Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and its role in Conversational Marketing

The Google search used by millions of people every day is the most popular method on the planet to learn something new.  It is the teacher of successive digital generations.  But everyone knows that Google re-codes its algorithms almost every other month, so how important is it to slavishly work to second-guess SEO when optimizing your company website?

SEO’s important yes, but not everything

I’d argue it’s still important, but it’s arguably more important to ‘do the right thing’ in the way you set-out your conversational approach. Google, after-all, is trying to maintain the authenticity of its technology to help web surfers to find what they’re looking for. That normally means articles and other content (like videos and podcasts) that are the authority on any given subject. And the best possible credentials for content is that which is produced by a recognized entity already known for its expertise and authenticity of content. That’s probably why Google thinks it matters more now how many back-links you have to your web pages than it does any particular ‘tactical’ method to optimize your website for search.

People look online for a reason

SEO sound really complicated as a subject, but rest assured it’s not so hard to get your head around it. Individuals search for lots of things but they do so generally for four reasons:

  1. To learn new stuff
  2. To solve a problem
  3. To filter buying options
  4. To buy something

For each of these scenarios, you can imagine that people will use various search terms.  As a conversational marketer you need to know HOW your audience will search for answers and the terms they will use. Having understood the ‘subject’ and the ‘motive’, it’s not so hard to work out the search phrases people will likely be using to find your site.

Seeing the bigger picture beyond SEO

Nobody would argue that it would be silly to invest money into building a pretty website with lots of great content on it if people never go there to find answers to their questions. Nor will any website bring value if the quality and volume of content exists on the site to make it worthwhile. Armed with these perspectives, it’s quite easy to jump into initiatives to produce ‘good content’ and invest in Search Engine Optimization without really bottoming out the fundamentals of what the outcome is for the game you’re playing.

Presumably, the logic argument goes something like this:

  • We want our enterprise to be successful and grow;
  • To do that we need people to find our website and get noticed by our online audience;
  • Achieving that means being visible on returned search results for the search terms and phrases that matter most to our audience and to us;

Already, by stepping through this logic tree, your mind has raced way beyond the limited scope of what Search Engine Optimization is about. To make a real difference to your business, SEO needs to be part of (yes) but not lead (nope) your inbound marketing agenda.

The founding father of the management consulting industry Peter Drucker believed that – “The purpose of any business is to create and keep a customer.’  Central to this activity is the ability of a business to create value for the customer.  Knowing what value is brought by your company and its offerings is essential. It might seem a bit obvious but, when looking to re-affirm the value your business brings to its customers, there’s really no better way to determine value than by sitting down with them and listening to what they have to say.

Where SEO fits into conversational marketing

Using a conversational marketing approach, we trace the conversational path to its very origin; to the moment when someone identifies a job they need to get done, or originates the thought of a new subject they feel motivated to learn about. These events occur before someone launches into use of a search engine to find things on the web.

For this reason SEO Framing–the act of designing your SEO strategy, key-words, search taxonomies etc.–occurs as part of the LENS module of SONAR1. The LENS process brings together a series of tasks that need to be performed by B2B marketers prior to running inbound campaigns.These methods equip B2B marketers with the knowledge they need about the enterprise they serve in terms of:

  • Knowing its customer value (as seen by customers)
  • How to interpret buyer behaviour
  • How to shape its best offer
  • How to determine areas of competitive differentiation
  • How to articulate its value proposition
  • How to frame its authority, content and SEO

Appreciating these characteristics is essential when seeking to develop an effective conversational marketing approach, because otherwise assumptions are baked into plans and will ultimately lead to weaker results.

Learn more about LENS and the SONAR1 conversational marketing system

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What we mean by ‘framing’

We use the term framing to suggest that any search engine strategy being considered needs to fall within a broader inbound marketing agenda, and do its bit to fulfil the outcomes of that bigger set of outcomes. For most companies, it’s necessary to become the ‘authority’ on a subject (even if the subject is your product) in order to entice prospects to their website. Achieving maximum returns from SEO investments means understanding the relationship between the people browsing, the value of the company can yield, and the topics that bring value to both parties.

Authority describes the power or right of an individual or organizational entity to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience. In the case of SEO, that authority comes from the credentials of the source, the completeness of knowledge and understanding; and the quality of materials.

Using B2B marketing weapons and skills to BE THE AUTHORITY

The challenge facing B2B marketers is always how to be trusted by an online audience as an authority on a particular subject. How do you achieve that? It goes something like this:

  • Identify the reasons behind why someone is looking for something on the web (such as a job that needs to be done)
  • Profile the event that caused them to start looking for a solution (perhaps something happening in their life has caused an ‘undesirable’ situation to suddenly be important enough to take action to fit.
  • Determine WHERE they will most likely go to find answers.
  • Anticipate the SORT of content they’re likely to be looking for (i.e. will it be a guide, a template, an answer, a review, a how-to video or something else?).
  • Use a blend of internal workshops, customer research and social listening methods to develop a list of conversation topics and search terms that someone might use when on the search for answers
  • Create an authority page that will be the landing place for all of the interest you generate in the key phrase (such as a guide, ebook or ‘how to’ article)
  • Create a series of social media articles, videos, training materials, FAQs, blog features, infographics etc. to raise the temperature on the debate with your audience
  • Formalize an action plan to execute a social campaign to maintain a high level of presence on the authority subject

Final thought: What to do when buyers don’t know to look

There will always be occasions when organizations find themselves challenged to frame their SEO because their authority subject is presently unknown to the audience its intended to serve. For example, when Thomas Edison invented the first practical incandescent light bulb, there would’ve be little point him trying to perfect his SEO given that nobody knew such a thing existed! Leading edge businesses need to consider a SEO strategy for ‘building a market’ that’s focused on the job they help their potential customers to solve rather than the solution they offer to fix it.