TopRank Online Marketing
Lee Odden

Why A Transition From Optimizing for Search Engines to Optimizing for Customers is Essential

By Lee Odden     Marketing & PR Industry, Online Marketing, SEO

optimize for customersJudging by the daily new business inquiries we get every day, there’s a groundswell of companies that have become frustrated at the lack of cause and effect data from their SEO programs.

Sure, there are workarounds for things like “not provided” keywords, but the lack of information and uncertainty about what Google will take away next is causing many marketers to diversify into other owned, earned and organic areas: social media, content marketing, online public relations, and certainly into online advertising.

At the same time, as SEO practitioners have matured as marketers, the shift from keywords as the driver for content optimization and creation have been displaced by a focus on answering customer questions along the sales cycle.

Ironically, this emphasis on solving for the customer and architecting content according to satisfying customer information is in alignment with Google’s Hummingbird update – i.e. the move away from “keyword SEO” to creating useful, customer-centric content that answers their questions is actually good for SEO.

But so many marketers have relied upon and benefitted from traditional SEO tactics and reporting, that they have a hard time letting go. Their internal marketing performance reporting is often keyword driven and a ridiculous number of companies cannot answer the question: “What is the profile of the target customer you are optimizing for?”. What does the sales cycle look like? What topics are important during the customer journey?

Think about that.

There are numerous companies that have top tier writers creating keyword optimized content with no clear identification of who the content is for, or what the specific intended outcome is. Or where one content object fits with other content and how they are connected to the customer experience.

What legacy SEO focused marketers often care about is rankings, organic referred traffic, and page views with trend lines that go up and to the right. There’s not a lot of focus on customer experience, customer journey or differentiation amongst segments.

Even if marketers were convinced that keyword lists and ranking reports are no longer the primary way (yet still useful in some ways) to manage a website marketing program, they aren’t set up to move to something else other than various online advertising options.

I’m sure more than a few brand marketers reading this can relate to situations where management wants tactics to affect certain big picture measurables like “rankings and traffic” that are not necessarily tied to other important metrics like increased orders, sales, revenue, customers added, sales cycle duration, and cost of marketing/sale. It’s the old KPIs vs. business outcomes thing.

So how can you move from that all-SEO program and mindset to a customer focused online marketing program?  How can you put SEO in it’s place within the marketing mix without discrediting yourself and past advice? What’s the go forward and how can you continue to provide value with roots in SEO but with an emphasis on customer targeting across the sales cycle?

Fundamentally, it comes down to cracking the nut that is your target customer and how solving information problems for them in a way that leads to achieving business goals – leads, revenue, profitability, referrals, lower marketing costs, retention and advocacy. Optimize covers this in depth. That’s not a book pitch, it’s the truth.

Every week I know that companies are contacting their SEOs and saying, “Hey, we love the work you’re doing, but we’re shifting our focus. What else can you do for us?” When that happens, you’re up to bat, what are you going to do?

Are you going to start rambling on about algorithm changes? Or maybe say that social media is the new SEO? Better yet, talk about how content marketing is the new SEO!

Content Marketing is NOT the “new SEO”

My challenge to companies still focused on keyword vs. customer driven online marketing is to take a step back and maintain perspective on where SEO fits in the marketing mix. Content is the reason search engines were created, so broaden your perspective and think about answering the why, for who and what outcomes are expected with content. Understand who the target audience is and why they buy. See the relevant topics and stories you could tell in your content and let that drive creation, optimization, amplification and engagement.

Some marketers will say, “We don’t have people who know how to do that.”. 

The good news is that agencies like ours that integrate multiple marketing disciplines have been helping companies with these discussions and transitions for years. You may not know this, but our company roots are an integration of public relations, direct marketing and SEO – since 2001. That long standing “SEO plus” approach has helped keep SEO in perspective.  After all, SEO is just marketing.

The last thing you need, is to pay a SEO consultant for advice only to later find out the effect of that advice (quantity, not quality content, overly aggressive links) is now working against you. Next you’ll be asked to pay to undo what you paid to have implemented in the first place. Whether that comes as a result of SEO hucksterism or brand greed, it’s expensive and potentially deadly. And it’s completely avoidable.

Not all SEO consultants put their clients at risk like this. Not by a long shot.

The reason to transition from keywords to customer optimization isn’t just to avoid risky SEO tactics. The drive to make the transition should be a clear picture of how your company can better serve your customers.

Start speaking customer and focus on content that helps your brand become  the best answer for customers, where ever they may be: search, social, email, publications, mobile.

More important than getting into the weeds of how to make the transition is acknowledging that the change needs to be made. Then having the confidence that what you evolve to is something that actually works – for customers, for your business and especially for you in your role as an agency or a brand marketer.

Has your company made a transition from old school SEO tactics to a more customer focused, integrated marketing approach? Do you ever feel stuck with SEO focused reporting and want something more strategic?


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