As consumer queries grow increasingly complex, so do the ways that technology answers those queries. This widening landscape of consumer touchpoints beyond an organization's website presents marketers with an opportunity and a challenge: optimizing for engagement in channels they don't own, and understanding shifts in metrics on existing channels.
An example: when Google introduced featured snippets — the box at the top of a results page directly responding to a user's question with the short answer that Google thinks will be most useful — in 2015, Wikipedia saw pageviews drop by nearly 21% in just six months.* This isn't because people stopped wanting or trusting information from Wikipedia. They were simply getting the information they were searching for directly on Google's search results page in the featured snippet.
More features have been introduced in search results since 2015 — recent examples include the ability to order food delivery in Google Search, Maps, and Assistant, and answers to FAQs posted on an organization's website.
After the FAQ on this website was structured to appear in Google's FAQ feature, search impressions increased while traffic decreased.
So where do the clicks happen?
Consumers aren't just taking different paths to a brand website via new search experiences — they're directly taking action to engage with the brand in these experiences. Fortunately, strategies to bring users to your transactional landing pages also help to deliver your correct information to search results and third-party services — effectively preparing your brand to get discovered in new AI-powered experiences.
Chances are, your website is still built for the traditional customer acquisition funnel, to move customers from homepage to transaction. Here's how you can optimize for a customer journey that primarily occurs on sites and experiences that you don't own:
1. Invest in your landing pages — they're where the action is.
Structured landing pages "explain" the details of your business to search engines, maps, apps, voice assistants, and other services. The content on these landing pages should provide all the details about a business entity — whether that's a store location, a menu, an event, or even a professional like a doctor or wealth advisor — that a customer might want to know.
When those details are structured using Schema markup (the code that enables search engines to read and understand website content), the AI that underlies a discovery service is able to differentiate which number on your page represents a calorie count, for example, and which is a price. It can then serve that information up to the consumer. This allows AI-powered services to deliver results that best meet a consumer's intent — effectively moving them toward a transaction — and increases brand visibility.
Plus, when consumers do click through to your website from the SERP, they are increasingly going to a specific landing page related to a long-tail search — not to your homepage. Which is good news for business, provided you have enough properly structured landing pages. A study by Conductor examined seven million site visits and found that conversion rates were 2.5x higher for long-tail searches.
2. Embrace customer action on third-party sites and services.
Every place outside of your website that your brand information appears is an opportunity for customer interaction, even if it's hard to measure. To make these services work for you, you need to make sure they have the correct information. But beyond the basics (like name, address and phone number) you need to think like a customer, and provide all the information a real person might want — that includes hours, photos, and menus, plus attributes like wheelchair accessibility and pet-friendliness. And then you have to keep them up to date, and link back to your landing pages so a customer can easily transact with you.
3. Don't leave the basics behind.
So the customer acquisition funnel is no longer on your website and homepage traffic is declining. That doesn't mean that you should abandon it entirely. Your site as a whole is still the heart and soul of your brand. Adapting to this new customer journey presents an opportunity to take a fresh look at your website and consider whether it works for the customer who lands there ready to take action, not just the one who arrives seeking general information. How can you make it as easy as possible for that customer to complete the transaction they're ready for?
Discover how you can optimize your businessfor emerging consumer touchpoints.
Read more from Lily Ray, SEO Director of Path Interactive, in our Great Marketing Minds series.