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Alistair Norman

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Alistair Norman

Dec 18, 2018

Now is the winter of our missed content: changes in SEO practice are closing gaps… and opening opportunities


Changes in SEO are the top issue for 61% of content marketers. This blog looks at some creative uses of search in content marketing, backed by findings from CMI research.

Navigating a turbulent search landscape

Legendary adman David Ogilvy once stated: “You can’t save souls in an empty church.” In other words: if you’re not reaching your audience, the most finely-honed marketing message means diddly squat. 

These days, the predominant way customers connect to content is SEO. For marketers, it’s less like reaching out, more like lying in the customer’s path waiting to be found. But the algorithms that make the difference between first-page results placement and the no-man’s-land of the second page are changing constantly. What’s a keen content marketer to do?

In its new content marketing report, the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) surveyed 1,947 companies around the world on such questions. And for 61% of respondents, staying on top of SEO was the biggest single factor keeping them awake at night. Their findings included some eye-openers — so in this blog we’re digging into their data and coming up with some ways you can SEO your way to content marketing success.

The rise of ROC: Return on Content

72% of content marketers measure the ROI on their content marketing. We’re not sure what the other 28% do (perhaps they just enjoy writing stuff) but it’s clear that most companies in the B2B space expect positive and measurable results from the content they create.

And we’re not talking simple Likes or page hits, either.

68% of B2B marketers use content to educate customers.

What marketers want from each piece of content is a concrete action from the customer that moves them one or more stages along the customer journey. And when the customer makes that step, they want to be there again, with another artfully constructed piece of content. Turning a series of customer interactions into a meaningful conversation over time, strengthening bonds of trust at every step.

SEO lets customers skip steps on the customer journey

SEO and social media, of course, throw a spanner in the works. Because when people sort and sift the web with Bing or Google, they can turn up content from any stage of the customer journey. Leapfrogging your carefully prepared path, and landing on pages designed for an earlier or later encounter. 

49% of content marketers want to drive customers to trade events.

Marketers have learned to control this, using multiple variants of content around a single theme to increase their SEO footprint and gatekeeping major milestones with squeeze pages and signup forms. But the core issue remains: increasingly, SEO defines the customer journey. It’s the chart customers consult to get to their goals.

So here’s an idea you may not be using yet: why not turn a challenge into an opportunity, and let SEO define your customer journey for you?

How to use SEO to be where your customer is

First off, realize SEO provides something anyone seeking an ROC needs: data. If your customer base always searches for the same ten competitors before you, that’s useful. If they call your product or service by a dozen different names, that’s intriguing. If they only ever complete a purchase after attending a trade event, that’s gold.

Twice as many content marketers use it to create brand awareness as to support a new product launch. (81% versus 40%)

Isn’t that a great way to build your content marketing strategy? (81% of successful content marketers have one written down, by the way, so if you haven’t that’s your first task.) Write a list of which interactions are associated with which customer behaviours; draw up a timeline of what they tend to do, when.

By taking a look at your existing customer data, you can see what timetable those events happen on, to see where a nudge would help and where it’d feel too pushy. Perhaps the real route your prospects take towards you is markedly different from your campaign plan? 

Making a habit of gathering data on SEO volumes, terms, and trends can inform your entire marketing approach, letting you create a content strategy that’s built for SEO. Wouldn’t it be great to only ask for a prospect’s email address at the precise point they’re prepared to give it? As any sales executive knows, before a customer will buy, you need to catch them in the right frame of mind. 

43% of content marketers want to build a subscribed audience.

Thinking of the customer journey as this landscape of interactions, rather than a linear trudge between A and B, is the perfect way to make SEO algorithms your friend. With tricks like link farming and content spinning long dead (and deservedly so), today’s search marketing works on the principle that what works for SEO is content that genuinely answers the customer need. What’s good for your customer is good for your searchability; never try to fool a search engine. (The go-to resources for what’s new in SEO are Search Engine Watch and Search Engine Land.)

Use the same approach to social media

Just as Google tweaks its algorithm to tune search results, social media giants like Facebook hone the themes and volumes of content you see in your feed. And you can use them as data sources in the same way. 

Changes in social media algorithms were a concern to 45% of content marketers.

Think yourself into the mind of your customer. You probably know which information sources and publications she consumes professionally. But what about outside work? This is where customer personas - fleshed-out character portraits of your ideal customer - come in useful.

If a large proportion of your target audience share a hobby or interest, that’s valuable data for your content marketing strategy. Perhaps you could theme your next eGuide as a metaphor for a sport they enjoy. Or write a light-hearted case study featuring characters from their favourite TV show. Customers don’t suddenly change into different people between 9AM and 6PM; trust and comfort can be fostered by treating them as the complete humans they are. Watching what they consume in their social media feeds is a great source of information.

So changes in SEO and social media algorithms don’t have to make you groan

You can turn both into powerful secret weapons… by designing your content strategy around them.

Content marketing involves a lot less guesswork than you think. And the best source of data is to watch what your customers do in different situations. Trends in SEO and social media are a great proxy for standing behind your customer and watching what’s on his screen.

And when that customer discovers your carefully-created content, he’ll smile, because you’ve given him exactly what he needs — at the precise moment he needed it.

Many thanks to the Content Marketing Institute, which produced the research stats above in a survey of nearly 2,000 B2B organizations.

Takeouts

  • Search engines and social media companies change their algorithms regularly. This doesn’t have to be bad news.
  • The most successful content markets want a measurable return from their content
  • Trends and volumes in search and social contain useful information for planning your content strategy
  • Associating types of customer interaction with customer needs at that moment let you plan content as more of a landscape to discover than a pathway to tread

SEO is vital to your marketing success, but it’s not about cold calculations to please search engines. Find out why emotion-driven marketing will help you to reach greater success. Download The Future of Marketing eGuide to find out more.

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