SEO and the Psychology of Internet Searches

January 31, 2017

In today’s highly competitive economy, SEO is mandatory for your website if you hope to capture your fair share of the market.

But with hundreds or even thousands of your competitors creating their own internet presence, how can you hope to get an advantage?


Understanding how your prospects frame their searches allows you to be more responsive to their needs. As a result, Google will reward you with better placement in the search engine results.

To truly understand what motivates your potential customers and their search behaviors, let’s take a look at the psychology of internet searches and how you can use it to your advantage in your SEO strategies.

How Do Your Prospects Find Your Website?

Take a look at your Google analytics data and you will see the various phrases your site’s visitors use to find you. Without context and background, however, this data won’t provide the full story, and it won’t help with your SEO efforts.

What about the prospects that didn’t find you, but found one of your competitors instead? You (or, preferably, your professional SEO consultant) can perform detailed keyword and key phrase research to see which terms are most commonly used. But that’s not all the information we need.

Here at Be Locally SEO, we also rely on our extensive market research to provide insights into how users approach the search process. This transcends the actual words and phrases your potential customers use, and instead seeks to understand how they arrive at the terms they use.

Words, Phrases or Clauses?

When prospects conduct a search, they do so using queries that range from fragments to full phrases/sentences. The specific approach that any given prospect uses depends on a variety of factors.

Let’s say you have a residential plumbing business. Now let’s imagine that a prospect in your area needs to solve a problem with their garbage disposal. They might type in “broken disposal,” “fix garbage disposal” or even “how to fix a disposal.”

hey-siriBut what if they’re busy mopping up water and can’t get to the computer? They might call out, “Hey, Siri,” from across the room. How will they search then? Research tells us that they will probably use a longer, more natural term. They might say, “How do I fix a broken garbage disposal?”

So why the big difference in how your prospects search when typing versus speaking? The answer is psychology, specifically anthropomorphism. Anthropomorphism is the tendency to assign human characteristics to inanimate objects, animals or, in this case, our virtual assistant.

If our frustrated homeowner went next door to ask her neighbor for help, they wouldn’t simply blurt out “broken disposal” when they answered the door. Instead, they would ask the question the same way they asked Siri because, psychologically, most of us assign human attributes to anyone — or anything — that talks back to us.

Start Broadly or Go Straight to the Point?

The psychology of SEO and internet searches also explores the degree to which your prospects are more thorough or more impatient.

Thorough searchers have an innate fear of missing something. They prefer to gather all possible data before making a choice. Consequently, they start with a broad search and narrow their terms as necessary. The impatient variety make SEO much easier because they start with a highly detailed and specific search.

For example, broad searchers may start with “troubleshoot garbage disposal” and work their way through that process before looking specifically for a plumbing contractor. People with less time and patience might go straight to “garbage disposal repair West Jordan UT.”

The specificity of a search also depends significantly on the user’s goals, objectives and intent. Short-fused prospects already have — or will shortly have — an intent to hire a plumber. More deliberate searchers start with the intent to fix the disposal. If they can’t, they will eventually arrive at a purchasing decision as well.

If you can gain a better understanding of the psychological process that goes into the search, you can tailor your SEO strategies accordingly.

The Diversity of SEO Search Terms

In years past, we saw strong trends in search terms across the board. In other words, most internet users used the same basic terms when searching for a specific product or service. Today, we know that searchers have diversified their terminology significantly.

So what does that mean for SEO?


It means that we must consider a wider variety of keywords and key phrases when optimizing your website and planning your online marketing strategies. And because Google has increased its focus on local and hyper-local SEO, we must incorporate location-specific qualifiers (when appropriate).

The changes brought about by virtual assistants and voice-activated searches compel us to also incorporate long-tailed keywords into the SEO mix.

Knowing Your Customer Is More Important Than Ever

The first step in marketing any business — in traditional as well as SEO and online marketing — is developing an intimate knowledge of your target prospects and customers.

Today, however, basic demographics is not enough. Certainly, we must identify where customers live, where they work, their age, gender, occupation, etc. But in addition to that basic data, you must get inside their heads. You have to think the way your prospects think.

This requires that business owners open their minds too. You can get bogged down in how you might search, and that can be dangerously limiting. You might use your desktop or laptop to search “garbage disposal repair.” But the soggy homeowner in our example above might instead use her virtual assistant to ask, “why isn’t my disposal working?”

Your prospects — most of them, at least — take to Google to find solutions for their problems. When your website, internet content and SEO provide specific solutions to those problems, Google rewards you handsomely in the search results.

How to Get Inside Your Prospects’ Heads

Since you probably aren’t a mind reader, you’ll have to peel back the psychological layers of your prospects the hard way — with research.

You might accomplish this by talking with your existing customers or asking them to take a survey. You could host focus groups (or hire a market research company to host them for you). You may even be able to purchase research, but your competitors can too.

Or you could do it the easy way and engage the services of an online marketing expert like Be Locally SEO. We specialize exclusively in providing website design and optimization, copywriting, pay-per-click and social media marketing services for our clients. Our extensive research and in-depth market knowledge allow us to push your business up in the search engine rankings and position it for sustained growth.

Contact us today to learn more how your company can benefit from our exclusive SEO services.

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