SEO isn’t just about understanding what it is a search engine wants, it’s digging deep into the thought process of users: pin-pointing their search intent, learning how and why they search and devising smart strategies to not only grab their attention on the SERP, but to encourage them to convert on-site.

The practice of SEO can be seen as a manipulation of the system by some (and there certainly are some bad egg SEOs out there who trick search engines with black hat SEO techniques!), but those who engage in psychology-driven SEO are focused on customer needs and user behaviour to deliver the best experience.

Success with SEO begins by understanding the humans behind the search. People can be complicated, but there are certain clues we can pick up from their trail of searches to determine what it is they want from Google (or indeed any search engine) and behaviours we can analyse to obtain actionable insights.

In this article, we’ll be sharing some ways in which you can improve your SEO with a more psychological approach so you can create better content - both to catch users’ eyes on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) and encourage them to complete a goal.

Steps to improving your SEO with psychology in mind

1. Create customer personas

The first thing you can do is identify the different types of people who you’re trying to reach.

Customer personas are essentially psychological profiles which represent your ideal customers based on information about them (such as their beliefs and behaviours). Taking the time to put these personas together is a great place to start understanding your audience and devise strategies to best target them through your SEO efforts.

You can identify your main customer personas by conducting market research and by talking to your existing customers to perform both demographic and psychographic research. Popular ways of conducting this research includes interviews, surveys, focus groups, using Google Analytics and collecting data from social media platforms.

For example, by looking at Google Analytics, you can find information on audience demographics such as their age and gender, as well as their interests.

GA demographics data image
GA audience interests image

There is of course plenty more information you can discover with this tool, such as user location and how people are accessing your site, but by learning who is actually behind the search and other topics they’re interested in, you can start to think about tailoring your content to their needs.

Now, let’s look into demographic and psychographic research a little closer:

Demographic research

Demographic information includes data such as jobs, age, gender, income and more. By learning the key characteristics of your target audience, you can tailor your digital marketing strategy based on the particular segments of your customer base so you’re spending time creating marketing tactics designed to convert. To put it simply, demographics tell you who your buyer is. For example, if you identify that your customers are of an older demographic, you may find that they search via desktop more than mobile devices which will inform your design approaches.

Psychographic research

This type of research refers to understanding people’s attitudes, beliefs, personality traits and getting to terms with the “why?” behind purchases. By obtaining psychographic data about your target audience, you can ensure that you drive high-quality leads through targeted messaging and optimisation.

Moreover, you can identify four main types of online purchasing personas, these are:

  • Competitive - this type of persona wants to know why your business is better than others. They’ll be looking for information such as what awards you have, customer testimonials and reviews and how qualified you are. Basically, any advantages you have over your competitors, they want to hear about it! To optimise content around this persona, you could encourage customers to review your products and services (not forgetting to add review schema so you can hook them on the SERP), outline your company USPs and highlight your expertise.
  • Spontaneous - this type of persona isn’t too fussed about learning the ins and outs of your business or reading detailed descriptions, they simply want to know that you can give them what they need when they need it. For example, they would benefit from bullet points, knowing about any offers you have and when you can deliver the goods!
  • Humanistic - this is a more people-centric persona who makes decisions powered by emotions. This type of customer will be interested in building a relationship with your brand and won’t be in a rush to make a buying decision. To optimise content for this persona, you can consider your content strategy and how you can earn their trust. Essentially, this persona is all about feeling valued, so, if you can personalise their shopping experience, offer them special discounts and show them that other customers feel they can trust your company (i.e. through testimonials and reviews), you’ll be set!
  • Methodical - finally, we have the methodological persona who appreciates the details, hard facts and small print. Like the humanistic persona, they’re prepared to put time and thought into a buying decision but base their decisions on logic. To optimise your site for this type of persona, consider showcasing your reviews, writing more detailed copy for products, blogs and service pages and pointing them to case studies where you can provide evidence for the quality of your services and products.

Once you understand each persona, you’ll be better able to target them and cater to their specific needs which will increase the chances of them converting. By grouping these personas, you can refine your content creation plan, ensuring that you’re meeting their needs and solving any issues they may be facing.

