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Maximize Your Marketing by Understanding How People Search

By Reading Time: 5 minutes

Google has 77% of all searches. And because of their huge reach, common advice is to optimize your site for Google. While ranking well on Google (also known as SEO) is definitely a great way to get traffic, it leaves out one crucial factor: where the customer is in their journey to purchase.

Google may be king, but, depending on where a customer is in their buying process, they may not even do their initial search there:

  • Somebody looking for a gazebo might go straight to Home Depot
  • Somebody looking for inspiration might go to Pinterest
  • Somebody who doesn’t know what they want might look for expert advice on an online forum

So, if you’re only thinking about Google, you might miss out on interested customers who don’t know you exist. In order to truly find where a customer is in their journey, you need to think about what questions the customer is asking and where they might turn for answers.

To help you reach your customers, we’ll look at how they search at a given moment during their buyer’s journey. And then we’ll look at the different platforms you can use to target new customers.

Customer journey

If you haven’t heard of the customer journey (also called the buyer’s journey) before, it’s a concept you can use to envision how potential customers find out about your brand and eventually buy your product. There are three phases: awareness, consideration, and decision.

Phase 1: Awareness

In the awareness stage, customers don’t even know you exist. They might want a new t-shirt, but they don’t know about your store. They just know that they want a shirt with a cool design.

So they start searching. They’ll use a variety of tools (which we’ll talk about later) to find potential t-shirts and t-shirt companies.

Phase 2: Consideration

After they’ve browsed and they’re confident they’ve seen a wide variety of options, they’re going to consider each of them. They’ll look at things like design, price, the fit, the colors, and your brand.

This is where they compare your product to other products.

Phase 3: Decision

Finally, they’ll narrow it down to one or two choices. They’ll take into account details like shipping costs and taxes. And then they’ll make their decision.

Most ecommerce businesses only think about customers in that third phase. The phase where they’re just about ready to pull out their wallet.

And there’s another tiny problem: Amazon. According to a study from BloomReach, roughly 55% of consumers start their online shopping searches on

But you can’t compete with Amazon, and you don’t have to. Instead, you can take control of the customer journey and get in front of the customer while they search and before they buy on Amazon. 

And that’s why it’s helpful to think about how people search.

How people search

Just like you wear different types of shoes for different types of weather, customers will turn to different search engines for different types of questions. And this depends on where they are in the customer journey.

Let’s look at how people search on some of the most common platforms.

1. Google

Google is good for general inquiry searches or “what” searches, as in What is 123 squared? It’s also good for “why” searches:


Why does Batman fight Superman?

So, if you want to hack the customer journey, write an article that answers questions that relate to your niche.

Your future customers will do a search, find an answer to their question on your site, and click. Then they’ll learn about your company, and as in the case above, start to associate it with a business that knows comics and has nerd-cred. They don’t even want a t-shirt at this point. Meanwhile, you’re building awareness and attracting the attention of potential brand advocates.

And when they do want a t-shirt, they’ll have you in mind. They might have even seen a good-looking shirt in the sidebar while reading your blog. They don’t need to do a full search since they already know what they want.

2. Pinterest and Instagram

While Google is good for “what” and “why” questions, Pinterest and Instagram are visual search engines. They’re platforms designed to search for and display images.

Users will search for things like Batman vs. Superman fighting or Batman vs. Superman fighting t-shirt:


Batman vs Superman fighting t-shirt

With the first query, they might be looking for some cool graphics. They might just be curious or trying to pass the time.

With the latter, they’re already in the consideration phase of the customer journey.

If you have a product that’s visual (and t-shirts, mugs, and posters are definitely visual), you’ll want to show up at this stage. So, if you want to hack the customer journey at this point, make sure your products are listed in these visual search engines.

In the case of Instagram, the search process is based around hashtags, so be sure to use the appropriate hashtags for your target audience. Don’t neglect the art of choosing the right filters and posting times, either.

On Pinterest, pay attention to categories and keywords. You can also create community boards: collect some of your favorite superhero art and put it on a board on Pinterest. You’ll be able to cast a much wider net and reach people who weren’t even searching for your Batman vs Superman shirt. Maybe they started their search with Green Arrow vs. Hawkeye

3. YouTube

And lastly, there are the “how” search platforms. People often use services like YouTube to see how something works, like How does {brand} t-shirt fit, or the ever popular unboxing videos:


Unboxing Batman vs Superman shirt

Unboxing videos, a YouTube staple of the past decade, are general purpose videos that answer a ton of “hows” in one go.

Once they’re here, buyers are in the decision phase. They’re close to making a final decision and it’s harder to jump in. But if you have a technical product or a product that needs a bit more explanation, users love browsing YouTube for this information. I just purchased a webcam based on 3-5 reviews.

If you want to hack the customer journey, you can jump in at this point, but it can be harder as the user has almost made up their mind. Your best bet is to have comparison videos. Ex. Comparing Patrick’s Batman vs. Superman shirt to {brand’s} Batman vs. Superman shirt.

Find your customers and understand how they search

Outside of optimizing your content for a specific channel, it is worth thinking about whether your users are using that channel at all.

If you’re selling a Batman vs. Superman product geared towards teenagers, Facebook might not be the best platform: research has shown that there are a lot more teenagers actively engaged on Instagram than on Facebook.

My goal with this post was to have you think about what your customers are searching for and where they might be searching. Don’t just blog because someone said it’s a good idea to have a blog. If you have a blog, use it to answer those “how” and “what” questions that your potential customers ask.

And if you don’t want to answer those “how” and “what” questions, there are plenty of other places to get in front of your customers. Each platform and search engine is a tool that may be good for some things and not so good for others. As a store owner, it’s up to you to pick the right marketing strategies and apply them to the right channels.

Patrick is an E-Commerce Entrepreneur & Educator. He’s created courses for LinkedIn Learning, wrote two books about e-commerce, and he helps run e-commerce conferences.

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