are looking for with what you offer. For example, if you are running an advertising campaign for 'women's orange sweaters,' then direct users to your sweaters page, preferably with an orange one prominently displayed."

I like Matt's explanation, especially the part about women's orange sweaters. Having attended some industry SEO shows and read several books and articles on the topic, there is one thing I'd add to the discussion: people coming to your site from a search engine are asking a question.

In Matt's example, the question is "Who has women's orange sweaters?" and whatever site comes up in that search better answer that question-- and fast.

Your site can be in the number one spot of that search, but if it fails to answer that question… click! Your site isn't doing its job.

Searchers are expecting an answer to that question, and if they're shoppers, anything but a direct answer is a waste of their time and your website. You want searchers and shoppers to expect a good experience (as I've discussed earlier in Redesign Timing, Experience as an Equation, Gentle Persuasion and Focusing Your Customer's Attention) on your site, and answering their search engine question is one of the first best ways to do it.

Home page versus landing page: Part 2
Let's take all this and put it in terms of Tourists and Locals.

Tourists are asking questions, but more often than not their questions are something vague-- "Is there anything interesting here?" They will come via your homepage or a landing page, but they're not truly shoppers and are what NextStage calls "tirekickers."

Figure 1 is a snapshot of where visitors were in their decision-making process on some 30 sites chosen at random from our monitoring system.

What we've discovered is that these numbers (which will vary from site to site) remain stable for each site except when something new -- such as a product release or updated pages -- is placed in the mesh.

Knowing what percentage of site visitors are serious buyers versus tirekickers is an important tool in keeping your expectations and sales forecasts in check, and for designing entry pages appropriately.

Visitors who are "grazing," "tirekicking," "talking themselves out of it" and "planning to make a decision" are still in the search funnel.

Visitors who are "planning on how to use it," "talking it over," "making a decision" and "buying" are in what most people recognize as a sales funnel.

The transition from searcher to buyer occurs at "talking themselves into it."

Visitors who come directly from a highly specific search to a landing page are local wannabes and are already in the sales funnel. The goal of a good landing page is to move visitors from the search funnel to the sales funnel quickly and easily.

Matt's suggestion about having what they've searched for prominently displayed is a good one. Let's build on that with an example of designing entry pages that answer questions quickly and provide action items.

Next: Answering the question, "can you help me?"