2. Understand user intent

If you want a user to click on your result, it needs to be related to their search and meet their intention. For example, if someone makes the search “create a cover letter”, you may be curious as to whether they’re looking for templates or if they’re seeking tips and advice on how to actually write their cover letter. To make an SEOs job easier and really understand what it is a user wants (and thus what will make them click on a result and convert) four key types of search intents have been identified, they are:

1. Informational

This type of intent is where a user wants to learn something (it could be about a topic, product, place, person…or something else entirely!).

How to determine this intent

Words such as guide, who, what, where, when and why will usually be included in the search.

The types of results users will likely see

  • Knowledge panels
  • News articles
  • ‘People also ask’ boxes
  • Featured snippets
  • Recipes
  • ‘How to’ videos and other rich media results (these are ideal for DIY types who want simple steps to follow)

2. Commercial

This type of intent is where a user is looking for a certain product or service, but at this stage, they’re not yet decided on what they will choose. This means they’ll be interested in finding out more: looking at customer reviews and testimonials, checking out comparison sites and learning about brands to determine what best suits their needs (and where they’ll spend their money!).

How to determine this intent

Words such as best, reviews and compare will be used as well as brand names and product attributes.

The types of results users will likely see

  • Reviews
  • Videos which compare products or review them
  • Shopping ads
  • Buying guides
  • Comparison/review-based blogs
  • ‘People also ask’ boxes

3. Transactional

This type of intent is where the user is now ready to take a certain action or make a purchase.

How to determine this intent

Words such as order, near me, price, buy and quotes will likely be used in this search.

The types of results users will likely see:

  • Google Local Pack
  • Shopping results

4. Navigational

Finally, we have navigational intent, where users are on the hunt for a specific location, site or page. Essentially, this user is already sure of what they are looking for, but they need to be pointed in the right direction.

How to determine this intent

Words such as blog, contact, register, log in or the name of a brand will often be included in the search.

The types of results users will likely see:

  • SERP features like sitelinks which will take them straight to the right page.

So, to roundup on user intent, you need to identify the why behind a search and really get to grips with what it is your prospective customers want.

You can view these search intents through the lens of the four stage buying funnel which most customers are generally in, these stages are:

  • Awareness - where the user is conscious of a need (interested in a particular product or service)
  • Research - where the user is actively looking for more information to address a need (such as the affordability of a product)
  • Decision - where the user enters the decision making process
  • Purchase - where the user has decided whether or not to make the purchase/investment

You should also consider your customer personas when designing your content around user intent to ensure that your webpages will actually appeal to their needs.

Want to learn more about search intent?

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3. Conduct keyword research

Looking at what people are actively searching for is a big part of an organic strategy. Search engines are much more advanced nowadays and users can make more conversational queries to find the results they want. Long tail keywords (longer, more specific keywords) are particularly important to pay attention to. You can use specialist tools such as Semrush to discover the searches people are actually making and optimise your site so that you can increase your visibility for these searches. Long tail keywords are also much less competitive as they’re more specific, so you’ve generally got a better shot at ranking for these. When it comes to developing your SEO content strategy, always keep the user in mind, finding out how they’re searching and what they need so you can meet these expectations.

4. Find customer pain points

Pain points are the negative emotions customers may feel when they have to deal with a certain problem or can’t get the solution they need. For example, a user who finds it difficult to navigate your website may become frustrated and leave your site so they can find what they need elsewhere. By learning what your customers/prospective customers' pain points are, you can address them so that they have a better experience with your brand.

If you can give your customers what they need and solve their issues, you’ll be more likely to convert them. You can conduct customer research and ask existing customers what their pain points are so that you can start to tackle any issues and improve their experience. Don’t forget to check metrics such as bounce rates and time spent on pages too so that you can see where users are dropping off.

By relieving customer pain points, you can create more trust and credibility for your business.

