With the advent of digital marketing and the evolution of natural language processing in search engines, the customer journey is becoming more complex. Prospective customers are blazing unique trails through the online landscape to find what they need.
How do you create signposts to define a customer journey that guides prospects to your solution?
In today’s marketing, the touchpoints of the customer journey aren’t linear. Online customers can bounce across devices, screens, and channels to find what they need in the way that works best for them.
But, no matter how unique each user journey is, most share at least one thing in common:
68% of online experiences begin with a search engine.”https://ahrefs.com/blog/seo-statistics/
You’ve probably heard that search engines are changing the customer journey – and that’s absolutely true.
What you may not have heard is how you can take concepts from SEO to make a more effective customer journey map. A journey map that is both empathetic and mapped with SEO keywords is not just nice to have; it’s a necessity in a competitive marketplace where customers are empowered with a wealth of information within reach of a few keystrokes.
In this article, I’ll dive into how you can leverage this changing landscape by helping you understand the customer experience through mapping search intent to relevant content (and share some customer journey map templates). By using the foundations of SEO and a customer journey mapping process, you’ll be able to provide content that meets prospects where they are with the information they need to take the next step toward your solution.
By the time you’ve reached the bottom of this page, you’ll know the major components of a customer journey map, how to integrate the right elements for your objectives, and how to create an SEO-informed user journey map that uses keywords and search intent to lead the way from search to purchase and beyond.
Let’s get started!
First, let’s lay the groundwork – what is the customer’s journey? And why does it matter so much to marketers?
Customer Journey, Defined
The classic definition of a customer journey is the sum of experiences that prospective customers have when they identify a need and seek a product or service that provides a solution. But you and I and every marketer know how oversimplified that is.
The customer journey is a human journey, and in today’s digital landscape, it can be highly complex. The customer journey can begin before someone even realizes they have a need (pre-awareness) and includes the movement from awareness to research — double-checking prices, reading some articles, consulting with friends, and checking reviews — all the while getting closer to a solution they can trust.
Every customer journey is as unique as the person who travels it.
How Have Search Engines Changed the Customer Journey?
We live in a world undergoing a digital transformation. Whether it’s ultra-fast shipping on Amazon, seamless service on Instacart, or personalized recommendations on Netflix – digital access and experiences are becoming more and more central to everyday life. Consumers have a vast array of choices and the ability to conduct research — empowered by a wealth of accessible information online. So you’re probably not surprised to hear that search engines have inexorably changed the customer journey.
Yes, search engines make it easier for customers to find you, but it’s a bit of a double-edged sword since they also make it easier for customers to find your competitors. Searchers can also suffer from information overwhelm and get trapped in analysis paralysis.
Being an online customer today can be like hiking in the woods without a trail map, coming upon an intersection of trails that all lead in different directions, and having no signposts to point to the best way to go. As a digital marketer, you’re the modern-day park ranger, ready to lead customers to the solution they need. But how do you locate those users in the middle of the online woods and show them the way home — to your offering?
Are a Customer Journey Map, Experience Map & Service Blueprint the Same?
You’ve probably seen all these terms used interchangeably.
Is there a difference between the three? The short answer; no, not really.
The long answer; yes and no.
While all three are chronological visualizations of an end-to-end experience, the focus of each map is where these exercises deviate.
Experience maps recreate the human experience.
Experience maps create a high-level view of human experience without the focus on a single product, service, or transaction. Because experience mapping is not centered around a point of purchase, this exercise is often used to identify new features to add to a product or service.
For example, an online tax-filing software company is working on a product for new business owners that started their business in the past year. To identify additional features to include in the new product, an experience map of a generic new business owner’s first year in operation will likely provide a lot of insight. As you conduct further research to understand the typical behaviors and emotions at different milestones in the first year of business, you’ll definitely identify some pain points. Then, you can develop a solution to address each pain point to be evaluated as a potential feature to include in the final product.
A Service Blueprint focuses on what happens behind the scenes.
Service blueprints often include less information on how the customer thinks and feels while interacting with a company and instead incorporate information about how services and interactions with customers happen behind the scenes.
The service blueprint helps identify which parts of the process need to be optimized to improve the customer experience or offer a better service.
The customer journey is the progression toward solving a problem.
