Author: CT Moore

The founder of Socialed Inc., CT Moore has over a decade of experience in Digital Marketing, and has managed SEO, Social Media, and Content Marketing campaigns for both start-ups and multinational brands alike. His writing has been featured in dozens of publications and blogs, and he’s spoken at conferences throughout Canada, the US, and Europe. You can stalk CT and learn more about him through his LinkedIn profile.

Syncing Your SEO & Content Strategies

app-sync-in-progressWhether or not you agree with them, there are two cliches that digital marketers don’t seem tired of repeating: “SEO is Dead” and “Content is King”. I’m actually a little embarrassed to even mention them, but they’re gonna provide a nice little segue into the main narrative of this post — which is about how you can create better, more relevant content by mining search data to produce the kind of content that your actual potential paying customers might actually engage with.

Before we can get into that, however, I should probably elaborate a bit on why you should still care about SEO, especially when you’re trying to create content for human beings instead of search engines.

SEO Isn’t Dead or Dying, it’s Just Evolving

Most of the broohaha around SEO being dead is based on an misunderstanding of what it actually is. If you consider this infographic from SEO Book, what you start to realize is that SEO isn’t dying, it’s just evolving.

Like most things (and industries and technologies) in this world, SEO is in a constant state of flux, and what used to be true about it, may or may not be anymore.

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Take your car, for instance. Once upon a time it would’ve run on leaded fuel and had a carburetor instead of fuel injection, but that doesn’t mean that automotive engineering ever died. Rather, the technology changed and evolved, becoming much more advanced and complex, and what once passed for auto engineering best practices would now be considered crude and archaic.

It’s the same thing with SEO: it’s not nearly or simple or straightforward as it used to be, and now requires a degree of tact that makes it much closer to a science than a parlor trick.

Optimizing for Discovery & Optimization

Like any organism or technology that evolves,the way in which SEO is evolving is in response to a change in its ecosystem, and the changes in that ecosystem are being driven by how search algorithms have evolved to reflect how their own ecosystem (the web) has become a much more complex beast.

Essentially, the last 14 years of Google’s algorithm updates have brought the Google algorithm closer and closer to an AI algorithm, and that algorithm isn’t so easily fooled by some backlinks and keyword stuffing. Rather, they look for queues that reflect how users (i.e. human beings) now use the web, and rank content based on what those users’ needs actually are.

nomenclature (1)This is why SEO is now about optimizing content for discovery and conversions. Whereas it used to be about showing search engines that you had relevant content (onsite keyword density) that other webmasters trusted (through backlinks), now its about demonstrating that you’re relevant to actual users on an ongoing basis by getting users to engage with your brand and your content.

Of course, this makes it necessary to product content that doesn’t suck (i.e. optimizing content) and then get it in front of users (i.e. discovery) so that they can interact with it (i.e. convert) in a meaningful way. Most digital marketers seem to intuitively understand and agree with this approach, but then kind fumble when it comes to executing.

So the question becomes: How do you figure out what kind of content your users are actually interested in and likely to engage with instead of being just another content marketer that the internet hates?

Building a Keyword Narrative

If you’ve ever taken a serious shot at SEO, then you’ve done keyword research and determined what search terms users are actually using to search for your products/services. If you haven’t done this, you’ve never taken SEO seriously because you’ve never made an attempt to understand how how your potential customers use search engines. Once you’ve done your keywords research, though, you’re in a position to sync your SEO and content strategies by building a keyword narrative.

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A keyword narrative is not about producing content that targets specific keywords and/or is stuffed with them. Rather, it’s about using keyword data to understand what kinds of content your targeted users are likely to engage with.

Basically, keyword research is an important first step for optimizing your products/services pages. However, it’s not always so useful for creating compelling content because no one really wants to read, engage with, or share content that was built around keyword stuffed themes.

The search volume data around those keyword groups, however, is very useful if you compare it against your user/customer profiles. Essentially, what you have to do is:

  1. Developing customer personas that typify your target market segments — e.g. by age, income, gender, etc.
  2. Segment your target keywords across those personas based on which ones seem to fit with the searching habits of those personas’ demographics
  3. Calculate how much of all your total target keyword’s search volume each persona seems to represent
  4. Calculate the average between the each persona’s search volume and the proportion of your sales they should represent
  5. And then develop an editorial calendar of content types that targets those personas based on that average — e.g. if persona-A seems to represent 40% of this average, then make sure that 40% of your content will appeal to persona-A

So while the keyword research goes toward optimizing product/service pages, keyword narrative goes toward ranking engaging content in front of actual potential customers.

The whole idea, here, is to get the the right proportion of content out and in front the right audiences. After all, it’s great if you’re producing viral content, but if that content doesn’t appeal to your customers, then it’s not going to help you rank on their searches.

The Hard Truth About Content Marketing

rank-googl (1)Of course, your content still has to walk a line between being relevant to your industry/business and being engaging, and that’s where you’ll have to put on your creative thinking cap (or hire someone with one), but no one ever said good content came easy. Just like SEO has its inconvenient truths, so does content marketing.

In this way, content marketing is a lot like tattoos: good work isn’t cheap, and cheap work isn’t good.

