Between major algorithmic updates to better filter content, links and aggressive tactics to removing several important signals SEOs use to improve marketing performance of their websites, the search engine optimization game isn’t what it used to be.
Change is a constant with SEO but one thing is certain at the moment: A LOT more companies are asking about how they can create some buffer against the volatility of Google organic search listings.
Some have been hit by Panda or Penguin updates, but even more are realizing their over-reliance solely on organic SEO has them feeling a little uneasy. This is not to say SEO is the reason to be uneasy, because it’s not. Putting all your online marketing eggs in one basket is what should cause concern.
For every company that is creating useful, sharable content, growing their social networks, and optimizing the performance of their online marketing, there are probably 10 or even 100 more that are solely focused on tweaking keywords and getting links in the hopes of that first page or top 3 listing. “If only we could reach #1, we’d be in the money.”
Beyond the singular SEO focus is the growing realization that consumers use more than search to find information and make purchases. And to be successful with online marketing, companies need to be where their customers are. They need to be there in a meaningful way. How? By understanding and answering your customers’ questions on their journey from awareness to purchase to advocacy.
There’s a lot to be said about the utility of answering questions and the benefits for customer acquisition, just ask Jay Baer or Marcus Sheridan.
Where to start? Making the transition to a more diversified, customer-centric approach to online marketing with content that is easy to find and share is actually pretty straightforward.
The most basic and impactful thing a company can do to leverage content to increase awareness, grow brand credibility, and improve customer acquisition is to answer customer questions. Keep in mind, when it comes to diversifying your online marketing mix beyond standard SEO, your target audience is more than people who buy. It includes other important groups including existing customers and industry media.
Here are three building blocks for questions you can answer to fuel a more diversified and customer centric content marketing plan:
1. Answer the questions of your prospects – Don’t just write FAQs for this. Create stories, get visual and definitely get creative in how you empathize with customers and show them how to go from problem to solution with your help. If you do anything with the creation of new content, do this. Of course, you must optimize for search and social media discovery as well as for sharing. Where to find questions?
- Monitor “trigger” keywords on social networks
- Talk to your sales force to discover common questions from real prospects
- Review web analytics to find questions that have been used as search queries to deliver visitors to your website
- Review logged search queries on your internal site search engine for frequent search phrases
- Leverage keyword research tools to find forms of questions using relevant keywords to your business
- Crowdsource questions with your social networks and communities
Compile questions into topical clusters and leverage for your ongoing content creation plan. Create a feedback loop for questions sourced through social media by posting answers and recognizing publicly those who helped.
2. Answer the questions of your existing customers – Customer acquisition can be a lot more expensive than retention, so make sure you’re creating, optimizing and socializing content that will help, inform and entertain your existing customers. Happy customers will tell stories about your brand and products. Make it easy for them to do that by providing useful content – whether it’s a lifestyle magazine or practical ways to get more out of their purchase.
- Survey existing customers to find common questions so you can better serve them
- Talk to your customer service people to discover common questions posed by real customers
- Review web analytics for the keywords used in search referring traffic to your customer support content, FAQ, knowledge base or support forums
- If you have a forum, customer focused social network accounts or feedback channels, monitor for questions, topics and themes
Customer retention can contribute a significant financial impact on a business, so why not create content to support customer satisfaction? Why not optimize and socialize that content so it’s easy for customers to find and share?
3. Answer the questions of industry media – Make no mistake, the credibility of 3rd party media visibility can be instrumental for growing awareness, authority and sales. A journalist, analyst or a blogger have different questions than a prospect or an existing customer. Strong opinions, compelling examples and research are often useful for adding expertise to a story. Facts and media are probably the easiest and often overlooked types of information that can be useful to journalists.
The types of content often created and used by journalists, editors, reporters, analysts and bloggers that could be useful in an optimized and socialized newsroom include:
- Past media coverage and bylined articles
- Company fact sheet
- FAQs about the company
- Management team
- Event calendar
- Press Releases
- Links to corporate content
- Links to corporate social profiles (or a social hub)
As you come to know the information preferences of customers, why not discover those preferences for the media covering your industry? Make it easy for them to find and definitely make what they find incredibly useful.
Optimization is about more than rankings and how content is discovered through organic search. It’s about understanding your distinct audiences and creating findable, shareable content that answers their questions in a way that builds your brand credibility and pulls prospects to purchase, customers to advocacy and the media to your brand as the best answer for your area of expertise. To optimize is a continuous process of putting forth the tactics of a plan designed to achieve a particular objective. Optimization is a cycle of continuously collecting the performance information of online marketing efforts and making adjustments to improve.
To diversify from a singular approach to online marketing using SEO requires a more holistic view of what optimization is and has evolved into. It means a commitment to content, community and an approach that is customer focused.
Are you mining data sources, connections and networks for questions? What challenges are you having in using those questions to inspire content? Are you making an intentional effort to diversify your SEO efforts to be more content and social media focused?
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