Even when colleagues and competitors are taking advantage of the benefits of SEO, some companies still haven’t even considered making room in the budget. But why? Well, many businesses are discouraged by the common misconception that if you don’t sell online, you won’t see a benefit from building your presence and visibility online. The reason for this myth is a basic misunderstanding of online shopping—searchers are not all focused on the transaction!
Forget what you’ve heard. If you’ve avoided putting time and budget toward SEO because you don’t sell online, you could be missing out on a huge pool of potential customers and a lot of revenue. And, like everything else these days, the economy does play a role in searchers taking to the web before they shop.
First, let’s focus on the online buying cycle. There are quite a few different takes on the precise stages of the buying cycle, but I think a simple, three-step process of Desire, Research and Purchase makes the best example of how you can benefit from SEO, regardless of whether you are selling online.
The first phase of the online buying cycle is really where any company can benefit. Some call this the “Interest” phase, but for online marketers this is your chance to create an interest with consumers, so really you’re appealing to desires and creating interests. In this first phase, knowing your consumer is key. With SEO, you can make your company visible to your customers by understanding how they search in the Desire phase of the buying cycle.
For example, if you are a regional gourmet food company and you know that, around the holidays, people looking for unique gift baskets often come to your stores, then your SEO project can help you increase your visibility to searchers looking for “unique gift baskets” or “unique gourmet foods.” By drawing searchers to your site, you can appeal to consumer desires and create the interest in your product. If you do this well, and with the right audience, a searcher is very likely to travel to your store to make a purchase—in fact, you may have saved them the gas money it takes to drive around town looking aimlessly for gift ideas or gourmet food stores.
Once someone has determined what it is they are looking for, whether that decision was made online or off, they usually do some level of research. Here is where the internet has changed the traditional buying cycle entirely. Before the internet became such a useful research tool for shoppers, the legwork involved in the research phase was all based on location and on word-of-mouth. If you want to find the best place to purchase children’s clothing, you ask your friends and look around at the local retailers to compare selection and price. It’s easy to see how a new retailer would struggle in this situation when no one could recommend him and few people were familiar with his location. But, the internet has given the new retailer, and all businesses, new opportunities to increase sales by catching consumers online in the research phase. In fact, research has shown (no pun intended) that 68% of people who use search engines in the various stages of the buying cycle are actually doing research. And, in difficult economic times, research online means less money spent on the gas it takes to travel to multiple stores, or driving to a more remote store just because you “heard” they might be offering lower prices.
With SEO, you build your brand and corporate awareness by positioning your website in front of the right consumers. This is also the time to give searchers all the information you know they’re looking for in the research phase of the buying cycle—price, location, promotions, warranties, guarantees, customer service, etc. You don’t have to sell online to have a sales pitch online!
And, don’t forget local search at this phase of the buying cycle. You don’t want to miss out on searchers researching based on location. You can capitalize on the fact that, unlike some of the major chain retailers, you are right around the corner and a part of the local community!
The most misunderstood phase of the online buying cycle. This is where companies focus the attention, and where they fall victim to the myth that if you don’t sell online, you don’t really need to market online. However, with a comprehensive SEO project you can drivec onsumers to your website and drive offline purchases. You don’t have to have an ecommerce website to benefit from SEO. We’ve talked about how your site’s visibility can create consumer desire and interest in your products, it can inform consumers and position you competitively by price, product, service or other unique selling point, and it can drive purchases, too. Can you complete a sale over the phone? Give searchers information on how easy it is to do that. Is your store unique? Do you offer superior customer service, a great location, other products or conveniences that make the trip worth while? Tell people on your website. Make all this information clear, keep location and contact information prominent on the site and make sure to tell searchers why you are worth a visit to your store, a phone call or some other means of purchase.
Even if you’re not completing sales transactions online, you can be generating sales online. There are plenty of opportunities to appeal to your consumers if you concentrate on building your visibility in search results. Ignore the myth and focus on this simple online buying cycle to focus your SEO efforts and start taking advantage of what your online presence can do to build your business.
For more information on the online buying cycle, take a look at Understanding the Search Buying Cycle. If you have thoughts, ideas or questions on the subject, feel free to leave your comments!