Adrienne Wallace, a digital strategist at BlackTruck Media + Marketing, and Ashley Bovin, a content strategist at BlackTruck, contributed to this post.
One of the underlying principles of our work in search engine optimization is to try to determine why people are looking for what they’re looking for online. We want to understand the searcher’s intent, so we can make it easier for them to find a site.
While your organization’s marketing team understands your product or service quite well and can therefore describe it fluently on your website, marketers and customers don’t always speak the same language. This drives some folks to believe that there may be some sort of “clash” between the goals of SEO and human-centered content.
Current research would suggest one of the most challenging jobs of SEOs and copywriters is creating or maintaining the balance between the creative element and search optimization. With development of keywords and strategy for SEO, writers sometimes view this restriction due to research as stifling their creativity. While many journals and blogs ponder the accountability factor here and ask the question, which is “more important?” we refuse to take sides. Instead, we think the marriage of SEO and creativity is a joyful one so long as you keep in mind this is about the relationship and not about the singular event — or the wedding, so to speak. To forge a strong relationship between SEO and creative, consider the following:
1. Develop a human-centered SEO strategy with your creative writers
While coming up with a keyword strategy for your website, you might think visitors will search for brand name X, product Y, or feature Z to find your website/product/service, and these may end up being useful seed keywords. But your strategy should not end there. These are words from your language. Will customers be using those same words in their search? Every division of your organization is going to have an opinion on this matter, so we think you should involve them, at least initially in this conversation.
Drilling a little bit deeper, generalizations about your target audience can help you decide on keywords, but it’s important to remember a target audience is not a homogeneous group. Apply the ubiquitous iceberg example to each of your visitors: their behavior (in this case purchase, or conversion) is only the tip of the iceberg. Looming beneath the waterline is a mass of the visitor’s thoughts, feelings, beliefs and attitudes that support and inform their behavior. There’s a wealth of useful insight to be gained by diving under the surface, and sometimes just one division will have all the insight the group has. Take off the blinders and include your team to generate your strategy.
2. Toss the “funnel” in the garbage — it’s time to customize the consumer journey
Your audience has a lot of questions. If you take some time to talk with them, you will come up with new ideas and usually better execution of old ideas. But you have to put down the funnel and spreadsheets to listen to them. We know the traditional marketing funnel model is now somewhat obsolete and brands are more capable than ever of customizing messages for customers online. Customers can stumble upon your product or service at any stage in the consumer decision-making process, and a customer’s consideration often expands before it narrows. Therefore, websites need to have content available to meet customers’ needs at any stage in the consumer journey.
While your ultimate goal may be to achieve a purchase, people who land on your website won’t always be looking to purchase. In fact, people typically won’t make a purchase on their first visit to a website. Your website shouldn’t always be pushing for a sale. However, you still should take every opportunity to guide visitors toward a purchase.
If your website content only conveys what you have to offer (products or services), you’re missing out on capturing potential customers. Think about what consumers might be searching online that’s similar to your product, category, or industry. How can your website content capture their attention when they’re not yet aware of your offerings, or considering their options, or ready to buy? Pull in the team for this one. Using empathy for consumers while planning or reworking your website can help you can best meet your visitors’ needs, whether they’re ready to purchase or not, and you better believe your whole team has information that can help guide the organization.
3. Focus on human-centered content — empathy really is the killer app
Let your creatives take the lead on this one. Creating empathy maps can help you climb out of your business-person-metrics brain and into the mind of your current or potential customers who are trying to solve their own problems. Empathy maps go beyond personas by mapping what an individual customer might think/feel, see, hear, say/do; their pain points; and what they have to gain. Consider each of these areas for potential visitors to your website. Do you address these areas for various customer personas on pages throughout the site? Taking the time to understand your audience allows you to provide content that will be useful to them, no matter what stage they’re on in the decision making journey. By considering the visitor’s needs, you are making the progression to a conversion much more natural for the visitor.
Consider a product like the meal subscription service Blue Apron. What kind of people use Blue Apron? The first type of customer who may come to mind for these subscription boxes is a busy mother who doesn’t always have time to shop for fresh groceries and prepare meals. But what about the male young professional who, after recently leaving the comfort of college meal plans, suddenly finds himself in the position of needing to prepare his own meals?
Beyond using the language of your audience in your keyword strategy, are you giving your visitors the information they are looking for? Are you showing how you can solve the problems that drive their search? Do you need to organize your content differently to effectively target users at different stages in the consumer journey? Would you even know without all the players at the table?
The bottom line
Let your findings from creating empathy maps inform your keyword research and content ideation. Well-written content on relevant topics will keep visitors interested in what you’re selling, no matter where they are in the decision making process. Don’t rush this. Turning ideas into great ideas usually takes some effort, experimenting and failure on the road to successful posts and processes. You are not an island, so stop acting like it. It really does take a team of both SEOs and creatives to make content magic happen.