A customer journey map includes more than a list of customer touchpoints. In fact, understanding customer interactions is just the start! As mentioned above, the customer journey focuses on the sum of customers’ experiences as they look for a solution to their problem (which, in a customer journey map, is your company’s product or service).
A journey map should capture all your customers’ feelings, behaviors, and pain points. Most notably, your journey map identifies the problem your customers are trying to solve as they find, assess, and then select your solution. Understanding the challenges they face when addressing their problem is the first step to offering world-class customer service.
There are three common timelines to frame the customer journey.
1. Current State
This is the most commonly implemented customer journey map. This type of map visualizes the interaction your customers have with your company today. Current state journey mapping is a great way to identify opportunities for improvement in your buyer’s experience.
2. Day in the Life
A day-in-the-life customer journey map incorporates some elements of experience mapping by outlining the buyer’s experience throughout a typical day. This includes daily routines, even if they don’t involve an interaction with your company or product. It can include everything from grabbing their morning coffee and listening to a podcast on the way to work to how they exercise and choose to relax.
It’s a way to gain a deeper understanding of a particular persona and identify additional pain points.
3. Future State
Future state customer journey mapping is a visualization of how you expect to see customers interact with your company in the future. This can be based on planned long-term changes or can be a best-case scenario. Ultimately, this type of journey mapping helps illustrate a long-term vision and identify strategies for improving your customer’s experience.
If you’re creating a future state customer journey map, you might find value in incorporating elements of a service blueprint. This can help you identify what processes and technology need to be implemented to reach your goals.
So which one should I pick?
The exact label you choose isn’t as important as making sure the journey map will bring value to your business. Well-defined objectives will clarify which map type will align best with your goals (see Best Practices for Customer Journey Mapping).
You might even decide to create a customer journey map that’s a hybrid of more than one journey mapping process, and that’s completely fine!
The Benefits of Understanding the User Journey
Understanding the consumer journey helps you create more effective marketing campaigns. When you know the path that your customers take to find you, you can grasp their motivations, anticipate their needs, and understand their goals.
Figuratively walking a mile in their shoes helps you identify touchpoints along the way where you can deliver the information that potential customers need — precisely when they’re looking for it.
1. Customer Centricity
A customer journey map is not just a tool for your marketing department; it’s a great resource to share with your entire organization. Journey maps help everyone understand the customer, even if they aren’t in a customer-facing role. This allows for a seamless experience, where a customer feels the same level of care and attentiveness whether they’re working with customer service, billing, or sales.
If your business doesn’t put customer needs and pain points first, you’re falling behind your competition.
2. Inbound Marketing
Delivering content that prospects are already looking for is the foundation of inbound marketing. Your customers know they have a problem and are looking for a solution! When you map the customer journey, you can create content that will be useful to your prospects.
When you understand how your customers feel as they progress through the buyer’s journey, you can create content that addresses customer needs at different points in the journey.
A thorough analysis of the customer journey map helps you create content that not only grabs their attention but engages them long term.
3. Improved Customer Experience & Retention
Documenting the customer journey helps you develop a deeper understanding of your customers. When you understand your customers’ pain points, you establish empathy for them, which makes it much easier to create customer experiences that continually exceed their expectations.
According to PwC, 59% of consumers feel that companies have lost touch with the human element of customer experience. They also report that only 38% of US consumers feel understood by company employees.
One of the best tools you have to improve customer retention is an investment in customer experience.
4. Inspire Brand Advocates
Not only does customer satisfaction increase the likelihood of customer retention, but it’s also the first step toward inspiring customers to evangelize your brand.
What Are the Stages of a Customer Journey?
While the consumer journey takes various forms depending on industry context and business goals, most of them contain some common elements that focus on how someone solves a problem:
Pre-awareness is the stage before a customer knows they have a problem or at least not know exactly how to describe their problem. A pre-aware customer might encounter new information that makes them realize they have a problem, or they begin doing research to define their existing problem.
At the awareness phase, the customer knows they have a problem and are seeking a solution.
During the consideration phase, the customer has found a few different solutions to their problem and is assessing the best option. They are likely searching for reviews, viewing web pages, and searching on social media for testimonials.