5. Make your web pages more media-rich

As humans, we’re highly visual, and so, images and videos can go a long way when it comes with connecting with and engaging your audience. In fact, according to Forbes, 91% of online users prefer visual and interactive content over text. Research by Marketing Charts have also indicated that 60% of consumers are more likely to purchase a product if they watch a video (of at least 2 minutes). It makes sense when you think that videos can keep users’ attention for longer and explains products or services in more detail in an engaging way. At the end of the day, video can be very powerful in terms of evoking emotions whilst relaying a message.

Moreover, search engines also love videos and research indicates that it can be 50 times easier to earn a spot on page 1 of the SERP when you have video content. With all of this in mind, you’ll want to consider what media-rich content you can incorporate on your site and optimise it with the help of a trusty SEO.

6. Let your existing customers do the talking

It’s well-worth embracing user-generated content as people tend to trust people. According to Trustpilot, 89% of consumers worldwide read reviews before buying products. With this in mind, you should consider enabling reviews on your website so that users can see what others are saying about your products and services on the SERPs and on-site. That said, it’s important for you to stay on top of your reviews and respond to any negative comments (professionally and positively) as this shows that you are a brand who cares about your customers.

7. Improve on page user experience

You don’t need to be a psychologist to know that bad user experience can lead to higher bounce rates and disappointed users. If you have bad UX, you can literally drive prospective customers away, so, you need to ensure that whilst using your site, it performs well and they can get what they need.

Having good page experience isn’t just important for people, Google will be assessing your site too. In June 2021, Google began rolling out the Page Experience Update which incorporates page experience metrics (such as mobile friendliness and secure browsing as well as Core Web Vitals, which looks into loading performance, interactivity and visual stability of pages) as part of its ranking criteria.

When looking to improve your UX, make sure that you understand your different customer personas and their motivations so that you can design the layout of your site effectively. You can also look into optimising your webpages (such as including the right keywords and adding in internal links to other relevant pages users would find helpful) so that you can guide them through your site seamlessly.

Looking to improve your UX?

Find out more

Benefits of psychology-driven SEO

By powering your SEO with psychology and human behaviour in mind, you can benefit from the following:

1. Unearthing user intent

You need to go beyond looking at what your audience is doing and start to identify why it is that they’re doing it. Ask yourself why your audience would be making certain queries and considering what it is they want to achieve.

2. Gaining deeper customer insights

Thinking about the thought behind a search and analysing user behaviour through the use of online tracking tools can offer new audience insights. This information can then be used to help you create better content throughout each stage of the customer journey.

3. Improving visual content

It’s important not to neglect visual content, for several reasons. Firstly, visuals can guide users through your content and help them to visualise your concepts. Secondly, you can keep users on site for longer if they’re interested enough to read your infographics and sit through your videos.

Visual content can also have an emotive impact on users, which could increase your chances of successfully converting them.

4. Customers becoming your brand ambassadors

Users are more likely to trust each other than brands themselves (which makes sense when you think they’re usually trying to sell something!). Psychology-driven SEO recognises that human thought can be influenced by peers and social proof. With this in mind, it’s certainly worth enabling reviews on your site and featuring customer testimonials on your landing pages to sway users in the right direction (usually towards the checkout!).

5. A strategy built for users

Being adaptable and open to change is imperative for any successful digital marketing strategy. You might have a wealth of experience under your belt but that won’t stop new shopping trends and ways of searching from emerging.

Final thoughts

SEO’s aren’t soothsayers, but they can make predictions about what strategy might work based on data and their expertise. Once you gain a firm understanding of your target audience and piece together the "hows and the whys", you’ll learn what it takes to make users click, convert and come back for more.

To summarise, we need to be humanising our SEO strategies, but continuing to follow SEO best practices so that we can work in harmony with AI to deliver high-quality content that catches a user’s eye and encourages them to convert.

If you’re looking for SEOs who will optimise your site with your target audience and human behaviour in mind, contact us today to see how we can help.

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Meet the author ...

Olivia Gilchrist

SEO Executive

Liv works in the SEO team and loves blending creativity with technical strategies to help our clients' webpages reach the top of the rankings! Having recently graduated from ...