The point is don’t declare a channel dead just because you haven’t properly invested in it in a way to yield results. SEO has never been a quick, cheap fix, and now that it requires that you develop solid content that your actual customers are going to engage with, the buy-in has gotten a bit higher. But if you want to benefit from the equity and retention that SEO and content together can offer, you have to be willing not only to adequately invest in them, but that investment time to mature.

Knowing What and When to Outsource

Competing in the digital landscape usually means competing on several fronts. You need good design (product or web), solid tech (frontend and backend), strong marketing (acquisition and retention), and the talent to help make it all come together. Indeed, even on the marketing front, you need to find the right balance of SEO, PPC, affiliate marketing, and content, to name just a few.

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As the old saying goes, however, Jack of all trades, master of none. No one company can (solely) excel at everything it does, but that’s also why companies tend to outsource at leastsome of what they do. Of course, knowing exactly what you should outsource and when you should do so is another thing altogether.

Do you delegate it to a team member even though they don’t specialize in it? Or do you hire additional staff to take care of it? Or do you pay a bit more to an agency or consultant because there’s not enough work to justify a full-time hire?

These are all questions worth asking when deciding whether or not to outsource, and like all business decisions, it’s one that should be based on a cost-benefit analysis. Not all costs are easily quantified and entered into a ledger, however, and a proper cost-benefit analysis requires that you factor in some less tangible costs. And when trying to identify and assess some of these hidden, intangible costs of outsourcing, there are a few questions you should be asking yourself.

What’s the Oppotunity Cost?

The first question you should ask is “What would be the opportunity cost?”. In other words, “What’s gonna suffer if you try to take this on internally?”.

Opportunity-Cost-Look

At any given point, you only have so many resources. More often than not, those resources already have goals, mandates, and timelines. And if you take on anything else internally, some of those resources will need to be diverted. So you need to decide whether the relevant resources can justifiably be diverted from whatever else they’re doing.

If it’s just a question of postponing the company newsletter to get up a banner ad that’s actually going to drive sales, then diverting those resources probably makes sense. However, if it’s a question of completely suspending all your ad campaigns while you find a replacement for that media buyer who just quit with no notice, then you’ll want to carefully consider whether saving on agency/consultant fees are really worth the foregone revenues.

Is it Your Core Business?

The next question you’ll want to ask yourself is whether the project or deliverable you’re thinking of outsourcing is part of your core business or not. Even if you’re looking at something that your business regularly needs, it might not be worth managing in-house if it’s not part of your core business. After all, by trying to develop the necessary resources in-house, you can end up getting completely distracted from your actual business, and end up hurting your bottom line in the long-run a lot more than you think.

not-your-business For example, many companies require physical office space, and every office needs to be cleaned, right? Well, our office had a rotating cleaning schedule. That is, until we realized that the revenue or growth a team member could generate in the time it took them to tidy up the office far outweighed the cost of hiring something else to do it. So we ended up hiring one of my clients, Montreal Office Maintenance, not only because it made good financial sense, but because we’re in the marketing business, not the property management one.

What’s the Urgency?

The third question you need to consider has to do with how urgent something is. Especially if something is part of your core business, but arises suddenly, you might want to consider outsourcing it.

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I mean, sure, maybe you (or one of your team members) should’ve anticipated the need, or maybe something that no one could’ve predicted popped up. But that’s not what matters. What matters is that it requires immediate attention (and execution), and diverting internal resources to deal with it will only completely disrupt some other part of your business.

As an agency man, I regularly get requests from clients to handle something that’s not part of our normal mandate with them. Simply put, the client ended up with overflow. It may be something we can handle, or we may refer them to someone else, but the point is that it’s something the client knows it can’t stall on and is better off paying a bit more to outsource it than to wait to get it done itself.

Counting More than Just the Beans

On paper, the idea of vertical integration sounds all fine and dandy, but like most things theoretical, it doesn’t always work in practice. Of course, there are cost efficiencies associated with taking things in-house, but there are still a slew of intangible, hard-to-quantify costs associated with them, too.

Just like you’re more likely to rent office space than try to build your own, you’ll want to rely on third-party service providers to support other aspects of your business. So don’t be pig-headed next time outsourcing is an option, and look beyond just the trees to see the big picture. Because even when costs aren’t tangible, the revenue/growth you can generate by being mindful of them are.

When to Use an Agency

well-let-me-tell-you-about-outsourcingIf you’ve ever been in a position where you’ve had to choose between hiring an employee or hiring an agency, to do something in-house or to outsource it to a third-party, then you should probably read this blog post.

Why? Well, partially because I want your eye-balls and attention (and your validation via comments and Likes, and the like). But mostly because when it comes to choosing whether to outsource a project or deliverable, or not, it’s a question of costs, and I’m about to tell you how to do a cost-benefit analysis that takes into account more than just the line-items in your budget or expenses.

Basically, the costs of doing business transcend the checks you write. Depending on the project, deliverable, or resource you’re looking considering, there are often other, hidden costs, and you have to take these into account if you want to make the right choice for your business. And there are couple questions you should be asking if you want to uncover some of those hidden costs.

Is it part of your core business?

The first question you need to be asking yourself is whether the project/deliverable/resource you’re considering is part of your core business. If it’s not, trying to develop the necessary resources in-house can be a complete distraction and diversion of resources from your actual business, and end up hurting your growth and/or your bottom line a lot more than you think.

