Finding Customers Through Anti-Commercial Queries

There’s a fallacy that sellers create for themselves, that most people go online to spend money.

– Ammon Johns, from How Many Search Queries Are Really Unique?, I checked the AOL database :-)

You research a niche for a business online, and find a genuine need in an area that larger businesses aren’t filling. You work with a designer to create a site that’s both easy to use and search engine friendly. You do keyword research for your products and services, and find the best terms to use that you expect your targeted audience to both search for, and that they likely would expect to see on your site.

Taking those keywords, and building a smart site structure around them, incorporating them into the pages of your site, you test to make sure that people can use your site easily, and that people find your business credible and distinquishable from other businesses online.

You may start out with some paid search to attract visitors to your site. You work on building links to your pages, and obtain a good number from a wide variety of sources. You watch your log files or analytic program reports, and wait for visitors to come to your pages through organic results in the search engines. And you wait. And you wait.

You start getting some traffic, but it isn’t quite what you expected. There’s clearly a need, but your audience isn’t finding you, and doesn’t even appear to be looking for what you have to offer.

How do you get those visitors to come to your site to find what you have to offer them? What steps do you take?

Most Queries are Noncommercial

The first step might be to recognize that most queries conducted by people at search engines aren’t aimed at buying something. A paper from the WWW 2007 held this spring in Banff, Alberta, Canada, Determining the User Intent of Web Search Engine Queries, provided a breakdown of the types of queries that they were able to classify.

Their research uncovered the following numbers: “80% of Web queries are informational in nature, with about 10% each being navigational and transactional.” The research points to the vast majority of searches being conducted for information gathering purposes. One of the indications of “information” queries that they looked for were searches which include terms such as: “ways to,” “how to,” “what is.”

A straight-forward ecommerce shop offering goods or services, and filled with department pages and sub-departments and products, doesn’t always provide the answers to those types of questions.

Many Queries are Anti-Commercial

One popular reason to go online is to find ways to save money, whether by finding instructions on how to do something yourself, or by finding alternatives to commercial products or services. These searchers aren’t people who are typing “free” followed by some product or service name in a search box. These are the DIY folks, who tackle home improvement projects on their own, or make their own clothes or holiday decorations or cook their own gourmet meals.

The second step to getting visitors to your site might be to create reasons for this anti-commercial audience to find reasons to come to your web site.

Meeting Informational Needs

What can you share with your visitors that will get them to come to your site, and look at the goods and services that you offer?

If your website is for a construction business, you could provide some blueprints and construction tips for simple household projects. There are people who might tackle building a deck for their home on their own, but it’s likely that they would do that by themselves regardless of whether or not you offered suggestions and tips on doing so upon your site. And it’s possible that they might buy supplies from you if they did. Some percentage of potential DIY’ers might decide that it would be better to have a professional undertake that task instead of doing it themselves.

For the owners of nurseries and landscaping service sites, providing a guide to popular plants and trees and shrubs in a region, and where to plant them in a yard to benefit from sunlight and shade is not only a way to attract buyers to your nursery, but also a way to find people who might decide that they prefer to have others do landscaping for them. Let people know when the best time to plant something is, and the best places to plant, and they may end up letting you do the planting for them.

Building pages that provide information to help visitors in tasks that they want to undertake on their own introduces them to someone who provides the tools or supplies to help them do so, and the people who can help them when what they want to undertake is more than they can do on their own.

The tools involved aren’t limited to hammers and shovels. An interior designer can provide tips on space saving around a home. An accounting office can share information about creating a budget for a business. A virtual assistant can show off ways to organize contact information in the easiest and most useful manner. If you offer services online, what information might be useful to visitors who might also be interested in the services that you offer? If you offer goods, what information might be most useful to the people who might be interested in purchasing what you offer?

Sharing Information with Your Visitors

There are a number of ways to present this kind of information to visitors. A blog may be one approach, or a series of articles, or email newsletters, with an archive of earlier newsletters online. A combination of those approaches may work best if you have the time and inclination. Regardless of which approach is taken, focus on providing information that people find valuable and useful rather than upon self promotion of your goods or services, and you are more likely to see people respond positively to the information that you provide.

Concluding with an Example

I own a lumberyard (hypothetically), and I wish that my website would get a lot more people to come out and purchase stacks of plywood, piles of 2×4′s, and cartons of wood stains and preservatives. I come up with 10 household projects which I can put online, that might give people reasons to visit my lumberyard:

1. How to build a doghouse that Rover will like 2. Wooden deck instructions for patios your neighbors will envy 3. Choosing the right fence for privacy, pets, and children 4. Money saving ideas on finishing your basement 5. How to build a picnic table 6. Choosing the best wood for your home project 7. Plans for a storage shed 8. Plans and layouts for a Gazebo 9. Adding lighting to your deck 10. Birdhouse plans

In this example, I’ve not only come up with other ways to be found on the Web, but also reasons for people to come and buy the products that I offer. It’s possible to fulfill an information need, and provide the resources necessary once that need is met.

Bill Slawski is Director of Search at Commerce360, blogs at SEO by the Sea, and has been one of the Business and Marketing Forum moderators at Cre8asite Forums for the last five years. The Small Is Beautiful column appears on Thursdays at Search Engine Land.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | SEO: Writing & Body Copy | Small Is Beautiful | Stats: Search Behavior


About The Author: is the Director of Search Marketing for Go Fish Digital and the editor of SEO by the Sea. He has been doing SEO and web promotion since the mid-90s, and was a legal and technical administrator in the highest level trial court in Delaware.

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  • Robert Gladstein

    Those are some great ideas, and I just happen to have a prospect right now who could really use them.

  • http://Bill Bill Slawski

    Thanks, Bob.

    Good to hear that I’ve inspired some ideas with this post. I see so many sites where the owners provide quality goods and services, and do everything right, but for addressing searchers who are primarily interested in information.

  • crimsongirl

    Haven’t we known this for years? People use the web to look for information more often than to buy something right away. The number of sites that exist only to take orders amazes me.

  • Bill Slawski

    Hi crimsongirl,

    This is something that many of us have been recommending to clients for years.

    It’s also something that most small businesses that I see launch a new site fail to take into consideration.

    An ecommerce site that has all of the SEO right on their pages, but doesn’t consider the noncommercial nature of the majority of Web searches is likely going to be missing opportunites.

  • Miriam

    Beautifully explained, as usual, Bill. I have to say, the clearheaded way you approach this subject(and I’ve seen you talk about this same concept elsewhere) makes the efforts being suggested so appealing and smart…who could refuse?

    I really enjoyed this article!


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