Keyword Research, Search Engine Optimization and the Customer Journey

Putting keyword research and SEO at the core of your business strategy can change the way that you align your marketing activities with the customer journey to create new and unique opportunities.

In this article we explore the link between keyword research, SEO and marketing. We will challenge the traditional view of the customer journey which tries to find a market for an existing product, and look at it from the point of view of the customer.

The Customer Journey

The typical customer journey is often viewed as starting out quite passively (Awareness) and ending with the active Advocacy of a product.

However, with the advent of search engines comes an opportunity to turn this Awareness into more active participation.

Rather than creating a product, and then trying to make the market Aware of it, keyword research allows us to approach marketing the other way round.

Given that at any one time, our prospective customers are researching solutions to their problems, it seems only logical to use their own queries to fuel the product development process.

Not only that, but if we are producing me-too products, we can see what kinds of comparison points the market feels are important, which will help to design the solution as well as give us a conversation in which to participate once the product has been created.

In fact, this conversation between the market and the search engines and social media platforms is present at every stage of the customer journey:

  • Awareness: as soon as the market knows that something exists, they start to look for alternatives;
  • Consideration: once the market becomes convinced of the merits of the products on sale, they then start to look for confirmation that there are valid options on the market;
  • Purchase: having made the decision to buy, the market will look for the best option to acquire the product as a function of price, availability, service, etc.;
  • Retention: subsequent conversations between the market and the business will fuel an ongoing process of refinement, and constant attempts to increase the value of the relationship in both directions;
  • Advocacy: customers will generate conversations that can be leveraged as content in their own right (testimonials, for example) or new opportunities to develop the relationship further (products, services, and so forth).
At each of the five stages above, there are opportunities for keyword research and SEO to work together to help propel the business forward.

Keyword Research, SEO & the Customer Journey

Using a niche keyword research service such as those offered by The Keyword Coach enables you to pick the market's brain and build up a picture of what's important to your future customers. Your basket of keyword phrases is a resource upon which entire businesses can be built.

The Keyword Coach treats keyword research and search engine marketing as strategic resources, rather than merely a part of your online presence. As such, they are constantly evaluated in terms of internal and external context, how they can be deployed (using a Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle), and integrated with the strategy of the organisation.

One example of this is performing Amazon niche site keyword research for product owners (including authors). Amazon is not only a marketplace, but also a search engine, with almost all the features that a traditional search engine has, including auto-suggest.

Coupled with using an indexing engine like Google, it is possible to leverage user generated content as well as marketing content to take advantage of the conversations that are created during the customer journey: from their initial discovery of a product, asking questions about it and eventually leaving reviews.

All of these interactions use key words to describe aspects of the product, both positive and negative, and keeping track of them will help create real opportunities.

In a larger context, the same processes can be used to track customer conversations both on the organisation's site, in social media, and through search engines in order to help make strategic decisions as to what to take to market, where to concentrate efforts and picking the best time to launch.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Why SEO Is Important for Business: Keyword Research, Search Engine Marketing and SEO Principles

To understand why SEO is important for business, we first need to discuss what SEO means.

It has become a buzzword and is often synonymous with "more traffic". However, not all traffic is good traffic.

In the beginning of the world wide web, a search engine was not a sophisticated tool. Subsequently, most search queries were one or two words long, returning a limited set of pages and raw traffic volume was the most important goal.

Playing the numbers game meant that there was an assumed direct correlation between visits and sales.

In those days, SEO meant attracting as many visitors as possible by having high repetition of keyword phrases (otherwise known as keyword stuffing) and many pages that may not even have content relating to what the business was selling (known as spamming the index).

Recent innovations in search engine technology, however, has led to more sophisticated and targeted queries, fewer chances of being able to play the numbers game, and, above all, more opportunities for quality SEO.

Today, SEO has a new meaning.

It's about engagement with search engines, rather than manipulation. It leans heavily on keyword research as part of the marketing strategies of an organisation, and relies on an intimate understanding of the market.

