Jeremy Smith Feb 19, 2019 11:29:23 AM 26 min read

The Psychological Motivations of Today’s Buyer and the Paradigm-Shifting Result

The better we understand our customers, the better we become at conversion optimization. Although the digital age has given rise to new forms of marketing, it has not fundamentally changed human psychology.

Regardless of how digital marketing innovations change, we can still depend on the findings of psychology to support powerful conversion optimization techniques.

I want to explain how an understanding of your customer’s psychological curiosity can change how you approach your marketing initiatives.

Prepare for some pleasant surprises and rude awakenings.

Customers are researchers. Satisfy their need for information.

If you think that your customers are stupid, you’re stupid.

The misguided hubristic on the part of slack-jawed under-slept service employees has given rise to needless websites and a proliferation of sarcastic memes.

What is your stupid question this time

Sorry to burst your bubble, but not all customers are stupid. (I’m forced to admit that some people are, yes, perhaps, maybe not entirely mentally capable in all areas.)

Online shoppers en masse comprise one of the most highly inquisitive and most informed segment of consumers.

How can I be so confident that customers are curious and research-focused? Here are some studies and statistics I’ve reviewed:

  • 81% of shoppers research online before buying. (Retailing Today: GE Capital Bank, Major Purchase Shopping Study)
  • 61% of global Internet users research products online. (Interconnected World: Shopping and Personal Finance, 2012)
  • 86% of consumers stated that using a search engine allowed them to learn something new or important that helped him/her increase his/her knowledge. (Pew Research Center, Search Engine Use 2012)

Customer research is slowly edging out the need for the old-school sales teams and support:

Percentage of Preferred Sales Representative Involvement

(Image source)

What are customers doing online? Sure, they “go online” but then what? What does this research mean? Does it mean that they’re flitting between Facebook, BuzzFeed, and a few inane Google searches?


Retailing Today conducted one of the most comprehensive studies regarding online purchase behavior, and developed an accurate snapshot of consumer research practices online. Take careful consideration of these bullet points that help to sum up the behavior of the typical research-savvy online shopper.

Keep in mind that 81% of consumers research their purchase online. Here’s what they are doing in their research:

  • 60% of consumers begin their research process on a search engine (as opposed to a paid search ad, retailer website, etc.).
  • Approximately half of customers include payment method research in their process.
  • 66% of customers research the warranty information on products they are considering.
  • 51% of customers review the product specifications and model information as part of their research.
  • They spend an average of 79 days researching the project intermittently before deciding on a major purchase (i.e., exceeding $500).
  • Because of their research, 41% of customers are “more open to making a large purchase.”
  • Customers visit an average of five different online retailers before making a purchase.

Here’s some additional information:

Digital Tools Enable Consumer Confidence

(Image source)

The path to conversion is complicated and messy, but it’s thoroughly covered with research. Adam Singer‘s research discovered that “The average [sic] consumer consults 10.4 sources before making a purchase.”

If you sell a B2B product or service, don’t brush these statistics away as irrelevant to your conversion optimization knowledge. In the class of B2B buyers, 94% research their purchasing decision online.

Here’s how they research purchases:

  • 77% — Google.
  • 3% — business information sites.
  • 34% — scoping out the review websites.
  • 41% — read user reviews.

What we often forget in B2B sales is that there are people who are deciding and converting on a purchase. It’s not some faceless, soulless corporate existence that is clicking the “Buy Now” button. It’s a person, subject to the same foibles, attractions, interests and cognitive biases as other mere mortals.

In a Harvard Business Review study, authors Adamson, Dixon and Toman noted, “customers don’t need you ... sales reps.” Why not? Because “companies can readily define solutions for themselves.”

Practically, this means that a business customer probably knows more about your competitors, their pricing, their features, their website, their warranty information and their sales cycle than you do.

In reality, your customers are not stupid.

I rest my case, so let me sum it up: Customers are the opposite of stupid. They are eager for information, insatiably curious, undeniably savvy and most definitely thinking carefully through their purchase.

Let’s focus this issue on conversion optimization, and come up with a few key takeaways.

5 ways to capture your customer’s psychological curiosity

1. Get in front of the customer’s long-tail research queries.

Let’s begin at the top of the funnel. Most customers aren’t searching for head terms (i.e., “lawnmower”). They are, instead, using research-intensive long-tail queries such as:

  • Top-rated gas-powered lawnmower with warranty
  • Reviews of craftsman lawnmower 18 inch 2.5 hp.

These are the queries that you must be targeting in your content creation and search engine optimization.

Now, let’s get down the funnel a bit further.

2. Conduct conversion optimization on the pages that users land on.

To circle in a little bit closer to conversion optimization, it’s important that you conduct your conversion optimization process on the pages that a customer will see when they are researching. To state it another way, conversion optimization should include content-heavy research pages.

Let me just say it. You’re doing it wrong.

In my opinion, this is one of the most overlooked arenas of conversion optimization. Many CROs are spending their days tweaking and retweaking a PPC landing page, trying to make it just so to better compel the trickle of potential customers who might see it.

For the love of sanity, stop optimizing the dang landing page and start optimizing your content-rich evergreen pages!!

If you could just stop doing that

Let me be very clear:

  • Stop wasting so much time optimizing landing pages.
  • Spend some of that precious time optimizing evergreen pages where researchers are reading about your product or service.

Why am I so vehement on this subject?

Just drink in these stats:

paid vs natural click dsitribution

(Image source)

I can’t put it more strongly than Oli Gardner did (unless I were to cuss, which I have chosen not to do in this particular blog post): “98% Of Your Paid Ads Are A Colossal Waste of Money.”