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For instance, most businesses require office or retail space, but that doesn’t mean they build it themselves. Rather, they rent real estate from a real estate company because they don’t have the expertise to build or manage brick and mortar space.

The same reasoning can be applied to any other project/deliverable you’re considering. If you’re a small ecommerce store with only a few dozen SKUs, for example, then you’re probably more of an online retail company than a technology one, so it probably makes a lot more sense to outsource a lot of your web development needs and IT infrastructure than to build up internally.

Amazon, on the other hand, has a couple hundred million SKUs, and deals with such a staggering volume of traffic that it is a technology company, because any amount of downtime can mean millions of dollars in lost revenue. For that reason, it does make sense for them to maintain the infrastructure and engineering support staff that it does.

Where the line between something that is part of your core business and something that isn’t can be murky, and that’s up to you to decide. But it’s certainly something you should be considering before deciding whether to actually invest in developing the resources in-house, because doing so can end up changing your core business model in (undesirable) ways you did not anticipate.

What are the opportunity costs?

Another thing you need to consider is what you will not be able to get done while you’re working on a project in-house. In other words, what would be the opportunity costs?

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For instance, even if something is routine, it often doesn’t make sense to divert resources to getting something done when you can simply outsource it to someone who specializes in it. For example, at the Brendan & Brendan office where I rent desk space, we used to have a rotating cleaning schedule where two team members would take a couple hours every Friday to tidy up the office. Not only was this a bit of inconvenience for whoever was scheduled on any given week, but the combined 3-4 hours those team members were spending on cleaning would’ve been better spent on getting things done. What we ended up doing was hiring one of my clients, Montreal Office Maintenance, to come in once a week to handle the cleaning, because even though this was an extra expense for the business, the revenue that could be generated in those extra 3-4 hours of productivity every week more than offset the cost of using a janitorial service provider.

Similarly, if a very urgent project or deliverable comes up, it could really disrupt your business or productivity to pause other operations to divert resources to doing it in-house. If that’s the case, you might want to consider using your agency or a freelancer to handle that overflow while you focus on keeping the other parts of your business running at full capacity.

Not Making Pigheaded Decisions

Whenever you’re making a business decision, it’s important to remember that counting beans is not the same as looking at the bottom line. If you’re really going to be strategic or proactive (or whatever) with how you choose to spend money, you have to look beyond the decimal points, because sometimes what looks like a cost-saving on paper manifest as a lost revenue down the road.

So the next time you’re trying to decide whether to use your agency (or hire one) for a project, don’t forget to consider those other (sometimes hidden) costs that your accounting department doesn’t see because they’re not yet on paper. Your job, after all, is to grow your business, and that means (1) focusing on what it actually does, and (2) anticipating the opportunities and pitfalls that haven’t yet been committed to the books.

Refining Your Keyword Narrative

We’re all probably tired of hearing the phrase “Content is King,” and we’re tired of it because it’s become such a cliche. But the thing about cliches is that they’re cliches for a reason; that is, they’re generalizations or stereotypes that are accurate more often than they’re not.

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Well as far as the content-being-king cliches goes, you can’t achieve much as an online marketer without it. PPC ads need copy and landing pages, SEO requires authoritative content, and Social efforts tend to hinge on engaging content such as memes, blog posts, and status updates. And something that you have to consider when deploying content across multiple channels is to (1) make sure it’s designed for that specific audience without (2) compromising your messaging or brand consistency.

One case in point is developing SEO content that doesn’t read like SEO content. Basically, if you create content just for the sake of targeting keywords, it ends up reading like vapid keyword spam that no one reads or engages with. And if no one engages with it (via Shares, Likes, and +1s), the content itself offers no real SEO value in the end.

app-sync-in-progressSo the trick to syncing your content and SEO strategies is to develop a keyword narrative by:

  1. Developing customer personas that typify your target market
  2. Segmenting your target keywords across those personas based on which ones seem to align with the apparent searching habits of those personas
  3. Determining what proportion of your total target keyword’s search volume each persona seems to represent
  4. And then developing an content strategy that targets those personas based on the proportion of searches each one represents — e.g. if persona-X seems to represent 40% of your potential searches, then make sure that 40% of your content will appeal to persona-X

But your data analysis shouldn’t stop there, especially since you haven’t really collected an real data yet. It’s only once you start developing content that attracts visitors via Organic Search (or Social, or Paid Search) that you can really step up your content and SEO efforts, because it’s only then that you can actually examine how they interacted with the content (and your site), and what the ROI of that content was.

At this point, you want to consider collecting some kind of customer analytics that are actionable. In other words, you want to start drawing correlations between how certain kinds of content attracted certain kinds of users, and what the value of those users were to your business.

Source: iPerceptions
Source: iPerceptions

From there, you can actually challenge many of the assumptions you started out with about the different personas that make up your target market, and determine how content (and SEO) efforts should be modified to have maximum impact. For example, you might discover that content you developed for persona-X is boosting your rankings for keywords that are attracting persona-Y, or even some unforeseen persona, and by increasing your production of such content, you can actually appeal to two or three personas all at once.

