Occasionally people may buy on impulse. Often, however, they go through a recognizable purchase cycle. "By targeting specific cycle stages, advertisers can increase relevancy by delivering appropriate messages at the right time," says Page Zero Media's Mona Elesseily in an article at Search Engine Land. Here are her definitions of the five stages of the "buy cycle," and her tips for serving customers at each one:

Stage 1: Awareness. When someone is beginning to think about a need and to identify solutions, it's essential for a marketer to "just show up. Not having your brand appear in the first few search results is a lost opportunity to gain a foothold in a prospect's mind," she says.

Stage 2: Information Search. There are two ways to make an impact here, Elesseily says: You can send consumers to comparison or informational pages on your site, or establish a presence on other sites that offer relevant information.

Stage 3: Alternative Evaluation. In this stage, consumers consider specific information related to specifications, cost and brand. Choose your keywords carefully, to highlight your product's best attributes.

Stage 4: Purchase Decision. Seal the deal with keywords about special offers or discounts. (Limited time offer! Order today!)

Stage 5: Post-Purchase Behavior. To encourage loyalty and future sales, make sure you offer a streamlined checkout process and efficient customer service, Elesseily advises.

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