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.

meta-narrative (1)

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.

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.

image

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.

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

donmagicjuansurgery
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.

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.

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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.

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