Call it organic marketing, call it inbound marketing or even content marketing – the practice of creating useful information to generate demand and attract an audience of buyers vs. buying ads to push messages out to them is one of the highest impact, low cost approaches to digital marketing a business can take.
The practice of optimizing content for better search visibility goes hand in hand with the broader approach of inbound marketing. SEO best practices can be applied to content across the entire sales cycle to surface brand content during awareness, consideration and purchase behaviors as well as after the transaction to reinforce retention and advocacy goals.
While SEO has evolved along with the changes search engines continue to make, it’s still full of opportunities. In particular, is the practice of creating amazing content and media only to rely on paid amplification for exposure – ignoring the value that natural search brings to the visibility of content. That said…
The only thing worse than no SEO is “All SEO”
The hubris of only seeing online marketing opportunities through the eyes of search engine optimization creates situations where the mighty keyword takes precedence over customer engagement and conversions. Sure, ranking and referred organic traffic are the KPIs SEOs are most often held accountable to, but using SEO as the sole determinant for content inspiration and promotion is “limiting” to say the least.
Recently I had a chance to elaborate on this perspective with the folks at DGR in an interview about how B2B companies can better understand SEO and Inbound Marketing to boost the performance of their marketing. Here’s most of that exchange:
What are some of the best practices for SEO and Inbound Marketing?
Like any marketing program, best practices inbound marketing and SEO start with objectives, an understanding of the target customer and a marketing plan with a tactical mix. Defining key performance indicators that track progress as well as metrics that will determine program success are also best practices.
Where a lot of marketers fail with inbound marketing efforts is to view content solely as a link building tactic for SEO. Or they see content as something that only matters for search rankings and not something that can pull customers through from awareness to consideration to purchase.
Inbound relies on content to attract, engage and convert new customers that are actively looking for solutions. Marketers that understand how customers discover information on the web can effectively plan content around topics buyers want information on. Keyword research around those topics will aid in the optimization of the content so it can be found through search.
Best practices SEO is a combination of technical readiness of a website, optimized content and links. Factors like page loading speed, authorship and structured data can improve different aspects of search marketing performance as well. Creating useful information that is optimized for the things buyers are looking for is another best practice. Actively promoting content will attract links from other websites and social networks, driving traffic and serving as signals that can be very powerful for search marketing visibility.
There are many other organic or inbound marketing best practices that range from publicity and media relations to leveraging social media and realtime content recommendation engines for content topics. And we can’t forget email marketing, marketing automation and conversion optimization.
What’s working well with SEO and Inbound Marketing?
Companies that get the blocking and tackling of technical SEO readiness and rich content (text, images, video and audio) plus active promotion to attract links have many more opportunities to refine their search marketing performance. Some of those opportunities include:
Integration of Content, SEO, Social Media and PR: Integrating SEO and inbound marketing efforts with media relations works well since established publications that cover a brand can send traffic and strong link signals that influence rankings. Creating rich media content like videos, presentations, infographics and interactive tools that are useful and entertaining (and also optimized for keywords) can attract direct traffic, links and social shares that result in improved organic visibility.
Marketing Automation: When there is an active effort to create optimized and socialized content for the interests of specific customer segments, marketing automation software can be very effective for nurturing prospects through the buying cycle. Email communications directly with interested prospects that inform and inspire them to move from interest to transaction has worked very well for many companies, especially in the B2B space.
Brand Publishers: Businesses that take content seriously are becoming publishers in their own right and a robust mix of content design for specific customer segments can be a goldmine for an inbound marketing program. But it takes time to get that kind of momentum, so patience and an ongoing effort to optimize program performance is necessary. Insight from CRM analytics, conversion data, SEO keyword research, social media monitoring and real-time interactions with content can all inform the long and short term content planning for a very powerful inbound marketing program.
How can marketers improve the performance of their inbound campaigns?
Any inbound program can be improved upon, depending on program goals and the ability to execute on a strategy. The first step is to view inbound as equivalent with overall marketing vs. a campaign with a start and stop. Inbound requires a long term commitment to content, promotion and analytics as well as an ongoing effort to optimize inbound marketing performance.
Understanding the questions customers need answered in order to buy is the most fundamental thing marketers can act on to improve the performance of their inbound campaigns. As my co-worker Alexis Hall has mentioned to me many times, “A shift from product focused content to customer needs focused content provides an amazing difference in marketing performance.” Answering customer questions is the most straightforward way to meet customer information needs.
A content plan that maps key questions along the buying cycle for each customer segment can be the roadmap for content that is optimized for search, socialized for networks and publicized for industry blogs and publications. It’s often an inbound marketing improvement opportunity to revisit the data that informed each customer segment profile and persona, since customer communities can be quite dynamic. Adjusting for changes in customer preferences can result in improved content and inbound marketing performance.
By delivering content that’s actually useful to buyers (instead of how brands define useful) marketers can find substantial performance improvements.
What are some of the things B2B marketers need to consider as they plot their inbound and SEO strategies going forward?
For B2B marketers and longer sales cycles, content that fuels the buyer journey is important and distinctly different than B2C. Studies show that content preferences for B2B marketers can be different, requiring brands to conduct research, produce longer form content and both on and offline events. While B2B is often associated with boring white papers and case studies, the information in those content types is highly valuable for customer acquisition.
What B2B marketers need to consider is the packaging of their content to become both informative and entertaining, aka “infotainment”. Competition for time and attention is fierce with the rise of content marketing, so brands need to tap into the creative and “human” side of B2B in order to stand out.
Also, many B2B buyers are committees, not sole individuals. That requires some understanding of the committee process and dynamic. You may have multiple personas to deal with and create content for, which is very different than implementing an inbound marketing program directed at a single persona.
What would you add as best practices for SEO and Inbound marketing?