Oli laid it on heavy:

  • A shamefully large number of experienced marketers like you and I are still screwing up.
  • Your pay-per-click ads suck.
  • You’re doing it wrong.
  • Virtually *everyone* is doing it wrong.

But here’s the thing. Oli is getting it wrong, too. Why? Because he still focuses on improving the ads, and completely ignores the importance of optimizing for conversions on the organic result pages!

3. Start doing it right: Organic results pages need optimization, too!

Let me show you something. First, take a look at the raw numbers: 94% of customers click organic, 6% click paid.

94 percent of customers click on organinc results vs paid results

Okay, now look at the estimates on what types of pages CROs spend most of their time and effort optimizing:

CRO are wasting their time optimizing PPC landing pages

This is backward!

Wouldn’t you rather spend more of your time optimizing the pages where people are actually spending their research time and effort?

Let me show you some examples: Landing Page Analyses.

Let’s say that a customer is shopping for the “best leather sofa.” It’s an important purchase, and they are doing their research. Good little customer.

Good little customer

Okay, what does a customer get when she searches for “Best leather sofa?”

Here’s the first organic result. I’ve provided an image of the page in its entirety.

Before you look at the page, please understand that this is a very bad example. I’m showing this to you so you will not imitate its abominations.

This page has awful calls to action.


I’m going to be very generous.

  • I will overlook the fact that the site is not responsive.
  • I will overlook the fact that the headline is crap.
  • I will overlook the fact that the wall of text makes me want to claw out my eyeballs.
  • I will overlook grammatical errors and stylistic violations in said wall of text.
  • I will overlook the fact that I have no idea what I’m supposed to do on the page.
  • I will overlook the mystery of the VIP offer ball that has no reason for existing in this universe.
  • I will even praise the page for the fact that it has a lot of valuable information.

This leaves me with one blistering indictment.

This page has awful calls to action.

Allow me to rant for just a moment.

Are you freaking kidding me?! Here is the No. 1  organic result for “best leather sofa.” This is the most clicked-on result on the planet for “best leather sofa.”

It has great information for the customer who is interested in researching his options and scoping out the best manufacturers. But here is the clincher:

Awful calls to action. Absolutely gut-wrenchingly awful.

There are a few features that might be construed as CTAs:

Landing Page ripped by jeremy said

Overall, however, Leather Shoppes is failing miserably from a conversion optimization standpoint.

  • They have the organic traffic.
  • They have first-position results.
  • They have no conversion optimization.

Don’t worry. I’ve already sent an email into corporate requesting a time to discuss their conversion optimization. (I’m serious; I did.) These people need help.

you sir, need some serious help

Let’s do this again.

What’s the second result for “best leather sofa?” Hold on to your minds. (They might get blown.)

Hooker Furniture and their Bradington Young division landing page

I have no doubt as to the high quality of Hooker Furniture and their Bradington Young division. What I do question is their digital marketing strategy, which appears to be nil.

Although they have won the No. 2 organic results for “best leather sofa,” this page has nothing to do with sofas, far less to do with the best, and absolutely no CTAs.

If Bradington Young wants to sell more sofas in the world — a task carried out through independent furniture retailers — they are not doing a very good job. This page is about American entrepreneurship, the small town of Cherryville, the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains and a group of enterprising young entrepreneurs.

This page needs some serious optimization work:

  • Relevant content
  • Calls to action.

Is there a good example in here somewhere?

Thankfully, yes. Here’s Sam’s Club to the rescue:

Sams page for selling sofas

Sam’s is interested in selling sofas. As the third organic position, they have a good possibility of doing just that. Why? Because they have CTAs, some optimization efforts, and a decent website.

There is a two-click path to purchase:

CTA on organic clicks

Sams CTA number two


Conversion optimization for the win.

This is an organic result, but it is also an e-commerce site.

What about information-rich pages that don’t have an overt e-commerce focus? Let’s get out of the furniture industry for a minute and look at something else.

Cufflinks. Some dudes like to wear cufflinks. Cufflinks, as it turns out, can be pricey. Just wearing them is an art. The savvy consumer will do some research, like this:

savvy consumer doing google research

The first result is for a website called The Compass, under the URL The Compass is a style journal, but it is also an e-commerce site — Black Lapel

Not only can you read about cufflinks in their comprehensive guide, but the company Black Lapel sells cufflinks.

They have an excellent review of cufflinks. Everything you need to know about wearing them is handed to you:

BlackLapel landing page

How are they doing on selling cufflnks? Not very.

The only CTA is a tiny menu bar option:

CTA on the compass

I understand that they want to retain their status as a style journal. They don’t want to force-feed their readers with stuff.

But look at what’s going on! They have first position organic. They have incredible content. They have customers who are going to buy cufflinks!

But in order for those customers to go from research to action, they have to be guided down the conversion funnel in a fairly obvious and straightforward way. A little text link at the top of the page will not cut it.

In order to maximize their effectiveness, The Compass and its associated e-commerce efforts should join forces to create a CTA strategy that is not off-putting but attractive to the research-eager customer.


Let me sum up the gist of this article in just a few points:

  1. Your customers aren’t stupid. They’re smart. And they research.
  2. You need to get in front of that research with great content.
  3. Instead of focusing on optimizing your paid search landing pages, you need to optimize the content-rich pages that customers use for research.

So let’s get out there and optimize some organic pages, huh?

optimize some organic pages


Jeremy Smith

Digital marketer with a penchant for dance; helping clients see the light through the jungle of tweets since before Twitter was cool.