The point is that your SEO tracking needs to go above and beyond traffic source, avg. time on site, and conversion rate. You need to make an effort to understand (1) what kind of users people are coming through on Organic Search and to what content, (2) what the value of those visitors are, and (3) how your content strategy and keyword narrative can be refined to maximize ROI.

SEO Traffic: A Reminder

Credit: Paul Couture
Credit: Paul Couture

Full Disclosure: I’m a professional SEO who has a heavily vested interest in companies investing in, well, SEO so that I can carve out my own little slice of the American Dream.

Okay, now that I got that out of the way, let me get to the point as quickly as possible: SEO represents the most targeted source of traffic online.

Why? Well, because search engines send you users who are (1) already interested in your products or services, and (2) they’re already looking to buy. In other words, they are already one step down the conversion funnel. You don’t have to convince them to buy. You just have to convince them to buy from you, and if you’ve done your job, they’re already on your website.

Social traffic is great for brand visibility, but not so much for driving sales. I mean, sure, you can target people by interests and social graph and all other kinds of creepy data sets. But when people log on to Facebook or Twitter, they’re there to hangout and talk sh*t. They’re not there go shopping.

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Even if you use a killer piece of content to drive them back to your site, there’s no guarantee that they’re in the mood to make a purchasing decision, or even in the market for whatever it is you’re trying to sell them. In fact, they’re probably not even going to look at your products or service pages. They’re just gonna consume your content, share it (which is great), and then move on.

With search engines, though, you can get in front of users who are actively shopping around, and when you do, its your products or service pages that they’re looking at.

Of course, there are some inconvenient truths about SEO, like how it’s not a quick fix. In fact, it’s something you have to actually invest in over time. You’re going to need to do things like create killer content and build an ongoing keyword narrative.

But the investment is going to be worth it. That is, of course, as long as you’re selling something that actually offers value and you’re not a complete jerk to your customers.

But, seriously, think about it. If you don’t believe me, just dive in to your Google Analytics and compare the average conversion rate of your organic search traffic with your other traffic sources. The numbers don’t lie

Get Hit with Some Knowledge (Graph)

A couple years ago, Google launched a little-known feature called knowledge graph, and recently rolled out a few changes to it (again, on the down-low). While most of us never heard anything about it, but we have all certainly seen the impact in our search results.

Just take these search results for “jfk”. In it, we not only see search engine result page (SERP) for “jfk”, but an excerpt pulled from Wikipedia, some additional biographical facts (also pulled from Wikipedia), some additional searches (in this case, other political figures) that other users also search for, and some recommended alternate search (such as for the airport and the film).

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Another area where you’ve probably seen Google’s Knowledge Graph in action is with Answer Boxes, such as this one for “when is miley cyrus birthday”. Here, we not only get the answer to our question as the first result, but a bunch of “related people” birthday results, as well as some biographical info about Miley as pulled from Wikipedia.

It's your birthday and you'll Twerk if you want to...
It’s your birthday and you’ll Twerk if you want to…

So what’s my point?

So you’re probably wondering what JFK and Miley Cyrus have to do with marketing your website, right? I mean, isn’t that why you’re reading this? ‘Cause you want to market your site and it’s products/services?

cool_story_bro_superWell, I can think of at least 3 good reasons why you should care about Google’s Knowledge Graph:

  1. Increased Visibility – basically, it gives a chance for your brand (or products) to show up in related searches (such as those for your competitors).
  2. Reputation Management – the Knowledge Graph gives you an opportunity to pimp out and capture/control more the SERP real estate on brandname searches, making you look a lot more credible.
  3. Added Discoverablility – users will discover more about your brand and its products/services on searches related to your brand or product/service keywords.

Now that I’m making a bit more sense, you’re probably wondering what you can do to reap some of the benefits of this whole Knowledge Graph thing. Well, as with all things SEO there’s (probably) no end to the things you can do to continually squeeze the most out of it. But there are 3 places you should be starting, so I guess I should give you a heads-up on each of them.

Get on Wikipedia

So you might’ve noticed that Wikipedia is kinda a big thing with the Knowledge Graph. From providing excerpts that Google pulls to helping to fueling the related searches under “See related searches”, having a Wikipedia entry really enhances your brand’s ability to become a bigger part of the Knowledge Graph.

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Of course, it’s not like you just go sign up for a Wikipedia account today and just throw up an entry about itself. Rather, Wikipedia has rules about that kind of thing, and if you get caught spamming, that entry (and the user profile that submitted it) are gonna get pulled.

The best course of action, then, is know-a-guy-who-knows-a-guy. Basically, you wanna find a Wikipedia editor who’s edits/entries relate to you entry, and that’s probably going to require a PR approach. After all, Wikipedia editors have worked hard to attain their status, and they’re not gonna put it on the line just to spam the community with a copy/paste of your boilerplate.

Optimize for Google+

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I’m so meta…

Now, you might be thinking “Really? Google+? Who really uses that other than Google employees who eat doughnuts?” But aside from the social network actually showing some signs (albeit slow ones) of users actually starting to use it, Google is kinda forcing it down our throats by incentivizing marketers to use it.

