"Know your customers" is the first commandment, and a core mission, of every (successful) company.

How well do you know your customers? Who are they? What do they need? How/when/where do they need it?

In search (site, mobile or voice), it's vital to "listen" to customers—to their search interactions, which are their way of telling you what they want.


  • Are you listening, and can you respond?
  • How can you develop a solid customer search experience strategy?
  • How can you serve as a personal search concierge to guide users toward content, products, or services they seek?

To truly "know" your customers and what they want, think of yourself as a reporter.

Good reporters learn the 5Ws (and 1H) of journalism: who, what, when, where, why, and how. They know that as you ask the right questions, you get closer and closer to the right answers. As you listen to customers (via their searches), you'll want to ask the following six questions.

1. Who are your customers?

Before you can deliver effective customer search experiences, you need to know about who your customers are. You don't need to develop a defined, fictionalized "customer persona," such as "45-year-old woman, attorney, two kids, lives in San Francisco." In fact, that can be limiting. What you really want to know is: What matters to your customers: What do they value?

If you own a wellness company, and customers are searching for "meditation tips," "how to relax," or "calorie trackers," you know they value mental and physical health—and you'll want to connect them with the products or services they seek.

2. What are your customers seeking?

As customers "talk" via search (and some may literally talk using voice search), listen to what problem or pain point they are trying to solve. What is prompting their specific searches? If your company offers legal services, you may "hear" these searches: "How do I form a corporation?" or "What are power-of-attorney documents?" You then know your customers are going through life-changing business or personal situations and are looking to your company for help.

Are they seeking actual forms and documents or are they looking for a summary of legal processes? Are they requesting names of local attorneys? Keep listening to learn the keyphrases or keywords they most often use to describe their issues (that your product or service would address).

Also: what services or products do they finally select? And which search phrases lead to action, or a "buy"?

3. When are your customers searching?

To continue with the legal services example, are your customers searching for information mid-day, perhaps during their lunch break? If so, you'll want to make access to forms as easy as possible. Or maybe they are typing, "speak with attorney" in the evening. If that's the case, you can think about making your attorney experts available after hours for phone calls or chats. If customers are searching for legal documents during the day, they may wish to complete and print the documents before taking them to the courthouse that day. In that case, you could include links to state and county court sites that, in turn, provide location and hours info.

4. Where are your customers searching?

How tech-savvy are your customers? Are they searching mostly on their laptop or on their phone? Current research indicates that 70% of mobile searches lead to action within one hour, so it's important to think about a strong mobile strategy. Also, according to Google, 75% of smartphone owners first turn to search to solve their immediate question or problem. You want to meet customers where they are.

Moreover, listen for which types of content customers search for on their phone vs. their laptop. If a customer is on her phone searching for yoga products, you can offer typo tolerance, auto-complete, and synonym management features to expedite her search. You can also "show" her the latest and greatest yoga mats and apparel, along with relevant discounts. You want to be discoverable and create a seamless experience on any device, wherever customers are searching.

5. Why are they searching?

We already know customers are searching to answer a question or solve a problem. But why are they searching in a specific way? A customer may use voice search to ask, "What are the best recipes for eggplant?" Note that she asks a full question—like she is speaking to another person. Perhaps she is at home, using voice search as she prepares to make dinner. In this case, natural language search is best; and, since there's no scrolling or browsing, personalization and easy-to-understand results are key. You can better guide the customer to the best result when you understand their intent.

6. How are they searching?

The final "W" is an "H": How. How are your customers looking for specific information? How do consumers search for information on Amazon Echo, for example, vs. their computer? How are they searching for specific items during voice searches vs. their text-based searches? Do they use a complete sentence or two-word phrase when talking to a device? Do their text-based search queries include fewer words? By understanding the search "how," you can work to anticipate customer needs, even creating new content, offering new services, or adding (and delivering) new product features.

* * *

Analytics data can help you capture much of the "who, what, when, where, why and how" of customer search. Those captured insights, including bounce rates, time-on-site, and cart abandonment rates can even reveal what services or content may be missing from a company's website, mobile site, or app.

Once you have truly listened to your customers (and know them better), you can sharpen your responses—and the way you converse with them and personalize their experience. Your SEO, design, marketing, and content teams can work together to create a compelling and personalized customer experience. The goal: developing and delivering needed content/services/product to the customer when, where and how they want it.

Search is often the first and only channel that customers can use to tell you what they want. It can also be your best opportunity to build credibility, engagement, and brand loyalty with customers, leading to a continuous dialogue that drives business results.

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What Your Customers' Searches Can Tell You. Are You Paying Attention?

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image of Nicolas Dessaigne

Nicolas Dessaigne is a co-founder and the CEO of Algolia, provider of "Search-as-a-Service" site search and discovery solutions.

Twitter: @dessaigne

LinkedIn: Nicolas Dessaigne