For 20 years, a business’ homepage was its front door. When consumers needed information about a company, they would simply go to the brand URL, choose a navigation option like “menu,” and arrive at a transactional landing page where they could take a specific action, such as “order online.”
However, with the growth of third-party digital experiences, the customer acquisition “funnel” is no longer on your website. The funnel is now increasingly on search engines, voice assistants, maps, apps, and directories. Once a customer has found the information they need in these places, they often go directly to a transactional landing page, like a location page, menu page, or product page, skipping the homepage entirely.
This is why traffic to your homepage is probably on the decline, but it’s not a bad thing. If you harness this new customer journey and meet customers where they are, you can ride the wave of AI-powered search and make it work for you.
The evolving customer journey
Customers might begin on a third-party website like Google or Yelp with a search for “burritos near me,” which brings the user first to a list of results (what’s called the Local Pack) and then directly to a landing page where they can take action, like “click to call” or “order online.”
This is how users often bypass the company homepage altogether and go straight to the landing page that meets their search intent, directed by AI-powered search results. When the customer lands on your website, it’s because they’re ready to take action.
Or, they may never reach the first-party website at all — maybe they’ve read the menu on the third-party service and clicked a button to order that burrito for delivery.
Where the clicks happen
The impact of this shift was clearly exemplified when Google introduced Featured Snippets in 2015 — 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.
Wikipedia, one of the most highly trafficked websites in the world, saw their pageviews drop by nearly 21 percent in just six months between February and August, 2015. This isn’t because people stopped wanting or trusting information from Wikipedia. They were simply getting the information they were searching for directly in Google’s search engine results page. Users were engaging with Wikipedia off of their website on a closed, third-party digital experience.
The same is true for business websites of nearly all kinds. Consumers aren’t just taking different paths to a brand website — they’re directly taking action to engage with the brand on these third-party services. Fortunately, strategies to bring users to your transactional landing pages also help to deliver the correct information to 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. How can you 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, voice assistants, and other services. Content on these landing pages should provide all the details about a business entity — whether it’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 and which is a price, for example, and serve that information up to the consumer. This allows intelligent services to deliver results that best meet a user’s intent, effectively moving them toward a transaction, and increases brand visibility.
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 — hours, photos, menus, attributes like wheelchair accessibility, and pet-friendliness.
Then you have to keep them up to date, and link back to your landing pages so a customer can easily transact with you. The more information they have about your business, the more information those services have to meet increasingly specific queries like “Mexican restaurant near me with fast service and vegetarian options.”
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?
Adapting to the future
The hard truth is that strategies that worked from the early days of the internet up through a few years ago are now outdated. AI-powered services are only going to continue to grow in importance as nascent technologies like voice search, augmented reality, and connected cars move into the mainstream.
Embracing these changes can future-proof a brand for the AI-powered services of tomorrow. As search experiences continue to evolve, there will be new ways for consumers to find and interact with your business. Implementing scalable strategies for managing structured data and controlling the public facts about your business will ensure that you can adapt to changing customer journeys.
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Published April 7, 2019 — 19:30 UTC