Keyword Research Part 3: Become A Mindreader

Put your site visitor on the couch. Who are they? What do they want? Why do they want it? And how? Some key concepts here are going to come in handy:

  • Mental Models
  • Expectation Effect
  • Framing Effect
  • Exposure Effect

The right exposure will meet the expectation of the searcher, create a positive framing effect and reinforce a positive mental model about your business – making all the lights come on in their brain and get them reaching for the phone or their wallet.

1) Mental Models – the way people think about how something works
One branch of psychology believes mental models underpin all human reasoning. You have a mental model for everything, from driving to cheese. It may be based on lived experience or imagination. It may be accurate or skewed. It is your brain’s way of making efficient shortcuts about experiences.

Each person logs on with certain mental models – about the Internet, about search engines, about the thing they are going to search for. Pretty much everyone expects to type in their query and find something useful. Beyond that, most models will expect websites to look and function in a predictable way.

It might sound obvious. But it is often surprisingly absent from site design and SEO optimisation processes. Sites sometimes fall into the trap of matching the mental models of the web designer, or the SEO team, rather than the user. Make sure you are working to your customer’s vision, rather than your own.

2) Expectation Effect
– “Hey, Google. I have a question. I want you to answer it right now.”

– “Ok”, says Google. “I’ll do my best. But I’m only as good as the keywords used by an endless list of random websites…what about this?”

And the searcher either says:
– “Yes! You read my mind. That’s exactly what I wanted and now I can spend lots of money buying these products that perfectly meet my need!”

– “No. Bad Google. This isn’t what I wanted at all. Let’s see if you understand if I use some different words…”

Every human interaction is drenched in expectation. Unfortunately for Google, we have immensely high expectations of search engines – we expect them to read our minds. But it is not Google that must act telepathically, but the companies it represents. And how do you as a company do that? Keywords.

Ask yourself not only: What is their expectation when they type their search query?
But also: What is their expectation when they click to your landing page?
This can be where sites get unstuck. The goal is not just to get people to your site; you have to continue meeting expectation on the site itself, with all the information they might need in an accessible format.

You can also gage expectation by listening carefully to their language. It’s more subtle than them typing in ‘buy’. For instance, do they use singular or plural nouns? The guy typing ‘alarm clocks’ is not as serious about buying one as the guy searching for ‘alarm clock’. Guide the plural searcher to an informational page, but direct Mr Singular to buy, buy, buy.

3) The Framing Effect
Daniel M Russell is a senior research scientist in Google’s Search Quality & User Happiness team, studying human cognition in web search. In this article, he draws parallels between web browsing and the concept of framing. It’s the classic ‘half full or half empty’ effect; how information is presented influences decision-making, and different phrasing or positioning will determine the outcome…

  • People respond positively to positive messages and negatively to negative ones. Make your content full of positive messages and your site a positive experience to visit
  • Use the customer’s language to get your keywords. Framing restricts people’s searches to the scope of their own knowledge. Make it easy for people with no technical jargon to still find what they need
  • When building your keyword list, see what the Related Searches function on Google throws up, to “unstuck conceptual fixedness”

4) The Exposure Effect
Once you have done all the right things to get someone to your site and make them stay there for a while, consider the Exposure Effect.
• Repetition – of brand name, product type, key organisational positioning adjectives
• Consistency – between content and pages, as well as between copy and visuals
• Subtlety – Don’t keep saying ‘We’re the best’. Show people your stripes through testimonials, stats, glossy images, slick design and strong content

User Experience
So how do you get all this information? Big-budget research would include specialised interviews with current consumers, market research, online surveys, polls on your site, and focus groups. But DIY tools can include…

  • Brainstorm with a diverse group of creative, open-minded friends down the pub – for the cost of a couple of rounds!
  • Social listening – AKA customer eavesdropping! Develop a social listening strategy that incorporates social media monitoring, exploring relevant forums, rooting out key influencers, observing the language being used and listening to the needs of each persona demographic.
  • Usability experts use scenarios to test how users might behave – ie. “the questions, tasks, and stories that users bring to your site and that the site must satisfy.” This might involve seeing how they conduct searches, how successful they are in finding what they need, what challenges they experience, and how the website performs.
  • Understand search environments. Where do people search from – work, home or on the move? Do they want quick one-off info, or are they repeat users of these keywords? Are they Googling for your product on a Saturday from their phone while shopping?

User experience is a massive area, but in relation to keywords, you’d be wise to put your customer at the heart of your research and get inside their heads. The next post, on Personas, will give you a handy tool to do just that.

Previous Posts in this Series:
The We Are All Connected Guide To Keyword Research: Part 1
Keyword Research Part 2: Thinking About Your Business