For starters, when content gets +1’d, it carries a bit (or a lot) more weight than it should in terms of impacting the SERP performance of that content. More importantly, having a pimped out Google+ profile offers marketers a chance to both show up in Knowledge Graph SERPs, as well as include their Follower count on PPC ads.

The point is that you’re gonna have claim/set-up your brand’s Google+ profile (if you haven’t already), and then optimize it. You can get a whole bunch of granular, useful tips on how to optimize your business’s Google+ profile from the gShift guide, but suffice it to say that it’s going to require things like:

  • completing all the fields in its About section
  • using and updating it regularly
  • and actually building Followers who actually +1 your content

I know, another social media profile to manage and maintain, right? But it’s really not that hard, and your social media intern or community manager probably isn’t busy enough, anyway, so you mind as well get a little bit more for the salary you’re paying them.

Structure Your Data (with Rich Snippets)

If you wanna reap the SEO benefits of the Knowledge Graph, you’re gonna have to turn an eye to your actual site, too. Basically, you’re gonna have to make sure that all the content on your site has been sorted, categorized, and tagged in a way that Google know where into the Knowledge Graph it fits. And you do that by structuring your data.

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You’ve most certainly seen search results affected by structured data. Such results are commonly referred to as having rich snippets, and rich snippets are pretty much anything that features extra data on the search result’s landing page. The example for “lasagna recipe” above, for instance, includes users ratings for that recipe, the number of reviews it’s received, the cooking/prep time, and even the how many calories per serving this recipe has.

Rich Snippets are available for just about any kind of content you can think of, from product pages and videos results to movie and real estate listings. Regardless of what product or service your brand offers, you can probably find a mark-up scheme on Schema.org. The site provides guidelines on how to integrate structured data mark-up on just about every kind of content, and while properly implementing it can be a headache for your web integrator, that’s their problem, not yours 😉

Do it Right, Do it Yourself

Google’s Knowledge Graph is pretty much about helping users find all kinds of content that’s (possibly) related to their searches. To do that, Google has figure out what’s related to what, and as much data as the search giant has, that’s a pretty big effing job with a lot of room for errors.

So if you’re interested in leveraging the Knowledge Graph and pimping your brand’s SERP performance, don’t wait for Google to figure out (and maybe misunderstand) what kind of content you have. Instead, get off you ass, and take matters into your own hand.

How to Sync Your Content and SEO Strategies

cydia-app-sync-in-progressSo if you’re being honest with yourself about SEO, then you know that you have to do the whole content marketing thing. But how do you tackle it in a way that supports your SEO strategy without compromising the integrity of your content — e.g. without making your content suck ballz?

Well, the obvious answer is to hire me and pay me loads of money to either take care of it for you, or at least show you how to do it. But since you’re reading this blog post, you’re probably more of a DIYer, in which case I’m never going to make any money off of you, so I guess I’ll just have to settle for your eyeballs (and, hopefully Retweets and Likes) for now, and give you a couple of hints.

Develop a Keyword Narrative

Normally, when you set out down the SEO-road, you start with some keyword research. This means figuring out how users (e.g. other human beings) are trying to find your products or services, or those of your competitors, or possibly some reasonable substitute. freud

Once you’ve done that, you end up a with a whole bunch of targeted, high volume, and maybe even highly competitive keywords that you want to try to rank on. Of course, if you start just developing content just of the sake of including those keywords, you’re going to end up with some kind of diarrhetic prose that reads more like a Nigerian spam email than anything anyone would read — never mind share.

The way you get around this is by building a keyword narrative. And you do that by:

  1. Developing some customer personas that typify your target market
  2. Segmenting your target keywords across those personas based on which ones seem to fit with the searching habits of those personas
  3. Calculating how much of all your total target keyword’s search volume each persona seems to represent
  4. And then developing an editorial calendar of content types that targets those personas based on the proportion of searches each one represents — e.g. if persona-A seems to represent 40% of your potential searches, then make sure that 40% of your content will appeal to persona-A

Brainstorm Relevant Ideas

brainstormNow that you’ve figured out how much of your content needs to appeal to different kinds of users, you not only gotta come up with content ideas that will actually appeal to those users, but it has to be relevant to your products and services. For example, if new mothers are one of your personas, an infographic about the value of breast feeding isn’t going to do you any good if you’re trying to sell them baby formula.

Find a non-Douchey Way to Interlink That Sh*T, Yo!

So now that you have some not-so-crappy ideas about what kind of content you need to create to appeal to each kind of user-persona, you need to find a non-douchey way of linking that content back to the pages that feature whatever it is you’re trying to sell to them. You want to do this because (1) interlinking to product pages is kinda important for SEO, (2) Google uses the content we consume and interact with to personalize our search results, so (3) a link from content we like is going to have more impact on a page’s ranking (on a personalized search) than a link from a piece of content we ignored.

So, you see, the goal isn’t to get the user to click on the link, but to get them to interact with the content so that that link more heavily influences our search results.

Of course, you gotta find a way to do this without it making the content suck, but you’re a smart DIYer, aren’t you? I mean, you’ll find a way, like slipping it into an author bio or by throwing in a cheeky comments in brackets or at the bottom of your posts that reads something like “[Just because you like this post, there’s no real reason why you’d like or hate our website’s homepage.]”