This is the phase where a customer is ready or nearly ready to purchase. At this phase, the customer may have some final questions or concerns before making a final decision on the best solution to their problem.
It’s important to remember that the journey does not end after conversion. This phase is crucial for customer retention and the creation of customer advocates.
How To Create a Customer Journey Map
1. Identify the problem your customers need to solve.
At Victorious, our customers are looking for SEO services. Our customers come from a variety of backgrounds and, therefore, have different awareness levels in terms of the problem they’re trying to solve.
Some of our customers have years of experience with SEO and know exactly what they need. In contrast, others know that they’re dissatisfied with their site traffic but haven’t identified SEO as the solution to their problem yet.
2. Create buyer personas.
You need to understand who your customers are. You may have some data already, but if not, you’ll want to do some research. Who is interested in your product or service and why?
Different personas will have different levels of awareness of the problem they are trying to solve and different pain points.
3. List all the touchpoints between your customer and your brand.
All interactions between your company and your customers should be accounted for. Do you notice a missing interaction that could improve the customer experience? That’s great! Identifying gaps in the customer experience is one of the goals of journey mapping.
4. Identify customer behaviors.
Talk to your sales team about common pain points. Document their observations about customer thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
5. Test for accuracy.
The customer journey map is only as useful as it is accurate. As mentioned before, this tool is not just for your marketing department, so share it widely throughout your organization and solicit feedback!
Best Practices for Customer Journey Mapping
1. Define a clear objective.
Before making a journey map, you need to understand your objectives. What goals are you trying to address? Are there particular problems you’re trying to solve? A clear objective will help you identify which type of customer journey is right for you (current state, day-in-the-life, or future state) and whether it will be valuable to bring in any elements from experience mapping or service blueprinting.
2. Create a map for each of your buyer personas.
You’ve identified several types of buyers, but that’s not enough. Every persona is different and will have its own unique customer journey.
3. Experience the customer journey yourself!
The best way to understand what your customers experience is to feel it yourself. Remember how I mentioned walking a mile in your customer’s shoes? This is where you take your first steps.
Don’t assume that a chat flow on your website is good enough as is or that the customer is having a seamless experience when transitioning from sales to customer success. Challenge your assumptions about the existing customer journey, and test it to identify areas for improvement.
4. Implement improvements.
When you identify gaps in the customer experience, make sure to address these gaps. Create a maintenance plan to keep your customer journey maps up to date so you can continually make improvements that benefit you and your customers.
Customer Journey Map Template
How To Use Search Intent to Map the Customer Journey
Remember how your customer’s problem is the backbone of your customer journey map?
Every time someone uses a search engine, they’re looking for something (what) for a reason (why). Their question is informed by intent. They are searching for an answer to a problem.
Digital marketers commonly make the mistake of focusing SEO efforts on broad keywords related to their products and services. Not only are those broad search terms more difficult to rank for, but there’s a missed opportunity to capture high qualified customers with lower-competition, long-tail keywords that speak directly to customer pain points.
Understanding the different reasons why someone might be looking for something helps you target the intent of their search with content relevant to where they are in the customer journey.
Understanding search intent helps you map your website content to specific points on the customer journey.
SEO Strategy Informs an Effective Customer Journey Map
If you’ve already considered search intent, you not only understand your audience better but have already taken the first step toward building an SEO strategy.
A comprehensive SEO strategy should target prospective customers at every stage of the journey with high-quality, keyword-rich content that matches their search intent.
Keep in mind: Content includes everything from service pages to blog articles, FAQs, and product descriptions.
How To Use SEO To Shape the User Journey
Now that you’ve mapped meaningful touchpoints along your customer journey and dug into the corresponding search intent for each of them, you can go deep into some meaningful keyword research that will map to the words your customers might use to find a solution like yours.
In simple mathematical terms, WHAT (broad keyword) + WHY (search intent) = a reshaping of the traditional customer journey in real time. Rather than creating an offer and broadcasting it to the world at large, SEO brings a targeted message to a prospective customer exactly when they’re looking for it. SEO is how you make sure that all signposts lead to your solution at every junction point along the consumer journey.
After identifying customer intent, map it to specific keywords and target pages. Doing so helps confirm that your content aligns with the search intent. If it does, great! If it doesn’t, now is the time to update existing content or craft new pages. Keep your eye on the prize: to fill gaps in the customer journey with content relevant to each stage of your customer’s journey.
