Exact Match: How search engine expectations changed buying—and marketing—forever

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Kristin Zhivago

President & Founder

Kristin Zhivago, revenue coach, is the president of Zhivago Partners, a digital marketing management company, and author of Roadmap to Revenue: How to Sell the Way Your Customers Want to Buy. Zhivago and her team of digital marketing specialists focus on helping clients get to “ka-ching” by making it easier for their customers to find them, appreciate what they’re selling, and buy from them.

Speak with Kristin on her direct line: (401) 423-2400

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“I know it’s here, somewhere, and if I just keep refining my search phrase, I’m going to find exactly what I want.” That’s the “search engine mentality” of today’s buyers, and it’s changed marketing forever. Sadly, almost all marketing content hasn’t caught up. In this article I’m going to quickly describe the situation and describe the solution.

As buyers, when we are looking for something specific (and when are we ever not looking for something specific?), we will pay no attention whatsoever to “marketing blah blah.” That’s the copy you can see on the majority of websites worldwide. It’s copy that promises that the product or service is:

•Efficient

•Convenient

•Cost-effective

•Sexy

•Beautiful

These are old, tired promises. Why? They have been made and broken billions of times; they are made by everyone; and they do not in any way answer customer questions. 

When they begin a search, buyers don’t think, “I need more efficiency in my life!” Or, “I need more convenience!” Or, “I need to buy a cost-effective solution!” Instead, their need is very specific. “I need new black rubber floor mats for my 2014 Mazda Miata convertible.” They have measured the mats they’re replacing, they know they want a rubber and not carpet mat, and the mats have to have holes in them that accommodate the hold-in-place tabs sticking up from the floor of the car. 

This is just one example; I’m sure you can think of dozens (hundreds?) of very specific searches you have undertaken where you knew exactly what you wanted, and you kept tweaking your search phrase on Google or a shopping site such as Amazon until you started seeing relevant results. 

This is how buyers conduct product searches now. It’s an “exact match” mentality. But marketers are still marketing like it’s 1993 (pre-Web) and making all those vague, non-specific promises. 

How can marketers sync up with their buyers’ search engine mentality?

The goal is always to make it easy for the customer to buy. In order for that to happen, you need to understand their Mindset when they set out to buy. Their Mindset consists of their desires, concerns, and questions. You need to know:

Examples of Desires:

Exactly what they are looking to buy and the very specific words they use to describe it. 

•The specific problem they’re trying to solve or need they are trying to meet. 

•The desire is that the purchase will meet the need exactly and that they will have no regrets. 

Examples of Concerns:

•There is no such thing as a “virgin” buying situation. Every buyer has either had some personal negative experience with your competitors, or has heard about negative experiences that others have had. As they are evaluating you, they are thinking: “Are these people going to disappoint me just like all the others have?” They will be looking out for any red flags that make them think you might disappoint them as others have. 

•They worry about making the wrong decision, by settling for something that is “OK, but not perfect,” so they continue to search until they find something as close to perfect as they can find. 

•What if they have a problem with the order, delivery, or product? Will you make it right?

•Is this going to be worth what I’m paying for it?

Examples of Questions: 

•Will this fit—physically—in the space that I’ve allotted for it? 

•Will it work with [other stuff that I already have]?

•Will this be reliable?

•What do others say about it? What have their experiences been?

The desires, concerns, and questions will be very specific to your product or service. I know, I keep using that word “specific,” but that is precisely the point. “Generalities” are useless. They do nothing to address the Mindset of the buyer. 

So here is what you need to do, to catch up to the buying habits of your buyers. 

1. Don’t guess. Ask. Find out exactly what their desires, concerns, and questions are, by interviewing customers who have already bought from you. As I have mentioned before, step-by-step instructions on how to do this are in my book, in chapter 3. You will be asking them open-ended questions on the phone, and you will get the precise words that will resonate with your new customers. 

2. Skip “generic” marketing copy altogether. Don’t even bother writing general copy—those vague, everyone-says-this promises—that you and any one of your competitors could make. Instead, write copy that immediately addresses their Mindset, at the top of your website and wherever your product descriptions appear. Don’t say, “This is the best [whatever] on the planet!” Say, “Fits into any [whatever], installs in 5.6 minutes, and lasts for [some specific amount of time or uses].” Make a list of all their questions and make sure you answer them everywhere your product or service information appears. And make sure you answer the most basic questions. I shake my head every time I am trying to buy a physical object and the description doesn’t include the measurements. Breaking the “blah-blah” habit will be very difficult, but it’s worth it. 

3. Get good at writing for search. Know which keywords are causing customers to click through to competitive sites. Figure out which articles and pages are appearing on page one of Google search results. Understand the difference between “research” keyword phrases and “intent” keyword phrases, and make use of both as appropriate in your articles and pages. Your search engine optimization efforts should be driven by real customer perceptions and competitive data. 

4. Analyze reviews for and discussions about your products and services and those of competitors. Make a list of the desires, concerns, and questions expressed in those communications between buyers. There’s gold in those conversations. 

At the start of this article, I described what they’re thinking: “I know it’s here, somewhere, and if I just keep refining my search phrase, I’m going to find exactly what I want.” Have you ever spent an hour trying to find a particular item, one that only costs $25 or less? Time that you couldn’t really afford, but you kept thinking you were almost there, and any minute you were going to find it? 

This tendency has turned some “light scrutiny” buying processes into “medium scrutiny” buying processes. The site or listing that answers ALL the questions buyers are asking—and addresses their concerns and desires—is much more likely to make the sale than a competitor who fails to do so. 

So it’s not so much “how” you say it, it is more about “what” you say. You’re so close to your product or service, there are surely questions that you don’t even think to answer. It’s “obvious” to you. This frame of mind will cost you sales. Potential buyers can easily go elsewhere to find the “obvious” answers to their questions. 

Personally, I think more sales have been lost to this mistake—not providing specific information—than just about any other mistake made by marketers. 

You’re going to be writing content about your product or service in any case. May as well write it so it pleases your customers and brings in revenue!

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