Sometimes, the path to making a purchase is straightforward. We search for a product, we find a good brand, and we purchase right away. It’s simple, uncomplicated, and easy to follow. More often than not, however, there are many more steps in the process. We seek out the resources we need to make an informed decision, and that usually means a lot of next steps. We find the right kind of product, next we look at different options, next we compare brands, next we research the individual brand’s product, and so on.
In SEO, we often look at targeting keywords, and creating content that speak to the users looking for those terms. However, what about the query they search for after that first one? What resources do you have that will satisfy users at different steps throughout their path to purchase? Thinking of those “next steps” and how they relate to search, intent, and content, is a valuable way to improve your overall approach to SEO and bring in more high quality traffic to your store.
What is search intent?
No one really searches aimlessly - we always have some kind of goal in mind. That might be finding out more information about a topic, or making a purchase. That goal or purpose is called search intent.
Generally speaking, we usually group search intent into four categories:
- Informational - You’re looking for more information on a topic, e.g. “What is the biggest city in Europe?” or more specific to ecommerce, “Different types of mountain bike tyre”, “what does musk smell like?”.
- Commercial research - You’re researching a purchase you’re considering, e.g. “Best price for macbook pro”, “iPhone vs Pixel”, “Best brands for running shoes”
- Transactional - You’re ready to make a purchase, and want to find sites to buy from, e.g. “Buy groceries online”, “Personalized notebooks buy”.
- Navigational - You’re looking for the link to a specific site e.g. “Apple customer support”, “Allbirds”, “Skims Instagram”
When we create content for ecommerce, the key question to ask is “How does this satisfy the user’s search intent? What kind of content do they need?”. If the content is a product page, and the intent is transactional then the user likely wants to see a call-to-action, information about shipping, purchase options, product information etc. This takes your keyword strategy to another level - it isn’t just about incorporating the right words into the right pages, it’s crafting content that is genuinely useful and relevant to the intent behind those keywords.
But what happens next? In other words, once a query and intent is satisfied, where does the user go? They come to your blog while researching yoga pants - where do they go next?
What is a “next step” query?
Whether linear or not, search journeys are often a path or string of several queries. They usually involve different sources, shifting through different types of intent. What starts as a simple search to learn more about mountain bike tyres may end up a purchase of new cycling cleats. That’s why it’s helpful to think of search intent as not just a single piece of content satisfying one query, but about how that piece of content may lead into another after that initial query is satisfied. This will allow you to develop a more rounded SEO strategy, and better engage the users who end up on your site through search.
To do this, we think about “next step” queries and intent. Consider which types of intent the user has, and then what they may need after that. For example, say a user searches for “What is retinol?” as they’re looking for new skincare products, and want more information about an ingredient they’ve heard of before. They read an article which answers their query, so they might next want more information e.g. “How to incorporate retinol into your skincare routine” or “5 retinol products you need for your skincare kit”. If you can provide those next steps on the page itself, you’ll be able to lead them further in their path. These articles will themselves act as a valuable SEO resource for when a customer goes back to search engines looking for that same information via another query.
Perhaps their intent is to make a purchase and they land on your product page. What else might they need before they make a purchase? Reviews, comparisons, recommendations, FAQ, customer support information etc.
Preparing for the “next” query or the next step in a search user’s journey means you’re maximizing the value you get out of your SEO efforts. Users stay on your site longer, pages convert better, and this will also reflect positively on your store’s usefulness in the eyes of search engines.
3 tips to target “next step” search intent
#1 - Look at different paths from content and which actions you want the user to take
The best way to start thinking about “next step” content, is to put that piece of content on a path and look at the steps that may come before or after it. If you publish a blog, what keywords did you target, and which audience? Where would they likely go next after reading that blog? What topics might they explore, or what search terms might they look for afterwards? Then consider how your site and content can be the best fit for those next steps.
The most important thing is to think about the action you want the user to take next. If they read a blog, what do you want them to do next? If they land on a product page, what action are you hoping they’ll take? Defining these goals will also help you to better understand how a piece of content fits into that non-linear journey the user is on.
Typically in ecommerce the final goal will be a purchase. Ultimately whether it’s blog content or FAQs or product descriptions, you’re looking to turn a site visitor into a customer. When you create content that’s targeting a specific audience and keyword, think of how you can guide the user to a purchase. Let’s use the example of skincare from earlier:
- User searches for “How to use sheet masks properly”
- They come across your blog, “How to correctly use a sheet mask step-by-step”
- They next want to learn more about the best ingredients for their skin type
- On the same blog, you link to “Choosing the right sheet mask ingredients for your skin”
- They then read more about various ingredients, and want to look into products featuring those ingredients
- Within the article at each ingredient you’ve listed links to suggested products, as well as linking at the end to a “Sheet mask buying collection” on your store
At each point, your content is ready for what a user may look for next. The path to purchase may not be right away, but you’re providing insightful, useful information the customer can use along their path. And again, these pieces of content will also serve useful for other search users who may be later in their purchasing journey.
#2 - Explore keywords and topics within a path to find content ideas
As much as you may prepare for a user to stay on your site, this won’t always be the case. So, how can you make sure they come back? Think about it, if they read an article on your site, they might return to Google to research a product type mentioned in that article. If it’s your product that comes up in search results, that’s going to make a big impact. After all, they just read an insightful article from your brand and now Google is ranking your product highly.
Look at some target keywords, and the intent behind them, then explore the keywords and topics related to the next steps a user might take if they go off your site. Say, for example, you’re targeting the keyword “all-weather running shoes”, what sort of topics might a user search for if they have informational intent? Or commercial research, or purchasing intent?
“All-weather running shoes'' might lead to “How to choose the right running shoes” or “Best running shoes for rainy weather” or “Buy weatherproof running shoes''. What content can you create that satisfies each of these topics? Then what will the next query look like after the user has read that content? For choosing the right running shoes, it might then be “Best running shoes with arch support” or “Tips for running in the rain”.
What this will do is highlight the keyword and topic path the user might take, along with any content gaps that might exist. You can then create the content that fits, and greatly improve your SEO.
#3 - Consider what content is most useful
More than just what topic a user might look for next, what kind of content will they want on that topic? Is it another blog, or a product page? Getting this wrong will put the user back to square one, rather than the next step in their path. You can plan for more than one path at a time, but you just need to be smart about it. The format in which you present content is just as important as the keywords that bring the user to it in the first place.
For example, if on a product page their next step may be to make a purchase so the CTA is present, ready, and clear. However, the next step might not be a purchase - it might be more information about an ingredient in the product, or it may be about your shipping and returns policy. Make sure it’s equally clear how they can access that information.
As for blog content, there are of course different types and styles that will also relate to what a user is looking for. How-to blogs, buying and gift guides, educational pieces, listicles, and more. Even different lengths of blog will suit different search intents and queries. Therefore if you’re considering the next blog article a user may look for, the type and length of article will be important.
Google and other search engines are all about providing users with the most useful and relevant content. By sharing that concern, your content will perform better and be considered worthwhile by both users and search engines.
While it may seem like adding an extra step to the content planning process could complicate it, it will in fact make your SEO strategy stronger, and more efficient. Keywords are just the beginning, and search intent enriches your keyword research, but preparing for what a user wants next takes things to another level. Your content will be focussed, highly relevant, and better performing in a way that attracts high quality customers.