Customer Journey Map Examples
For example, here’s what it might look like when a business that sells organic food creates a customer journey map centered around search intent:
B2C Customer Journey Map Example – Purchasing Baby Food
A new mom sees a post on Instagram about nutritious solid foods for babies and realizes there’s a lot more to baby nutrition than she realized! Plus, babies start eating solid foods when they are six months old. She has a problem to solve; what’s the best solid food to start feeding her baby?
Now that she knows her problem, she googles, “what solid foods to feed a baby.”
An informational blog article about why organic food is the healthiest option for babies appears in the search results, and she clicks through to learn why she might want to feed her baby organic food.
This customer’s initial research has made her aware that organic food is a potential solution to her problem. So, she investigates further with a query such as, “benefits of organic food for babies.”
An article that explains what makes organic food an especially great choice for babies prompts further consideration of organic food as a potential solution to her problem.
As she considers whether or not she should feed her baby organic food, she worries that it might be too expensive to be a feasible solution to her problem, so she might query, “is organic food expensive?”
A core page that provides a cost comparison of organic food vs. conventional choices might illustrate the relative affordability of organic food, convincing her that organic food is a viable solution to her initial question about what to feed her baby.
Now that the mom is open to trying organic food, she wants to know her options. She might Google “best organic baby food.”
An informational page that details the difference between one company’s products and other options on the market convinces her to try that organic food brand. Links from that page to various products will enable conversions.
Product pages and product descriptions that tout the features she’s looking for will confirm her choice and make it effortless to complete her purchase.
After the purchase, she’s more likely to become a repeat customer if relevant offers and articles continue to show up in her search results as she progresses on her journey as an organic food consumer.
Recipes that feature organic food or blog posts about packing healthy lunches for kids keep her engaged with the brand and reinforce the feeling that the website is a trusted source of helpful information.
These web pages are all about “organic food,” but each one is targeted to a specific intent that maps to a particular customer journey stage.
B2B Customer Journey Map Example – Calendar Booking Applications
A Lead Customer Success Manager (CSM) sees a LinkedIn post about the challenges of balancing information that’s available in different locations: email, chat, calendars, and task systems when working as a CSM. This post makes her realize the additional time she and her team spend doing administrative work, especially when it comes to scheduling meetings. At this point, she starts to realize the team has a problem worth solving.
Her team is scheduling regular touchpoints with customers to provide program updates. There are multiple stakeholders that need to be included, which causes scheduling challenges. A time slot might be open only to be filled a couple of hours later. With a large portfolio of customers, emergency schedule changes, and last-minute cancellations against the backdrop of a global pandemic, just managing appointments can become a full-time job.
The Lead CSM starts gathering information by searching for “the best way to schedule business appointments.” She comes across a blog post that introduces her to online booking tools that can sync with her and her team’s calendar: “What Are Online Appointment Booking Apps and Why Your Business Needs One.”
The Lead CSM then searches for “best appointment scheduling app” and finds an article that compares ten different applications.
At this point in the buyer’s journey, some of the key differences between B2C and B2B start to emerge. The Lead CSM has found some solutions that could work for her team, but business decisions often require feedback from multiple people. In fact, the number of people involved in a B2B solution purchase is 6.8 stakeholders on average. The difference in roles and functions results in a variety of opinions about the best solution (and whether the identified problem is really a problem at all!).
All stakeholders will want to understand the problem and the potential solutions. One or more individuals will attend product webinars, review case studies, and bring key takeaways to the group for discussion. The consideration of different options may trigger conversations about budget or project prioritization that will prolong the consideration phase (especially compared to B2C).
In this phase, a decision is made, and a calendar booking application is selected. At this point, the Lead CSM likely has expectations about how the product will improve her team’s ability to serve their customers.
After the purchase, the likelihood of a repeat purchase depends on the customer experience, relationship, business needs, and ROI. You have to go beyond average customer expectations, be responsive to customer feedback, and delight with customer journeys that deliver more than they envisioned.
These web pages are all about “appointment scheduling applications,” but each one is targeted to a specific intent that maps to a particular customer journey stage.
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