The constant changes to search engine marketing over the last ten years have left marketers and business owners, like you, wondering if their next web marketing tactic would gain customer traffic or gain them a penalty from Google. Before 2009, spam marketers could create cleverly optimized sales pages, so web shoppers were never certain if they would land on a raw sales scam page or on a page that actually answered their questions and met their needs.
There was always an escalating arms race between marketers and the search engines. Search engines, like Google, eventually learned to disregard obvious spam tactics in their quest to present relevant results to search engine users.
The Customers became smarter and they adapted. They learned several techniques to find reliable products and vendor pages in the search results. The Customers started writing longer search queries in the search engine to help them find exactly what they wanted. The Customers chose trusted web sites based on product reviews and site reviews. They relied on their friends on social media to recommend trusted B2B and B2C vendors for solving specific needs.
Eventually The Customer won the search engine race. After Google’s Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird updates there was more focus on quality of content versus a quantity of content. Google went beyond relying merely on the attributes of the content on the page, or using links from reputable web pages to judge the quality of a web page’s content.
By 2016, Google added RankBrain, an AI and machine learning tool that translated complex or vague human search phrases into questions that Google could answer. This ability to understand many different ways to say the same thing works pretty well.
You can try it out by typing clues about what you are searching for into the Google search bar.
- find me the most expensive restaurant that serves gumbo and cold beer
- long boring book about a man catching a fish
RankBrain makes Google pretty good at handling vague queries written by your sharpest B2B client or by people leaving a bar at 2 am. RankBrain was described at the time in a 2015 Bloomberg article: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-10-26/google-turning-its-lucrative-web-search-over-to-ai-machines
“RankBrain uses artificial intelligence to embed vast amounts of written language into mathematical entities — called vectors — that the computer can understand. If RankBrain sees a word or phrase it isn’t familiar with, the machine can make a guess as to what words or phrases might have a similar meaning and filter the result accordingly, making it more effective at handling never-before-seen search queries.”
This change allows you as a business owner or marketer to go beyond keywords and start thinking in terms of topics and groups of related topics that your customers care about. But there’s another aspect to consider, which is the searchers intent. Searcher intent considers what the searcher want to do with the query result. Intent accounts for whether a customer wants to find a place, needs to learn more about a topic or try to buy something related to their search question.
Your job as a marketer or business owner has become more difficult because these search engine changes require you to think more like a customer and create content that actually meets customer needs. These changes have led some analysts to say that SEO is dead. But the reality is that search engine optimization has gone beyond mere technical tricks. The only SEO that really works is to focus on Content Marketing or Inbound Marketing.
In a world where customers ignore paid ads and research reviews and articles before they buy anything, successful marketers focus on crating quality content. Content marketing helps you leverage changes in customer behavior and changes in the search engines to gain more traffic and more buyers.
What your business web site or blog needs now is high-quality content that’s worthy of web searchers’ attention. Your web content has to be great content that people will like and share with others.
You can gain tremendously from focusing first on increasing the amount of quality content that meets your customers’ needs. To know what your customers need, you can’t stay in your office. The answer comes from asking your customers questions, using customer surveys, finding customer questions in social media or finding customer complaints in review sites. This is the first step to understanding customer needs. As you’ll see later, the payoff to this approach can be huge for your business.
Based on the customer knowledge you’ll gain, you can create a stream of relevant and useful content that meets customer needs that will dramatically grow your traffic from both social sharing and from search engines. Just answering customers’ questions and educating them about their product options helps them move along the buyer decision journey.
We know this quality content approach works from real world experience with our clients. Looking back on our experience with online content building, I’ve seen many cases where this approach to quality content has paid off dramatically.
The path to purchase means preparing content that meets the need for search and social visibility when the consumer is searching that channel. I led content strategy for the ApartmentGuide SEO and content marketing campaign with a brilliant team of 5 writers.
This web site in the housing vertical combined social media sharing and search optimization to promote content that was useful to apartment seekers. How did we nearly double the ApartmentGuide web site monthly visits in only 7 months? The key was writing content that met the needs of the two buyer persona types that came to our site to find apartments.Research data revealed that the 2 main customer persona types had different needs.
- The Young Singles persona were more concerned with sports and activities near their potential apartment location. The Young Family persona group was more concerned with nearby schools and the neighborhood quality for their children.
- Surprisingly, further research uncovered that the Young Singles group, frequently owned pets and that they would actually change their choice of apartments if offered more room or nearby pet parks for their furry family members.
The content team set about building hundreds of pages of neighborhood-specific content covering schools, sports, activities and pet parks. The payoff for answering the customers’ needs and questions was dramatic. The peak search and social traffic grew from 1.3 Million visits per month to 2.1 Million visits per month. ApartmentGuide ad revenue increased more than $70,000 per month because of that improved traffic.
So how can you combine content marketing, search optimization and social media sharing to gain more traffic? It starts with listening to customers. Find the forums and social media networks and blogs where your potential customers are asking questions and writing about their problems. Just making a list of customer questions about problems and products that customers care about can be a powerful starting point. If you can generate a list of 50 to 100 questions that customers ask, this is the starting point for creating content that customers care about. When customers start to seek a product that meets their needs or solves a problem they start with very little information. So the a crucial part of your role as a marketer is to teach the customer about the factors that they require to solve their problem. How do we build this type of customer teaching content?
- Find the relevant forums, social networks and blogs where customers complain about their problems and ask each other for advice.
- Catalog all the customer questions that your business can solve.
- Provide solutions to common questions that you uncovered in your list of 50 to 100 customer questions.
- Create useful content that answer customer questions in multiple mediums, such as infographics, presentation slides, articles, blog posts, videos and images.
- Distribute your content and get it shared using social media to expand the reach of your content
- Provide useful and actionable content that helps users to understand the most important parts of solving their problem.
- As you answer these customer questions, target long-tail keyword phrases rather than single keywords.
Combining useful content, search optimization and social media sharing is incredibly effective in gaining search visibility. Search engines reward content that answers customer questions and meets customer needs with a higher search engine rank.The Quickest Path to Content Marketing that Incorporates SEO and Social Media If your company lacks the skills and talent resources to combine useful content with SEO, you can still benefit from this approach. Because this powerful combination of skills is not found at every business, there’s no reason for you to go it alone. We’ve been through this content building, social sharing and search optimization process many times and we know the most efficient path to gaining more traffic and customer conversion for your business.