Online marketing expert and author of Optimize Lee Odden weighs in on the debate on whether to prioritize targeted content creation or SEO.
If you write it, they will come. It sounds good in theory, but unless you’re posting content from a magical cornfield with Kevin Costner as your co-writer, chances are that your site needs optimization to get noticed. So, what comes first: the keywords or the content? TopRank Online Marketing CEO Lee Odden weighed in on this dilemma and suggests that the two don’t need to be mutually exclusive.
Every marketer knows the importance of content in a well-rounded strategy, but even the most compelling pieces are useless if they receive zero visibility. Odden, an expert in the fields of SEO and content marketing, recently sat down with OpenView (listen to the full interview here) to discuss a marketer’s options when it comes to taking a keyword-driven or customer-driven approach to content.
SEO Content Creation: Beyond Black and White
Odden makes it clear right away that marketers shouldn’t focus solely on SEO or the buyer journey when planning their content.
“I think that some folks who are specialists in either SEO or in content marketing strategy might feel that they’re mutually exclusive,” he says, but, in reality, SEO and the customer journey “are great partners.” After all, Odden points out SEO facilitates discovery to give your content targeting specific steps in the buying process greater traction. “But,” he stresses, “they’ve got to work together instead of working against each other or separately.”
How to Get Holistic
“You’ve got to know who your customers are and what problems they’re trying to solve.”
Lee Odden, CEO of TopRank Online Marketing
Most SEOs take a highly focused approach to measuring success: how much traffic is driven by organic search? Increasing visits through organic search means having as many optimized pages and digital assets ranking as well as possible in search results. This approach, as Odden puts it, “is really about creating more potential entry points into the site through search.” In other words, “the more content we can create, the better, because there’s more to optimize, which means there’s more to attract inbound traffic.”
On the other hand, there is the buyer journey-driven approach, where marketers try to “map the customer sales cycle or buying cycle” and create content tied directly to the stages therein. So instead of simply going after the most popular keywords, Odden sees an opportunity to incorporate more targeted SEO into this process by “identifying the types of topics and search keywords that can attract traffic to the right kind of content at the right time.”
With the two approaches working together, you can ensure that your content is both compelling and visible to customers.
Aligning Content to Customers
Combining SEO and a buyer-journey-centric content strategy takes a holistic approach. But first, Odden says, “you’ve got to know who your customers are and what problems they’re trying to solve.” Start by leveraging the data and information you already have from existing customers. Odden suggests looking at “web analytics, conversion data, and forms they filled out” to get a better idea of what your customers were looking for and where they were in the purchase process at that moment.
Create content that resonates with prospects at every stage of the buying process.
If you need extra information, consider a customer survey. Or study third-party websites that you know your target audience visits. Odden also recommends that you start monitoring the chatter on social channels to look for common questions or topics that your audience is asking about.
Once you collect enough data to be actionable, Odden recommends that you “analyze it to specify what clusters of behaviors are most characteristic of your best customers, and look at what those behaviors mean across the journey from awareness to interest consideration to purchase. This kind of analysis can be extended to the kinds of things that are helpful for keeping customers around to evangelize your product and attract other business too.”
Odden warns against looking at this analysis as a one-time project, however. In reality, the buying cycle is “a journey for the brand as much as it’s a journey for the customer,” he says, “because it’s something that you have to consistently adapt to and maintain on an ongoing basis.”
As search and social technologies evolve, so too, do customer behaviors. The optimized approach to online marketing ensures attention is paid to a continuous cycle of performance improvement so brands can be “the best answer” wherever customers may be looking.
How are you optimizing your SEO and customer journey-driven content strategies to work well together?