The word “optimize” has been a staple concept for SEO professionals and online marketers for many years. While SEO is one of the most effective online marketing tactics for customer acquisition, there’s a lot of misinformation and outdated opinions about the role of optimization with internet marketing.
Our CEO at TopRank Online Marketing, Lee Odden, is helping to change the way marketers think about and implement optimization as a holistic approach to content marketing online.
At a Minnesota American Marketing Association (MNAMA) event in Minneapolis last night, he shared that the premise of optimization – and sometimes SEO in general – can be overly keyword-driven and not entirely focused on customer experiences or business outcomes.
As an SEO practitioner, it’s easy to get caught up in links, title tags and keywords vs. focusing on the customers you’re actually trying to connect with. How can we teach ourselves to step back and take a more holistic approach to optimizing content while keeping the target audiences and how they behave online in mind?
As an example, Lee shared a story about asking for kid-friendly recommendations in NYC a few years ago via Twitter. Many people, even those that he did not know personally tweeted recommendations. He Googled people’s recommendations to check out the websites and used that information to make his travel plans. Then he shared his experiences during the trip through social media channels like Flickr, Twitter, Facebook and a blog so those that helped plan the journey were able to follow along. That same experience of using social media for recommendations and search engines to validate information has become the norm for the customer journey online from awareness to interest, to consideration and then purchase.
The creation of content, and the channels which marketers have to pay attention to, has increased exponentially even in the few years since the story above played out. There is a lot happening on the search and social web, the amount of content created and shared every 60 seconds can be daunting. What does this mean? It means that we need to view optimization holistically, to bring content to the world in a way that attracts and engages customers vs. a reliance on KPIs like rankings and followers.
The recipe for making this happen is different for each company, and being adaptable is an important part of any online marketing and content marketing strategy.
Think about this: What is the top referring source to your website? Is it Google? What would happen if Google were to disappear tomorrow, or maybe it’s your site disappearing from ranking on page 1. What effect would that have on your marketing? Your business?
If you focus on the end customers, and optimize for more than Google you are setting your company success related to longer-term outcomes.
Next, Lee transitioned to talking about optimizing for customers, experience and outcomes. This will help position your brand beyond dependence on any one channel.
Step #1 – Know Your Target Audience
- How does your target audience search for information
- How do they consume information
- What are their preferences in terms of content types and devices
Step #2 – Ask Why When Reviewing Your Marketing
- Why are we creating a certain type of content?
- What types of content will motivate them to share, progress in a buying cycle and ultimately become a customer
Understanding audiences will enable you to optimize for various stages of the buying cycle and across different audiences personas.
To get started on understanding audiences, leverage the framework below:
- Research Customer Segments
- Define Keywords, important topics and messages
- Outline content creation and promotion plans
- Optimize, socialize and promote
Let’s look at an example, which we all wish was real: Z Robots, robots to clean your home.
Who doesn’t want a robot zooming around your house, picking up after you? This girl does!
In the example Lee shared, Z Robots has 3 segments of customers including a small business owner, single guy and a tech-savvy mom.
The profile Lee talked about was “Maria”, the tech-savvy mom. To optimize content for a great customer experience that results in achieving business outcomes, Lee recommends formulating a plan that spans the buying cycle and across channels including search, social and content consumption.
Understanding how Maria searches and consumes content in different stages of the buying cycle, allows us to create a content plan which speaks to the varying keyword phrases and different levels of engagement that occur as she continues to consume and progress toward a purchase.
Creating an optimized editorial plan can help structure the information in a way that you can be sure to create content for different stages of the buying cycle, across keyword topics and content types.
Next is execution. At TopRank Online Marketing, we like the hub and spoke model, which features a core of themed and optimized content which is surrounded by the channels used to promote, such as Facebook, Google+ and a newsletter.
If you take a step back and think about, ‘how can I make this scale’? Think about the different customer segments you are targeting and create different hub and spoke models for each audience group. In addition, companies need to look beyond social for marketing and rather look at evolving as a social business. Or in short, say no to silos!
What would be at the center of your hub and spoke publishing model? Think through this, as you want the center of your hub to be a place where content is being created and the audience can continue the conversation. A company website might not be the best choice for a hub vs. a blog, YouTube Channel or microsite where visitors can engage in dialog and interact with the brand as well as with each other.
In conclusion, as you consider what and how and who to optimize for – try to evolve beyond KPIs and look at business outcomes. Business outcomes include items like share of voice, improve services, shorter sales cycles, more referrals, lower marketing costs and of course revenue and profits.
Lee’s presentation ended with some audience Q&A:
Q: You talk a lot about planning. How do you get buy-in?
LO: Play on ego, show how the competitor is doing it/doing it better. Share a case study or a slice of what we could implement quickly and quick milestones, to get folks excited about an outcome that perhaps they are more familiar with.
Q: How do you build into a contract, the continual flux and change of things? i.e. Pinterest comes along
LO: When we are working from a customer-centric standpoint, we have a dynamic mix that can account for changes which are necessary to achieve results.
Q: As you are building your content marketing strategy – with limited resources and budgets – what are the things you would get started first?
LO: Start with understanding as much about your customers as possible. What are the referring sources now or a survey of customers? Try and find a hook that makes you stand out and create content to share that story.
Q: What frequency are you making changes to your editorial calendar?
LO: Love to have an editorial calendar which is high-level and thought out at least a quarter in advance. Have placeholders within the plan though, for trending, industry or competitive topics. Based on social media and web analytics monitoring, it’s going to depend on what you find and what you can create to help further influence the sources driving traffic to your destinations.
The folks at MN AMA reported that this was the most people to attend an event as part of their Digital Series – thank you to everyone who attended! Be sure to pre-order your copy of Optimize, which is deep dive into the topics discussed in the presentation above. Optimize will be shipping mid April and you can get it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and many other on/offline booksellers in hardcover and digital formats.
Lee will be speaking next at the PRSA Digital Impact conference in New York April 2nd at 2:30 pm: “Content Marketing & Public Relations: Optimize and Socialize to Persuade Your Audiences to Act. Lee and I hope to see you there!