If you Pimp It, They Will Come

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But remember: “Pimpin’ ain’t easy…”

So, maybe you’ve seen Field of Dreams, but even if you haven’t, you’re totally gonna be able to appreciate where I’m going with the title of this section (and be ever so slightly surprised that I’m leaving a pun like that in a blog post about SEO and marketing).

But the point is that just ’cause you throw a piece of content up against the wall, that doesn’t mean it’s going to stick. No, just like interacting with content can help influence your personalize search results, so can other people interacting with content. In other words (and I love how redundant this is gonna sound), the content has be popular if you want a lot of people to see it (and then maybe interact with it.

It’s the whole chicken-and-the-egg problem: is content shared a lot because it’s popular, or is it popular because it was shared a lot?

Point being, you’re gonna have to Tweet and Facebook and Stumble and Tumbl that content until the cows come home. And when I say “cows”, I mean big fat cash-cows named Betsy because it’s gonna help drive up your rankings, and organic search traffic is the most targeted source of traffic online because the users are pre-qualified and already looking for your products/services, which means that they’re going to give you all their money and you’re gonna be rich and get to retire at an early age, and spend the rest of your days optioning your memoirs to Hollywood and not caring because you’re already rich.

Some Inconvenient Truths About SEO

46792074So you think you know something about SEO? Let me guess: you read a few blog posts, and maybe even The Beginner’s Guide to SEO? Well, if Malcolm Gladwell is to be believed (and he probably should be because he’s wicked smart), you probably don’t know sh*t about SEO because it takes about 10,000 hours to master anything.

I myself, on the other hand, have been working at the SEO game for almost 9 years, which puts me at almost a twice-over expert. I’ve been watching the Google algorithm evolve for almost a decade, and have had to adapt my strategies and tactics every step along the way. So let me share a few pointers with you so that you’re in a better position to make a sound decision next time you have to decide whether to invest in SEO or evaluate whether the SEO you’re thinking of hiring is full of sh*t or not.

Intentional Targeting: How SEO Offers the Most Targeted Traffic Online

Before I get to the inconvenient truths about SEO, let me remind you why you those inconveniences are worth it: SEO offers the most targeted source of traffic online. Why? Because, well, search users are (1) already looking for your products/services, and (2) really feel that the organic search results represent the best possible options available to them (if only because they don’t realize that there are SEOs like me out there manipulating those results).

terminator-vision

Take social users, for instance. You might be able to target them by interest or social graph, but you can’t target them by intent. In other words, you can’t control for what mindset they happen to be in. Users use Facebook or Twitter to socialize or share, and when you’re hanging out and having fun, you’re not necessarily in the mood to buy anything.

With search, however, users are actively looking for products/services similar to yours. And that means that they’re already one step down the conversion funnel.

1. SEO is NOT a Quick Fix

patience-yodaThe first inconvenient truth about SEO is that it’s not a short-term strategy. Depending on your industry and target market, it’s much more of a medium- to long-term one.

Simply put, it takes time to obtain (i.e. “earn”) organic rankings. It’s just not possible to own any Google (or Bing or Yahoo!) rankings overnight. Rather, if you’re truly committed to SEO (and reaching those targeted users), you’re probably not going to start seeing an uptick for 3-6 months, and it might be 12 months before you get that return on your investment. You will, however, see that return. After all, these are the most targeted and (pre-)qualified online, and they are already one step down the conversion funnel.

2. SEO Offers Economies of Scale

Once you’ve obtained some decent rankings (and I’m talking Top 5 rankings, here, because the vast majority of users don’t click on anything after position #5), your cost-per-click (or cost-per-acquisition) actually diminishes with every click. In other words, SEO offers you economies of scale.

Source: Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia

You see, with PPC or social media ads, there’s a fixed cost associated with every acquisition — i.e. you pay about the same for every click. With SEO, however, every referral you get from the search engine results pages (SERPs) costs you less and less with every click.

The problem with obtaining these economies of scale (or any, for that matter), however, is that you have to invest up to a certain point before you can reach them. So not only does it take time (see point #1 above), it also takes resources.

3. SEO Offers Economies of Scope

In addition to offering economies of scale, SEO also offers economies of scope. Basically, once you obtain ranking on one keyword, it becomes a lot easier to rank on other keywords.

economies of scope

The reason is that every trusted or authority page on your site contributes to the over trust and authority of the entire site. So when you create a new page, that new page gets to sorta piggyback off of the credibility of the other pages that are already ranking.

This doesn’t, of course, mean that new pages (or products, or services) will automatically rank alongside (or even nearly as well as) those that you’ve already invested in SEO for. But it does mean that you (probably) won’t have to invest (proportionally) as much in those new rankings as you did in the ones you’ve already earned.

The inconvenience of these economies of scope, however, is that you’ll have to be investing in new products/services (and their respective pages) before you can realize those efficiencies.

4. SEO is Equity

GroundskeeperWillieJust like SEO is a medium- to long-term strategy, and just like it offers economies of scale and economies of scope, it’s also something that offers equity. Basically, the rankings you have are a kind of earned real estate, and like all real estate, it needs to be tended to if it’s going to maintain its value.

In other words, you have protect your investment. So while it’ll cost you so much to rank on certain range of terms, you can’t just set it and forget it. Once you own (or achieve) certain rankings, you’ll have to invest in maintaining those rankings. This means allotting a certain amount of budget in defending or protecting your investment.

