As content marketing professionals, most of us would consider SEO a highly technical domain. Best leave that to the real nerds, right? Wrong. Google, Bing and all the other search engines have significantly altered their algorithms in the past few years. And these changes continue to favor the highest quality content, often rewarding smart content marketers with first position rankings.
With a bit of SEO sweet sauce, your content marketing sandwich will taste much better to search engines, and users too. Below, I will explore 4 major themes from TopRank Marketing CEO, Lee Odden’s recent Content2Conversion talk on SEO for Content Marketers, including:
- The State of SEO in 2016
- Understanding Self-Directed Buyer Behavior
- How to, “Be The Best Answer”
- How to Create Smarter Integrated SEO Content for The Web
First things First: Optimizing for Users
Let’s start by getting one thing straight about “optimization.” As content marketers, we shouldn’t be optimizing our content for search engines. As Lee often points out, “Google doesn’t pay the bills. Your buyers pay the bills.” Therefore, optimize for users, not search engines.
Old SEO rules would have you stuffing websites with keywords, creating thousands of new pages, tagging YouTube videos with every keyword you can get your hands on, and hoping something sticks. We give you permission to stop doing most, if not all of those things.
Part I: The State of SEO in 2016
So, how are most content marketers utilizing SEO in 2016? And more importantly, does SEO even matter anymore? Yes it matters. But content marketers and even many SEOs are failing to take advantage of recent algorithm changes. So, here’s a snapshot from the front lines of the industry on what most content marketers actually do with SEO:
- Implement more than 1-2 tactics (10-20%).
- Perform Tech SEO Audit (Maybe).
- Make a list of keywords.
- Use keywords in titles, links, copy etc.
- Share on social and wish for links.
- Review monthly rankings reports
The problem with the list above is it looks a lot like 2010. Things have changed, and you should too.
Can Tools Automate your SEO?
At TopRank Marketing, we get asked about tools all the time. With all the tools, plugins and software available, it’s easy to believe that SEO is an automated function. It’s not. In fact, as Google’s algorithms become more complicated, it can be increasingly difficult to optimize your content.
According to the most recent LinkedIn data, SEO and SEM ranks 4th among top skills companies seek (below).
What this research doesn’t uncover is content marketers and SEOs are adopting an increasingly hybrid skillset. This is largely due to the fact that search engines now require higher quality content and a variety of content types, in order for content efforts to be most effective.
Hummingbird’s the Word
Starting in 2013, an algorithm update was rolled out from Google, dubbed “Hummingbird.” This algorithm completely replaced the original Google algorithm, fundamentally changing the nature of how search engines crawl and rank web content. All you need to know is content quality, a variety of content types, and social media are all more important than ever.
Advice From The Front Lines
But don’t take it from us. Here are what some much smarter folks have to say about how SEO fits into their overall marketing in 2016:
“SEO is a foundational element of digital marketing” – Alison Herzog, Director – Global Social Business & Digital Strategy, Dell
“As long as there’s Google, SEO will be a staple in digital marketing.” Barbara Feinberg, Senior Product Marketing, McKesson
Part II: Understanding Buyer-Directed Behavior
The first step to understanding your buyers is to accept that they are self-directed. They’ll go to Google, social media, their LinkedIn network, friends, or pick up the phone and ask for a reference long before they contact you, or consume any of your content. Understanding the nature of B2B self-directed buyers is crucial to the success of any SEO efforts tied to your content marketing.
And in 2016, all of your potential customers are self-directed. According to Pardot, 70% of the buyer’s journey is complete before a buyer ever reaches out to sales. Which is why developing fruitful relationships between your marketing and sales department is fundamental to the success of your content marketing.
A common mistake among B2B marketers is someone from sales will reach out to a self-directed buyer, completely unaware that this buyer may have already started their journey. The sales professional (or targeted content in many cases) often treats them like they know nothing, or misses the delivers the wrong message to the prospect, based on where they are at in their journey. Say goodbye to that lead!
Take a cue from Gartner, who has done some fascinating research on this topic. They uncovered that more than 60% of all buyers indicated they prefer a self-driven informational search at the exploration, evaluation, and engagement phase of their purchase cycle (see below).
