The intersection of SEO and content marketing means creating content based on your target audience's search intent. This means understanding what your customers might be Google searching at any given point in the buyer’s journey and making sure that your brand's content comes up in their search results. Here's how to build a content strategy with search intent as its foundation.
We’ve all done a Google search before. You type a query into the search bar, and after less than a second, you see a page of results. But between these two steps, Google runs a complicated algorithm that determines what comes up on these search engine results pages (SERPs) and in what order. The algorithm is designed to figure out what the user is looking for and provide accurate, relevant content.
Google's algorithm considers more than 200 factors in ranking search results, but these are some key points that can help you understand what Google is looking for in your content and website:
While Google doesn't directly consider accessibility, best practices for SEO and best practices for accessibility are strongly correlated. Writing subheading and title tags for your articles make them easier to read, and adding alternative text to images on your website makes it easier for people using screen readers. Both of these practices also make it easier for Google to crawl your site and make sense of what your content is about.
Making your website secure is essential for both user confidence and good SEO. Google published a 2014 blog post discussing the importance of website security and recommending that all sites use HTTPS, and the company's stance hasn't changed. While HTTPS is more of a tiebreaker than a major ranking factor, it's still important to invest in your website's security.
Users often perform search queries on their smartphones, so Google favors mobile-friendly sites. This means loading quickly and being well-designed so they're easy to navigate on a mobile screen.
Optimized content uses on-page SEO tactics like using the right keywords in your content, writing good title tags and meta descriptions, and incorporating keywords into your headings to help your page rank higher. Google wants to provide the content that the user is looking for, so these factors all help because they make it easier for the search engine to determine what your content is about.
Google wants to send users to websites that are easy and pleasant to use. User experience rankings consider factors like how fast your site loads and how intuitive it is to navigate.
More than a quarter of users click on the first result of their Google search. By the tenth website on the first page of search results, the click-through rate has dropped to 2.5%. A high ranking is essential for getting users to your site through organic search traffic. However, it's simply impossible for most businesses to rank first for broad, popular search queries. Understanding and optimizing for search intent lets you focus more narrowly on the specific search queries your company has a chance to rank for.
Search intent is simply the user's reason for using the search engine or what they're looking for when they search. Users expect to find this information instantly, so it's important for the search engine to work immediately and for content creators to make it clear what their content is about and what information it provides. Potential customers won't spend much time reading through an article or looking through products if it isn't clear that they're what the customer is searching for.
While it's easy to forget, since Google feels pretty ubiquitous as a search engine, Google is a brand that needs to attract and retain customers as any other brand does. This means that Google needs to provide good quality information that satisfies users by answering their questions. Fortunately for your business, this means that content that attracts and appeals to your target audience will also appeal to Google's algorithm. Both want to see trustworthy, relevant, and high-quality content.
While people search for just about anything, 99% of searches can be grouped into four categories:
Informational searches are looking for information about a topic or an answer to a specific question. This can be anything from a weather report to recipes to travel destinations. For example, "butternut squash soup recipe, "how to make pour-over coffee, and "Chicago weather" are all informational search queries. These searches aren't always related to a potential purchase, but some informational queries happen at the early research stage of a buyer's journey. Content that will capture this type of search includes how-to guides, checklists, and lists of tips.
When someone is thinking about making a purchase but hasn't narrowed their plans down to a specific brand or model, they'll often do a commercial search. These searches are queries like "best mattress brands," "AirPods alternatives," or "nonstick vs. stainless frying pan." The searcher is researching to find the best product in the category they're planning to buy. Reviews and comparisons of different brands and models and articles describing must-have features are all great pieces of content to attract these searchers.
Navigational searches happen when a user is looking for a specific website by searching for the company name rather than typing in the URL. These searches are often simply a website name, like "Facebook," "HubSpot" or "Google Analytics." You don't need to worry about ranking for these searches because your website should be the first result when someone searches for your company name. The best way to bring in navigational searches is to build up a strong library of quality, authoritative content on a topic connected to your brand. If you become known as a good resource, your customers will visit your website when they want to learn more about the topic.
Transactional searches occur when the user is ready to make a purchase. They know what they're planning to buy and simply need to get to the product page. These searches are more specific than commercial searches and look like "GE top load washing machine," "Le Creuset dutch oven" or "Asana subscription." To take advantage of these searches, create specific pages for each of your products that include detailed product descriptions.
Optimizing your content based on search intent can be complicated, but centering your content strategy on search intent ultimately means gaining a thorough understanding of your audience and the keywords related to your brand. These are best practices for any SEO or content marketing strategy.
Using topic clusters to organize your site has become essential for brands looking to optimize for search intent. Topic clusters, also called content clusters, are a structure where multiple articles on a specific topic are linked to a central pillar page. These pillar pages discuss the topic more generally while strategically linking to the more detailed, narrower pages within the cluster. Topic clusters make it easy for users who have come to your website through a search query to stay on your website to keep learning about the topic. They're great for SEO because they help Google understand the context of your content. They also help establish your brand as an authority in the field, which is another essential ranking factor.
