Data-Driven SEO Shortcuts for Early Stage Content Marketers

Content marketing outsiders often look at search engine optimization as some sort of dark art; a creative and technology-centric practice far too complicated for the typical Web-focused professional (much less newbies) to engage in or achieve any true success with in the short or long term. To that we should collectively say - give me a break!

Search engine optimization is not complicated, but it does require content marketers know, and become very familiar with, the elements influencing success. When there is access to the important data, anything in SEO is possible (and believe it or not, useful data is all around). Let's take a look at a few ways SEO professionals can start using the plethora of available data to positively impact performance and revenue.

USER PERSONAS: Say what you will about the creative process of developing user personas, but enterprises that understand their users/audience are far better equipped to craft experiences that speak to and satisfy their needs. Where do content marketers find this information? It will be difficult (not impossible) for those just getting started, of course, but arguably the best way is to simply reach out to anyone who "might" use a website or its services or products and invite them to take a survey or fill out a questionnaire. The results will help content marketers develop a broad picture of the various personas who may interact with the digital presence. Some of the questions to ask might include the frequency of visits or purchases on similar sites, the level of familiarity with specific subject matters, perhaps even questions related to their general interests. This approach helps enterprises develop personas that more closely mirror or match a consumer's wants and needs from a digital experience.

SHORTCUT: Identify prospective audience demographics, device habits (mobile versus desktop) and consumption preferences. Learn more about developing user personas, and the necessary data to include, in our "Quick Guide to User Persona Development." 

KEYWORD USAGE: Even with a detailed understanding of users, realize the assumptions and insights gathered from data such as this is rarely (if ever) completely accurate. The reason is users (and their interests) are dynamic - they learn, they adapt, they lose interest, they move on. Users within early stages of the buying journey, for example, behave far different than those at latter stages - even though they may share similar demographic traits (including those when the user personas were being developed). As a result it is imperative to engage in a thorough initial and regular ongoing keyword research project.

Consider the levels of expertise of the established buyer personas and how search terms and phrases may change over time. Are they using specific terminology or generic phrases? While even a cursory understanding will inform and influence content strategy, make the effort to identify keywords with low/poor competition but medium/high volume.

SHORTCUT:  Select keywords based on buyer personas, identify market gaps, prioritize targets based on potential and continually expand as results are experienced. What are the best keyword research tools available for search markers? Start with Website Magazine's "Top50 Search Engine Optimization Tools." 

BEHAVIOR & ACTIVITY: There is no replacement for properly developed user personas and thorough keyword research as they can provide the much-needed digital fuel required for any successful content development initiative. Believe it or not though, most of the digital insights needed can be gathered from an enterprise's own website activity logs (or analytics solutions, third-party software tools, etc.).

In other words, why reinvent the virtual wheel and engage in research that is already done if it is not absolutely necessary? What is being suggested here is really quite basic - explore an analytics solution to identify the behaviors and activity of users. Are certain users staying for an extended period of time in a specific content category based on a certain keyword or phrase? What does on-site search activity suggest about the audience and their stage of the buying funnel? A thorough understanding of how users are interacting with a site can provide powerful insights to optimize content marketing efforts.

SHORTCUT: Engage in a thorough exploration of analytics tools to identify the behavior, activity and website usage of an existing audience. Read this month's feature article on page 24 to learn more about using analytics to drive performance and revenue.

COMPETITIVE RESEARCH: The super-secret shortcut to data-driven SEO for content marketers may just be the easiest (and most obvious): take advantage of competitors. Presumably, those businesses, websites, etc., in the same category have built their user personas, conducted keyword research and have regularly monitored performance (using that data to fuel their future efforts) - so why start from scratch? What we are really talking about is learning from the competition and using the information gathered to optimize our own presence. What sort of content are competitors developing, what are their most shared items on social networks, where are they getting links and citations from on the Web? Studying the competition can reveal coverage gaps, low performance and help enterprises identify content opportunities for greater exposure.

SHORTCUT: Start competitive research on search engines by mastering the use of search operators, the special characters and commands that can reveal important data about other businesses in your category.

There is a theme at work here that should be evident - users are at the core of every one of these steps or initiatives. When Web professionals understand who users are and their interests, as well as recognize the terms they may use in the discovery phase and verify the information (and assumptions) by engaging in a thorough analysis of on-site behaviors, an organization's content marketing efforts will benefit greatly in the short and long term.