Just like a reigning champ, you can’t just rest on your laurels. You either have to go into retirement or be that defending champ that keeps getting in the ring — staying sharp and nimble, and continuously winning/earning your top rankings.

5. SEO Requires Killer Content

You know that whole thing about content being king? Well, part of the reason is that you’re probably not gonna be able to rank well without some good content behind you.

And I’m talking more about that viral mill kinda content that’s just overhyped linkbait. I mean, sure, producing that kind of content won’t hurt your rankings — and the tons of backlinks and social signals it generates will certainly help your site’s overall trust and authority with search engines. But it’s not gonna help you rank on targeted terms.

Rather, what you’re gonna need is the kind of content that your target market is actually gonna be interested in. This means that it has to be related to your products/services (think how-to’s, support forums, and lifehacks) so that it actually is relevant to the terms that your target market is searching for (and that you’re trying to rank on). And since what counts as killer content for one brand isn’t the same for one brand as it is for another, this also might mean getting customer feedback on what it is users like about different content and why, and then using that insight to refine and focus your content efforts on an ongoing basis.

6. SEO is Technical

da-vinci-helicopterLast but not least, SEO is both a science and an art, and that means that there’s a technical side to it. Simply put, all the great marketing and content in the world isn’t going to help you outrank the competition if your site isn’t up to par. In other words, it doesn’t matter who the driver is if the engine is sh*t.

This often means developing and maintaining a site that’s (1) fully indexable, and (2) doesn’t create duplicate content issues. So while it’s tempting (and fallacious) to think dev resources are better allocated elsewhere, you have to make sure that both your front- and back-end are meeting SEO best practices, and that those best practices are applied to every future site build.

SEO, Keyword Narrative, and Your Content Strategy

Content is king, blah, blah, blah. Great content drives SEO, blah, blah, blah. We’ve all heard all the cliches before. But just like there’s a huge difference between building websites for search engines and building websites for users (i.e. human beings), there’s a difference between writing for search engines and writing for users.

panda-penguin-300x227Well, not exactly, anymore You see, over the last couple years, Google’s Panda and Penguin updates have been shaking up what it takes to rank. To oversimplify it, while Panda has gotten really good at judging the quality of content, Penguin has gotten a lot better at figuring out the popularity of that content. And one of the ways they both do this is by evaluating content’s social imprint.

The point is that writing for search engines now means writing for actual human beings (or at least a lot more than it ever has). The problem when you do that, of course, is you end up with popular (or even viral) content that is not at all related to the terms you’re trying to rank on. So while you’re attracting tons of social signals and backlinks (which are all good for SEO), they’re boosting your rankings for terms that have nothing to do with your products or services.

The result: you end up with a lost of trust from the search and popularity among users, but not enough relevance to actually rank competitively on terms that will help you drive conversions.

The 3 Facets of SEO (in a nutshell)

stooges3If you’re willing to allow for some more oversimplification (for simplicity’s sake, of course), there are basically 3 fundamentals components of SEO:

  1. Indexation: this has to do with whether search engines can access all the pages on your site, and how they go about it — you know, the technical stuff.
  2. Relevance: this has to do with what keywords search engines associate with your site, and how those associations are reinforced.
  3. Popularity: and this is all about how many backlinks and social signals are being generated around your content.

The first two of these are usually pretty easy to tackle, and are the very first and second steps to a solid SEO strategy. The real trick is developing (targeted) keyword relevant targeted that can actually gain the popularity it needs to help you rank.

The Challenge (with Keyword Research)

Normally, once you’re sure that your site architecture lets Google (and those other guys) find and index all your pages, you start working on making those pages as relevant as possible for the most targeted keywords — i.e. those that users are actually using to look for your products and services. You start that process, moreover, by doing some keyword research.

matrix (1)

The thing with keyword research is that (when it’s properly done) it’ll give you insight into how users are searching for your products and services, and it’ll help you optimize your product (and category) pages, but it’s not always useful for developing popular content because content that’s been developed specifically keyword density usually reads like it was written for search engine and not a human being — and human beings don’t share (or link to) that kind of content.

The Solution: Keyword Narrative

freudProperly done keyword research, however, can give you insight beyond just how users are searching for your products. It can also give insight into the kinds of users interested in your products. In other words, it can give you insight into their personalities and their psychographics.

Basically, people search for the same things in different ways because they are different kinds of people with different goals and priorities. Each group of these people can also be understood as different customer profiles. And each of those profiles can be targeted through good content which will, in turn, boost your rankings on the targeted keywords that are relevant to each of those customer profiles.

Step 1: Audit Your Keyword Research

So the first step is to conduct a keyword research across all your product/service verticals. So if you’re a show retailer, this might include men’s sneakers, women’s sneakers, high heels, open toes, etc.

