Match Your Prospect’s Search Image

Match Your Prospect’s Search Image

The animal inhabitants of the Costa Rican rain forest spend most of their time and energy looking for food and trying not to become food. They’ve evolved an amazing array of predatory and defensive strategies in the never-ending battle for survival. For example, bird species that feast on insects have a huge array of choices – thousands of different potential meals. It’s more overwhelming than the dinner menu at the Cheesecake Factory.

But not all of the insects are edible. Some are poisonous to birds. Some are yucky-tasting (a scientific word meaning "unpalatable").  And a whole bunch of yummy bugs have evolved to look like the poisonous ones. 
So what’s a hungry bird to do?
Before you answer, think about these two constraints:


Constraint #1: Too Much Information

When my family and I hiked in a Costa Rican rain forest for four hours, we saw exactly one animal – a hairy tarantula standing in the middle of the path, with a "you want a piece of me?" expression. The animals were there – we could hear them, and even see their pictures in the laminated card we got at the gift shop, but the place looked like a greenhouse ghost town. Everybody was hiding or camouflaged in the varied and verdant environment.

Finding the animals was like playing "Where’s Waldo?" Except that instead of hundreds of people in red and white stripes vying for our attention, the multiplicity of leaves, mosses, ferns, and barks obscured the hundreds of animals evolved to hide in plain site.

I tip my hat to those insectivorous birds who choose to make the rain forest their home and restaurant. Anyone looking for animal protein in that place has got to have amazing eyesight.

Constraint #2: Limited Processing Power

Birds have small heads, which means limited cranial capacity, which means their brains are, well, bird-brained. Small. Not a lot of processing going on in there. Think about the computer you bought in 1994 trying to run Second Life and YouTube.


The Strategy: Search Imaging


To recap: the birds can see tons of stuff – about 7 times more detail than humans – but can’t deal with all the information because there’s more stimuli than capacity to process it. (Sound like us on the Internet?)

Even though there are lots of palatable species of insect available to them, the birds focus on one or two at most because they lack the brain processing power to take in and evaluate the entire visual landscape. So they create a "search image" in their head before they start looking for food, and only pay attention to what matches that search image.

They miss a lot of potential dinners (having no capacity for opportunism), but rarely go hungry. That’s how your prospects are looking at Google’s search results. 

They are overwhelmed by the sheer size of the web. By the amount of information available on every single topic. Websites, articles, videos, audios, PDFs, emails, banners, popups, blog posts, blog comments, tweets, SMS, voice mails, argghhhh…

So when they search, they are not looking for more information. They are looking for LESS. To eliminate everything that isn’t breathtakingly relevant, interesting, and important.
And they search with an image in their mind. A search image that allows the brain to ignore almost everything that doesn’t match the image. 
How do you know what their Search Image is?
They tell you – by typing it.

Keyword = Search Image

If someone is searching for "industrial clean room", they see the following ad headlines on the first page of Google:
Cleanrooms Built-to-suit
Industrial Clean Room
Clean Rooms
Modular Cleanrooms
Cleanroom Products
CEI Cleanroom Technology
Modular Cleanroom Systems

Which headline matches the search image? Only one – Industrial Clean Room. It captures the eye immediately, because that click requires less thought, less expenditure of processing energy, than any of the others. 

Now – are the other ads also relevant to the search? You might argue that the word "industrial" is superfluous: all cleanrooms are industrial. So why bother showing it in your ad?
Because your prospect has told you exactly what their filter is. They want industrial, you give them industrial. Otherwise they will tune you out.
Opportunism – clicking on a "Gee, this might be interesting" ad – is not a preferred strategy in an environment of information and opportunity overload. 
In a perfect world, you might suppose, your ad would mirror the search image for every keyword in your AdWords account. But that’s not realistic, nor even desirable. (Your long-tail keywords belong in groups, if only to garner enough traffic to determine split test winners.)
The best practice here is to isolate and reflect the search image for your "money" keywords – the high-traffic, high-converting words that keep you in business. Each of them deserves its own ad group and its own ads, perfectly keyed to the pre-filtered desire of your prospect.

Don’t Be Mechanical

I don’t want to give the impression that you should always simply paste the search term into the headline. A lot of the time you should, but not always.
The main exception is when everyone else is doing just that. If the prime directive of search marketing is Relevance, then the sub-prime directive is Uniqueness. If you want to be seen, you’ve got to stand out.

More on that strategy in a future BOPzine. For now, just remember that your prospects aren’t just searching. They’re hunting. With eyes that can see more than their brains can process. If you want to get caught (and you do), then match your ad to the search image they’re already carrying. 

This Week’s Product Offerings: Links You Should Visit

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Online, it’s straightforward: they’re looking, they’re clicking. Offline, how can you apply the AdWords model of them looking for you, instead of ineffective, demoralizing cold prospecting? 

Check out – my first info-product, and still a favorite.

BONUS BOP QUOTES (for reading this far)


A man sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest.
– Paul Simon, "The Boxer"

You can observe a lot by just watching.
– Yogi Berra
I told my wife the truth. I told her I was seeing a psychiatrist. Then she told me the truth: that she was seeing a psychiatrist, two plumbers, and a bartender.
– Rodney Dangerfield
The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.
– Unknown


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