Modern SEO is about quality content meeting the needs of your market, and understanding the intent carried by the words in each query that you choose to target.

It's no longer just a numbers game.

Does SEO Work?

The point of SEO is to get content indexed for keywords that allow you to engage with the customer by proxy, and help them through their journey from discovery to purchase.

If you constantly remind yourself that this is the only reason to conduct SEO, then SEO will work for you and your business.

The moment you turn it into a pure volume game, where you purchase articles from content farms in an attempt to spread your net as wide as possible with no regard for the intent of the fish you might catch, SEO will, at some point, cease to work.

You may well temporarily climb the SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages), and even achieve the number one spot, but it will be both temporary and expensive.

Better to be focused on a narrow, yet responsive slice of the market, and promote content that carries with it the intent to engage with your brand.

Then, SEO will work for you.

How SEO Helps Business

SEO, or search engine marketing (SEM) can help your business in many different ways. However, they're all linked to the strategic marketing plan of the organisation, which can be grouped under three main headings:

  • product development
  • market research
  • sales

Whilst this is a somewhat simplified view, it represents the bare minimum for an organisation's ongoing strategic SEO and keyword research process.

Product development uses a combination of competitor and keyword research, as well as keyword discovery to see what people are looking for: within and outside your target market.

Once a basket of phrases has been isolated, market research can be performed using keyword research techniques to narrow down both the product or service and the route to market.

Finally, with all the research conducted, the market can then be tested as part of the sales process: using SEO to guide prospects through their journey from discovery to purchase.

So, SEO helps business in three main ways:

  • develop new products;
  • explore and develop markets for new and existing products;
  • promote products, services and brand values to the various target markets on their own terms.

This last is something I call participating in your market's conversation, and it's the easiest way to engage and make sales.

Is SEO Worth It?

Like any form of marketing activity, your investment is repaid in an increase in sales; working out if it has been worth the investment will depend on the value of that return.

However, different organisations have different goals and different measurements of their return.

There will be cases where SEO does not translate into measurable direct effect, leaving the return to be evaluated on its own merits such as brand attachment and market education.

There's also the issue of timing.

Many people abandon SEO after just a few iterations, failing to see any direct change in visitor numbers, or conversions. The fact of the matter is that it can take weeks, sometimes months, before any effect, positive or negative is apparent.

Done correctly, SEO will be worth it. But it's not a quick fix, and the effectiveness needs to be measured and evaluated regularly and on its own merits.

Should You Do SEO Yourself?

In a word: absolutely.

You should do as much SEO as you have time for, regardless of whether you have also contracted an SEO professional to do it for you.

However, the caveat is that bad SEO can be as damaging to your business as good SEO can enhance it. So, at the very least doing your own SEO will require a level of self-education.

The best practice is to employ an SEO professional for a year or so, and ask them to help educate you. Then, keep them on a retainer to help out whenever you note that something has happened in the industry that affects the success of your search engine marketing activities.

There are also some activities that are so time-consuming that it is much more productive to outsource them -- integrated keyword research services, for example.

Black Hat SEO vs. White Hat SEO

There's been a lot written about so-called black hat SEO techniques over the years. Much of it has been an attempt to promote valid services, or providing advice on gaming the whole SEO system.

Like anti-virus software, the industry has, at times, felt like an eternal arms race. Search engines change the algorithms to exclude unscrupulous tactics, then black hat SEO specialists try to find a way round them.

Luckily for business owners, who could waste a lot of money trying to keep up, the solution is that search engines are getting smarter.

There's still the possibility that some less ethical techniques will emerge to beat them, but the general thrust of development means that business owners and SEO professionals can rely on solid keyword research, innovative, engaging and high quality content to attract their target market.

Hopefully this article has helped you to work out why SEO is important for business in general, and specifically, how SEO can help your business.

A good start would be to see some real life Keyword Research Examples, or browse the SEO Tutorials.