Step 2: Segment Your Keyword Verticals

apple-to-orange

Now that you have all the keyword data for each keyword vertical, you’ll need to choose 5-10 top priority keywords based on a mix of:

  • Search Volume – the more a keyword is searched for, the more traffic it can bring
  • Competition – the more competitive a keyword is, the harder it’ll be to rank for, but there’s probably a good reason why everyone wants to rank on it
  • Avg. CPC – and the more people are bidding on that keyword on their paid search campaigns, chances are the higher quality traffic it delivers

Once you’ve done this, you’ll probably notice that there are keyword combinations with very different mindsets behind them — e.g. “cheap sneakers” indicates a discount shoppers, while “best sneakers” indicates shoppers looking for high performance products. So start breaking up your targeted keyword groups into psychographic profiles.

Step 3: Develop Content Based on Data

Now that you have each of your targeted keywords segmented into profiles in each keyword verticals, you can determine how what proportion of your potential search traffic each customer profile represents. For example, you might determine the following:

  • Discount shoppers represent 40% of your potential search volume
  • Brand conscious shoppers 30%
  • and Performance conscious shoppers 30%

From here, you can determine that 40% of your content should target discount shoppers, while 30% of your content should target brand and performance conscious shoppers respectively. Now you can go forward and distribute your content resources accordingly, creating content that’ll appeal to each of you target customer profiles.

Let the Data Guide Your Creativity

There’s this perceived tension in the marketing world between creatives and quants. The stereotype goes that creatives see the quants as bean counters who don’t know how to connect to people, and the quants see the creatives as artsy-fartsy types who just clamor for any kind of attention they can get.

Whether or not this is the case with your team, it doesn’t have to be. The beautiful thing about the split between quants and creatives is that they each represent different sides to the same coin — the conversion coin.

What should be happening is that quants should be providing the insight and inspiration that creatives use to get jiggy with it, and SEO is no different. Your SEO should be aggregating and segmenting the data that your content team can use to develop that killer kind of content that’s supposed to be king. Doing this will not only help you develop more engaging content, but content that can support your efforts to rank on targeted keywords that can actually drive sales.

You’re a Content Marketer and the Internet Hates You

The last couple weeks haven’t been kind to content marketers. First, Google’s very own anti-spam enforcer, Matt Cutts, went after guest posting. Then Downworthy (a browser plugin that rewrites sensation headlines) declared war on clickbait. And finally, the Boing Boing editor, partner and tech culture journalist, Xeni Jardin, sounded a call-to-arms to reclaim the internet form the so-called “viral mills” of the internet marketing world (the irony of which was not lost on the Boing Boing community).

An Ironic Call to Arms (Source: BoingBoing.net)
An Ironic Call to Arms (Source: BoingBoing.net)

So what’s a marketer to do? Do we have to start worrying about the day where users rise against the machines in some sort of Skynet reversal scenario? Probably not…

This happened, for realz...
This happened, for realz…

Truth be told, all this hype is, ironically, the same kind of sensational hyperbole that it’s targeting in the first place. What’s really at issue, here, is that there’s a little bit more buzz than usual about how users (i.e. human beings) hate douche bags, so as long as you’re not a douche bag, or don’t let any douche bags infect your marketing, you should be fine.

That, of course, doesn’t mean that just ’cause you’re not a douche bag users are spontaneously going to find you. You still have some marketing to do. The real question is “How to go about it?”

Create useful & meaningful content…

In a sense, all marketing assets are content. From billboard and print spreads, to banners and PPC ads, almost everything you use to communicate a value proposition or unique selling proposition is something that engages users (or consumers) on some visual and cognitive level.

What do you think?

The thing about users (or consumers), though, is that they’re human beings. They’re human beings with limited bandwidth and attention span, and if you’re hoping to capture any of it and hold it, then you have to respect that by being mindful of their needs and how you can cater to them.

This is kinda Marketing 101 stuff. Just because someone is a human being, it doesn’t mean that they’re a potential buyer or targeted lead. And that’s what you’re supposed to be after as a marketer: targeted leads.

So when you’re creating content, focus on (1) who your target marketing is, (2) what you can do for them, and (3) how you can help them understand just what exactly it is that you can do for them. In other words, your content shouldn’t be focused so much on generating a sale (or click) directly, but on engaging human beings by helping them solve some problem or fill some need. If you can do that, your brand will be top of mind the next time they set out to make a purchasing decision.

and not just for SEO…

Another upside of this is that guest blogging is not actually dead. Instead, it’s getting back to what it was originally meant for: reaching out to a pre-existing community, engaging it, and giving them something it can use and appreciate and benefit from.

If you’re creating meaningful and useful content, you have every reason to take it out to the communities that are already out there that can benefit from it. ‘Cause, you know, we have another word for communities in the world of marketing: a target market.

So don’t be afraid to guest blog. But when you do so, do it for the right reasons — which do not include the linkjuice you’re going to get out of it. Rather, guest blog because you’ve found a community out there (i.e. target market) that can relate to you because you can relate to them.

and then build community…

True story...
True story…

Going out to the community is nice enough, and it’s a good start, but as a marketer, it won’t completely solve your problem of how to acquire and retain new customers (because let’s face it, that’s what marketers should be out to do). So you’re going to build a community around your brand, and that means making and maintaining a content footprint that’s not easily forgotten.

This might sound like a big, long-term, ongoing commitment, but that’s ’cause it is. And, of course, it’s not gonna be cheap, but you get what you pay for because content is a lot like tattoos: good ones aren’t cheap, and cheap ones aren’t good.