The bottom line is your customer wants to be in the driver’s seat. They don’t want a sales pitch. They want information. They don’t want your opinion. They want a third-party opinion of your product or service. They want information from Google, Bing, YouTube, industry reports, and third-party validations.
Think about things from their point of view. They don’t know who to trust, what to believe, or who is trying to screw them over. So, what are your options? Be the best answer. Be a conduit for the information. Curate your third-party verifications, peer reviews, social media posts and other relevant content.
So at this point, you might be asking yourself, “What does this have to do with SEO and content?” Fair question. Search engine queries are an explicit indication of intent. And tapping into the needs, intentions, and desires of your search audience will give you a solid map for the length, type, and style of content you must produce to meet your B2B audience’s needs.
Part III: How to Be The Best Answer
So, we’ve covered the state of SEO in 2016, we’ve accepted that our buyers are self-directed, and now we just need to create all that killer content that will make them fall in love with our brand. No pressure, right? Let’s start by examining the following marketing funnel. It’s a solid example of what NOT to do.
Instead of creating more useless content and barraging your leads with information, you should try to be the best answer in search engine results. Why? Because, by 2020 the world will have nearly 50 billion internet-connected devices. In addition, a full 90% of the world’s information has been created in the last 2 years alone. The bottom line is your prospects are overwhelmed.
The B2B Buyer Journey & Search
Before you can create content for your buyers, you’ll need to understand where search engines fit into your buyer’s journey. Start by talking to your customers. Ask them how they found out about you. Ask them what made them want to work with you, or buy your product. If your buyer’s are socially active, run a Twitter poll. If necessary, conduct some research to find out more about your audience. Most importantly, find out what types of content they are looking for via search engines, and where this fits in their journey.
Consider how many steps are on the following sample buyer’s journey, and how search engines and social media feed into nearly every step:
- They see your brand or meet a salesperson at an event
- They view the brand on Twitter or LinkedIn
- They run a Google search for the company
- Connect with someone on LinkedIn
- Subscribe to company newsletter
- Receive e-mail follow up from sales
- Google search sales professional
- Google search company
- Search the solutions and topic
- Download a guide via newsletter CTA
- Do in-depth topical Google search based on your guide
- They search for competitors
- They receive nurture messaging and emails
- The contact company for a demo
- They evaluate options
- They search for product or company reviews
- They make a decision
Granted, this list is a bit aggressive. Nonetheless, it illustrates the potential complexity of your buyer’s purchase process, and where search engines come in and out of the process.
Your Buyers are Complex, Are You?
Maybe you look at the list above and you think, “Yeah I already know all that.” Great. Maybe you’ve already identified the B2B content marketing tactic necessary to communicate with folks at different stages of their journey. Again, that’s awesome. But, are these tactics integrated?
Lee often emphasizes the fact that content marketing efforts are rarely integrated. We find the most challenging aspect of content marketing is to plan for the ecosystem. Not just an infographic, or a one-off whitepaper, or a blog post. Rather, how do all of these channels and systems integrate? That’s where you really begin to be the best answer for your B2B audience. Consider the following chart, which displays the most common B2B content marketing tactics:
On the surface, it looks like B2B marketers are using a variety of tactics. But when you consider that 65% of B2B buyers think vendors should, “Curb their sales messaging”, you start to wonder if this chart represents an over-usage of a variety of channels to barrage buyers with sales messaging.
How to Become the Best Integrated Search Engine Answer
Certain styles, flavors and tactics make sense in each potential customer touch-point. A LinkedIn connection message should not feel like an auto-generated corporate email. Likewise, an infographic shouldn’t contain so much text that your buyers want to barf. Most of all, use common sense. Without further ado, the following is a checklist of tactics that will ensure you are the best, most integrated answer for your buyers in your content marketing and SEO efforts:
- Create a constellation of ideas that makes you the BEST answer (see above)
- Write title tags that inspire clicks
- Go deep: provide comprehensive content on specific topics
- Engage your networks for social sharing
- Optimize for Google AND people
- Mobile SEO is a must
- Think about attraction AND promotion. Use paid, organic, and media relations to amplify your efforts
- Always be customer- centric
- Integrate and optimize
- Go in-depth (not just length) & be uber-relevant
- Do your research: if someone else has covered the topic, know about it and raise the bar
If you need TopRank Marketing’s help to become the best answer for your customers, contact us today for a free consultation.