Understanding your customer's journey is essential for any type of marketing strategy, and optimizing for search intent is no exception. The marketing funnel is the entire shopping and buying process, including all of the interactions and communication the customer has with your brand, both before and after making a purchase. When mapping out the funnel, consider the types of search queries that correspond with each stage. Potential customers start at the awareness stage when they realize that they have a problem and start looking for a product or service to help. People in this stage are performing informational searches. Next, at the consideration stage, customers start comparing specific companies. These prospects are doing commercial searches. Then, they'll reach the decision stage, when they choose a product or service and make a purchase. These customers will be transactional searchers. Finally, customers will ideally reach the loyalty stage, where they become repeat customers or remain subscribed if you use a subscription-based model. If you produce content that's a valuable resource for these loyal customers, they may start performing navigational searches to go straight to your website when they have a question about a topic. They may also circle back around to informational queries about how to use your product or service as effectively as possible.
After you've outlined your customer journey, think about what prospective customers would search for at each step. You'll want to list keywords and search terms for all the different types of search intent and stages of the journey. Specific words can be associated with certain search intentions. For example, informational searches might be worded as "how to do x" or "why is y happening". Transactional searches might include "buy product" or "discount codes for the product." This list of terms will give you a starting point for a list of content topics. You'll want to craft content that answers users' queries so you'll rank highly for providing useful, authoritative information.
To really understand your customers' search intent, you have to start by understanding your customers. Two important methods of doing this are the voice of customer research and buyer personas. Voice of customer research is a thorough market research process that's centered on understanding and connecting with your customers. Surveys and focus groups are the two most common ways to get this information. Once you have your data, it can help you develop accurate buyer personas. A buyer persona is a detailed example of your ideal customer. This includes demographics, job information, preferences for how to communicate with vendors and the reasoning behind their decision-making. Distilling your target audience into a semi-fictional example person makes it easier to write content directed toward that audience.
A competitive analysis looks at your primary competitors to understand their product or service and their marketing strategies. In this case, you'll probably be focused on their content. Look at what they're publishing, how frequently they post, how in-depth their articles go, whether there are any errors in the content and whether the content is openly available or requires signing up. To get a sense of how well their content strategy is connecting with their audience, look at engagement on social media and blog posts. Take note of which topics customers are interested in and whether comments are positive or negative.
The two major things to look at when choosing keywords you want to rank for are search volume and keyword difficulty. Search volume is the number of search queries for a particular keyword. Difficulty is a measure of how competitive a keyword is. As a rule, more general terms will have a higher search volume and be extremely difficult to rank for. More specifically, long-tail keywords are the opposite. Most businesses will want to focus on lower-volume, lower-competition keywords. In addition to being easier to rank for, these keywords are better targeted to the user's search intent. A more detailed query means a better sense of what the user is looking for and the opportunity to tailor your content accordingly.
Once you have a good sense of what type of content your ideal customer is searching for and where your brand is positioned relative to the competition, you'll need to make a content plan. Your content plan lays out all of your research and data and combines it with a list of the specific pieces of content you'll need to create to achieve your content marketing goals. Decide what you'll be posting and how often and what type of regular keyword and other SEO monitoring and reporting you'll need. For example, you might schedule an annual keyword audit, a white paper every six months, a new pillar page every three months, and a monthly blog post.
Now it's time to create your content. Follow your content plan and publish your posts according to your schedule. Monitor how the content is performing and make any necessary adjustments.
Creating a content strategy requires lots of time, research and planning. If you're feeling overwhelmed or want to start creating search intent-focused content now, consider these four tips.
The further down the sales funnel, the more specific the content should be. Early-stage potential customers are looking for general information about what type of solutions might exist for their problems. Then, they'll start to compare shops between different brands. Later on, they'll look for the product page so they can make a purchase. It's important to provide content that answers questions at all points in the process.
It might be tempting to pursue high-volume keywords because they're the subject of the most searches. However, ranking for these keywords is extremely difficult and probably won't be worth the effort. General keywords don't necessarily bring in the traffic you're looking for. Consider the difference between "marketing" and "content marketing for small businesses" as search queries. Someone performing the first search could be looking for general information about the field or college degree options, whereas someone doing the more specific search is probably looking for a business that provides that service.
Commercial search intent usually happens at the consideration stage of marketing. At this point, a potential customer has a good understanding of their problem and the solutions that are available. They're now looking for information to help them choose among specific options. Content for the consideration stage should focus on pushing potential customers down the funnel.
Transactional searches won't happen as frequently as other types of searches. Still, when a potential customer is searching for your type of product to buy immediately, or even your product specifically, you have a very high chance of converting them.
SEO is a never-ending race. You'll never be done, and you'll constantly need to adjust your content strategy as Google updates its algorithm. While this can feel discouraging, good SEO practices are necessary for your brand to stay ahead of your competitors. Working with an expert can help. The Steel Croissant team understands everything to do with SEO and knows how to design the ideal content strategy. Contact us to discuss how we can help you meet your marketing goals.
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