- Ed Hill
If you can’t figure out how your competitors manage to get to the top of the Google rankings while your brand lurks on page 3, or how to attract more visitors to your blog or website, or even what content to create, don’t worry you’re not alone.
The constant tweaks by search engines in the last 3 years have left many marketers wondering if their next SEO tactic will get them traffic or a penalty from Google. The search engines have always wrestled with how to present consumers with results that actually meet their needs.
But it’s been a game of cat and mouse as marketers create cleverly optimized sales pages and users never know if they are going to land on real, valuable content or a pitch. Over time the game got very complicated and Google’s algorithm evolved to the point where it evaluated over 200 factors about each webpage in order to decide whether that page actually met a searchers’ needs.
The Turning Point
In the last three years, however, there’s been a turning point. With Google’s Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird updates there has been a new focus on the quality of content versus the quantity. Instead of relying merely on the attributes of the content on the page, or using links from webpages to judge the quality of a webpage’s content, the search engines are now finally able to incorporate social media signals.
Using social media likes and shares, Google finally developed a way for people to in essence vote on which pages had the best quality information. Today search engine rankings are essentially being heavily influenced by the actual preferences of real people.
Unfortunately this makes your job as a marketer more difficult, because these search engine changes require you to really get into the customer’s head and create content that genuinely meets their needs. This has caused some old hands to throw their hands in the air and declare SEO to be dead. But the reality is that the game is just more demanding.
It would, therefore, appear that now the only reliable way to increase search rankings is with high-quality content that people will like and share with others. Creating a continuous stream of relevant and useful content that meets customer needs is the most effective way to dramatically grow your traffic from both social sharing and from search engines.
Looking back on my experience with online content building, I’ve seen many cases where this approach to quality content has paid off dramatically. For example a financial services client focused on creating articles, blog content and videos that answered actual user questions and met customer needs for financial education. This value first approach built trust and triggered social sharing. As a result search optimization started to increase web traffic dramatically within the first three months of the content building process.
The Right Content at the Right Time
Guiding this process is our understanding of the Consumer Decision Journey, which helps brands map what content they will need at various points on the path to purchase and beyond. This approach allows brands to prepare exactly the right content for each step along the way, and is equally important in search and social visibility when the consumer is searching for answers.
For example a company in the housing vertical combined social media sharing and search optimization to promote content on their website that was useful to apartment seekers. Research revealed that the two main target segments had different needs. The Young Singles were concerned with sports and activities near their potential apartment location. The Young Family group on the other hand, 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 nearby pet parks. With these insights in hand, the content team set about building hundreds of pages of neighborhood-specific content, covering schools, sports, activities and, yes, pet parks. The payoff for meeting consumer needs was dramatic. The peak search and social traffic grew from 1.1 million visits per month to 2.1 million visits per month.
Finding Out What Content to Make
It starts with listening to target consumers. Find the forums, social media networks and blogs where your potential customers are asking questions and talking about their problems. There are lots of ways to do this, but at IQ we find the fastest way is to use a social listening platform.
For many, just making a list of customer questions about problems and challenges that customers care about can be a powerful starting point. If you can generate a list of 50 to 100 questions that consumers routinely ask, you can start to hone in on a content strategy.
When consumers begin to look for a product that meets their needs or that solves a problem they usually start with very little information. So the opportunity is to intersect that process and become a knowledge source for their journey.
How do you create this type of content?
- Find the relevant forums, social networks and blogs where customers complain about their problems and ask each other for advice.
- Catalog all the consumer questions that your brand can solve.
- Identify solutions to common questions that you uncovered in your list of the most common 50 to 100 questions.
- Create useful content that answers questions in multiple ways, such as infographics, presentation slides, articles, blog posts, videos and images.
- Make sure the content is useful and actionable so that it helps users to understand the most important parts of solving their problem.
- Distribute your content to your owned media and get it shared using social media to expand your reach.
- Build links from social sites and forum sites that are authoritative sources on this topic.
- As you answer these questions, target long-tail phrases rather than single keywords in your SEO.
- Structure your website content to clearly and concisely answer all the key questions that you uncovered in the earlier steps.
Search engines reward content that answers customer questions and meets customer needs with a higher search engine rank. The key is content that is relevant to the searcher at that particular moment in their journey.
If a brand maps the journey correctly, makes engaging, valuable content for every key step on the way, and makes it easy to find, it will become the trusted knowledge source for the entire journey and for consumers throughout the category.
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