Without a doubt, search engine optimization is the foundation of any digital marketing strategy. After all, if people can't find your content, is it really that good?
Every time I hear the expression, "Content is king," it makes me cringe for two reasons. First, it has become a catchphrase overused on memes as frequently as the Mona Lisa appears on mouse pads. Second, content is only king if it reaches the right people. To be more accurate, content designed to target the right buyer persona in the right buyer's stage is king, and SEO-driven content alone is simply a court jester.
You can have all of your SEO ducks in a row, a solid technical foundation, your best keyword strategy, and an off-site focus aimed at achieving a flawless backlink portfolio. Yet all of this hard work is meaningless if your verbiage doesn't advance past the traditional theoretical development of the content marketing concept to embrace an innovative business model perspective. What does that mean? Be buyer-focused first and foremost, and stick to a plan that still produces content Google will love.
Your content needs to think with an inbound brain
The buyer has completely transformed the way we sell, because buying habits have changed in part due to technology and search capabilities. There are thousands of studies that indicate between 80 and 90 percent of all American consumers engage in online research before making a purchasing decision. These statistics also apply for physical in-store shoppers. According to a study by Synchrony Financial in association with Forbes Insights titled ‘A Split Screen: Online Information and a Human Touch’, the majority of shoppers prefer to mix technology with their in-store visits when making a purchase. The old ways of closing a prospect are dead. Buyers have access to a wealth of information, and they love it.
According to a study by Synchrony Financial in association with Forbes Insights titled "A Split Screen: Online Information and a Human Touch," the majority of shoppers prefer to mix technology with their in-store visits when making a purchase. The old ways of closing a prospect are dead. Buyers have access to a wealth of information, and they love it.
If your content is only written to rank while giving a broad education, you are not on a winning pathway to increasing sales and gaining new customers with high lifetime values. Rather, identify your buyer personas, create a persona for each cohort and write optimized content designed to trigger their needs according to each stage of the inbound marketing buyer's journey model: awareness, consideration, decision.
Creating content for buyers in the awareness stage
This is the stage at the beginning of the journey where a buyer recognizes their pain point and understands that they require a solution for solving the issue at hand (they just don't know what it is yet). This is why typical SEO-friendly educational content fails; this type of buyer doesn't know what solution to use and therefore requires more area-specific focused educational information before they are willing to consider a solution.
Content for the awareness stage should explore all the various pains your consumers' experience prior to researching your products and making a purchasing decision. By talking to your sales team and collecting customer surveys (even surveys from people who didn't buy) you can better understand their pains by pinpointing what lead them to making an informed purchase.
Once you have a pretty good idea of the common customer pains, you can begin creating content that will both rank, resonate and move them through the funnel.
Your keywords should be a mix of short form and longtail varieties that focus on the following:
- Word variations of their symptoms
- Word variations of their pain or problem
- Common questions buyers ask in the awareness stage
If your company sells sports medicine products, and you want to create a strategy to market elbow braces, your keywords could include:
- Elbow pain/elbow strain/painful elbow/swollen elbow
- Stiff elbow/can't bend elbow/elbow hurts
- Causes of elbow pain/why does my elbow hurt/how do people strain their elbow
By creating content using these types of keywords, you will help your consumers in the awareness stage of the buyer's journey while simultaneously ranking for the right readers. Again, these people are not ready to buy; they are still defining their goal or challenge.
Creating content for the consideration stage
Using the same analogy, let's assume your reader has determined they have tennis elbow. Your buyer came to this conclusion because he met most of the symptoms mentioned in your content, and because the reader is a school teacher who makes repetitive movements on a classroom whiteboard and plays tennis on the weekends, he is satisfied with his identified challenge. Now he needs a solution, and this is where the consideration stage occurs.
By the way, this is one of your buyer personas: a mid-30s, middle-class male with tennis elbow who uses repetitive elbow movement in his job and in an athletic hobby. Your content needs to speak to this persona and go over the common solution options he would consider. This is a vital stage in the buyer's journey because it is the tipping point that will transition him into the decision stage where he can become a paying customer.
Keywords for content aimed at this buyer type, in this particular stage, may include:
- How long does tennis elbow last
- How to cure tennis elbow
- Does tennis elbow require treatment from a doctor
- Affordable tennis elbow treatments
- Braces for tennis elbow
- Best tennis elbow treatments
- Doctor recommended elbow braces
- What are the best braces for tennis elbow
Using keywords like these, your content can rank while educating your buyer on his options. Let's say he has determined that, since going to the doctor is expensive, he is going to buy an elbow brace and take Tylenol for two weeks to see if the pain goes away. He has considered several options, and your content has helped him finalize the best approach for his needs.
Creating content for the decision stage
In the decision stage, your buyers have decided on a solution category. For example, they could have created a pro/con list of your elbow brace offering (and for a competitor's) and then choose the option that provides the best solution.
Your content should focus on hitting the criteria points that consumers use for evaluating offers. Again, interview your sales team and collect data from customer questionnaires and surveys; this will help you tremendously in crafting content for the decision stage.
You will also want your content to cover the things that most buyers like about your products compared to alternatives as well as any general concerns. If your research reveals that buyers have expectations centered on trying out the offering before making a purchase, create content that amps up the trust factor by projecting the desired outcome in a way buyers can personally identify with (a narrative approach works well here).
If there are various decision-makers in the buyer's journey, be sure your content covers each perspective grounded in the decision stage. By crafting clever content that helps take down the "what ifs" and "buts," you will compose a robust foundation for each stage of the buyer's journey that translates into compelling verbiage (and it will organically rank, too).
Successful SEO depends on buyer-centric content
Think about it: Even if you have flawlessly optimized content that ranks on the first page of Google, you won't be up at the top very long if your content isn't favored by the people initiating the search queries. If your content isn't optimized to rank the right keyword phrases within buyer-journey-specific strategic verbiage that resonates with the relevant pain points, your audience will click right out to seek educational information elsewhere more appropriate to their awareness stage.
Remember, since Google RankBrain rolled out, algorithms use artificial intelligence and machine learning to help pair the best search results to specific queries. As Google observes your high click through rate with a massive bounce rate and dismal session duration, your ranking will lose relevancy and quality. This is why any successful SEO strategy relies on buyer-centric content. It is also illustrates where digital marketing has been headed – to a stratagem where search engine optimization and buyer-centric content go hand in hand.
As Synchrony Financial and Forbes Insights discovered through careful research, most in-store buyers use technology to make a purchasing decision. These are the people who prefer a more human experience by being able to touch and physically engage with a product before making a purchase, yet the majority still relies on an online education to pull the trigger in the decision stage.
This is why mobile optimization is especially important to your content in the decision stage of the buyer's journey, more so than any other. It also further emphasizes why SEO and the channels of inbound methodology are dovetailed together to provide a superior, agile digital marketing build for clients seeking aggressive strategies that transcend anything offered by cookie-cutter agencies.
Avoid content that chases bots and customers
If your SEO approach is focused on chasing the bots by trying to rank for Google's algorithms while also striving to capture buyers and close them, you are destined to fail. Instead, use a well-optimized customer-orientated approach that pulls people in and nurtures them versus chasing them down.
By attracting people in the early stage of the buyer's journey and leading them through the funnel, you can easily convert them into prospects that become delighted buyers and brand advocates. The theoretical side to content-driven, inbound lead generation relies on SEO to make it a successful reality, and without search engine optimization at the helm of your inbound ship, your efforts will chalk up to "theory-driven dreams" at best.