We all know the challenge: In order to excite website visitors, we need outstanding content. But what is outstanding content exactly? Market surveys, data from existing sites, and keyword research help us understand website users.
So-called customer insights – structured interviews with potential visitors and/or customers – can do even more: They offer deep insights into fears, wishes, and the social circumstances of our customers or visitors. If you understand all facets of the intention behind a search request, you have a huge advantage.
You can gain customer insights by following four simple steps. Using customer insights is possible for e-commerce as well for news, information, and other sites.
Figure 1: Customer insights – the four steps
You cannot anticipate what will happen in the course of an interview. Therefore, just view this method as a guide that helps you lead an open-ended conversation. Inflexible questioning methods like questionnaires are not fit for this purpose.
The following four steps will help you lead this open type of dialogue:
In order to prepare your interview, you should first go looking for already existing data. Keyword research, simple questions, the behavior of previous site visitors, or personal experience will give you a first impression of your users’ intentions. Also, in the course of your research, you can jot down questions to your visitors and/or customers that come to mind. Ideally, you will consider the kind of subjects that stem from the so-called empathy map.
Figure 2: The empathy map will help you prepare
This website about Sardinia. When reviewing the figures, it became obvious that the rate of visitors staying on the page was high and the exit rate was as well. . The results of some simple question tools showed a frequent combination with "current", but also in combination with a certain month and the word "where".
Figure 3: An old version of the site concerned with weather in Sardinia
In this step, you deal with insights made in the first step and make assumptions concerning a possible course the conversation could take. Note various possible answers to your own questions and formulate further questions. This exercise will help to prevent you from "getting stuck" during the real interview and also to further intensify your questions.
Back to our example: By using the empathy map, possible statements concerning this site on weather in Sardinia can be made and questions can be phrased. A thesis states that there are two intentions behind search requests:
The long dwell rate also lets us assume that some kind of important information is missing or hard to find. In modern media, Sardinia is still frequently referred to as a luxury holiday destination. One can therefore infer that vacationers to Sardinia are looking for a clear distinction to tourists buying cheap package tours.
Appropriate questions could therefore be:
In this step, the interviews are actually held. Here, the point isn’t to follow a prepared pattern of questions but to have an open-ended conversation. You may get surprising answers that you can use in your next interview.
During the course of the conversations held for the Sardinia website, for example, it became evident that to most people "good weather" means "beach weather". Four out of five interviewees attached the utmost importance to Caribbean beach weather, they post pictures of the beach on Facebook, and they focus mainly on the beach and the food when telling stories about their holiday afterwards. And this is just what they were told to like beforehand – by traditional and social media.
Other activities like hiking, surfing, rock climbing, and bicycling are also part of it but only to fans of certain sports. In addition, it became apparent how important it was to many interviewees to be at the beach while cold weather season had already begun in Germany. Bad weather during a holiday was mainly associated with boredom. Many vacationers will undertake tedious journeys just to escape a front carrying rain and to find sunny beaches on the other part of the island, for example.
The intention behind the search request "weather Sardinia" is therefore only partially a question about the current weather situation. Most vacationers are simply scared to miss beach season. This is however influenced by many factors. Air temperature, water temperature, wind force, and wave height are important as well. The proposition that the intention behind the search request "weather Sardinia" is getting information on the current weather situation as well as finding a general overview of the climate situation can therefore be confirmed.
Before you start to create articles or other content, you should first check whether your results actually make sense. You can do this by questioning other interviewees, examining reporting data, or interviewing experts.
Figure 4: New version of the website on weather in Sardinia
The review in our example took place in a very practical manner – implementing the realizations that were made: The rather sober meta description is changed to "Beach season or not?", the page’s contents are rearranged, slogans like "Get to the beach before everybody else!" further underline the social distinction by showing spectacular pictures of beaches in April and November, for instance. In addition, a clear diagram lets you quickly see when beach season (see image).
The (rounded) result is quite impressive:
CTR increases by 16%, dwell rates decrease because of the much clearer presentation, exit rates also decrease by about 25%. The development of the site’s position in SERPs depends on too many other factors, so no definite conclusions can be drawn here.
However, one thing becomes clear: The changes sure did not hurt.
With some practice, the whole thing can be done easily and quickly. If your first two interviews are not quite as rewarding as expected, that does not mean you should give up. If necessary, take some time to reflect what might have gone wrong.
Some tips will help you conduct your interviews:
1. Set aside enough time and look for a quiet place to talk. You should ask your interview partner for at least 30 to 45 minutes of his or her time as well.
2. If you are not in direct contact with any of your website visitors or customers, you can also turn to your friends as interview partners. What counts is high quality information, not its quantity.
3. Make it clear that the interview’s results will not be passed on.
4. If your interviewee wants to read the questions beforehand, you can give away two or three exemplary questions but never hand out all questions. If your partner insists you do, it is better to take a pass. A spontaneous conversation is out of the question otherwise.
5. Start the interview with small talk and some non-critical questions.
6. Do not ask questions that only allow for "Yes" or "No" as an answer.
7. Do not evaluate the answers given, just take them as they are.
8. Stay accurate and when in doubt, ask further questions. If an interviewee answers "When the weather’s nice, I like to go hiking", ask him to define what exactly nice weather means to him or her.
9. If you are stuck, ask a standard question. You should have this kind of fallback question prepared. For example, this could be a request to recount the most beautiful holiday experience when visiting Sardinia.
10. After each interview, you should revise your question catalogue, because new issues arise all the time and these can be further examined in the next interview.
Last but not least, we turn to another important question: In which cases is it worthwhile to go through all the effort of getting customer insights?
If, by this point, you think that all this only works for sites with information and/or news, you are mistaken. Adding informational texts on a site dealing with complex technical problems can verifiably bring on significant increases in conversion rates, for instance. With help of the supplementary information, it is possible to appeal to technically less experienced users and therefore to acquire additional customers.
In some cases, the results can also show that visitors of your website have absolutely no interest in supplementary content or products – not for nothing are some websites that provide nothing but a headline and products ranked higher on sites like eBay’s classified ads.
Figure 5: eBay’s classified ads completely refrain from using category texts
Even in such cases, however, a site can be designed accordingly and use the low demand for information to ensure quick sales. This shows that, also for e-commerce, this method offers many optimization possibilities – for content, products, the right Call to Action, and many more.
In most cases, about three to five sample interviews will suffice to get a clear picture. Small businesses and affiliates can usually count on about one day to already get them pretty far. Big platforms with many pages/subpages should concentrate on the most important ones or else form subject clusters.
As a general rule, it is obvious that the method of using customer insights pays off for websites of almost every size and subject. Whoever can get to the bottom of visitors’ intentions can really score – by improving exit rates, getting more conversions, or higher CTR from search engine results, and even more. What makes content outstanding can best be answered by customers and website visitors themselves… there can hardly be anything more customer oriented.
Do you have questions or need help? Then I am looking forward to your comments and please feel free to contact me as well.
Published on 11/29/2016 by Andrea Claudia Delp.
As a freelance consultant, trainer and author, Andrea advises customers on a wide range of SEO issues. She is passionate about SEO, online marketing and writing, and spends part of her time on the island of Sardinia.