Serving hyper-relevant content that best answers the queries and needs of users is certainly at the forefront of many SEO Pros’ minds since the introduction of RankBrain and numerous core algorithm updates. Indeed, some might say that this is at the very heart of what a good content marketing strategy is all about in 2021 for small business. Many SEO Pros believe that they’re already providing this by driving their content strategy via keyword research alone.
The main issue with using keywords alone to push your SEO content marketing strategy is that not all of your audience’s content needs are satisfied with search. A user’s search intent might be quite complex and consist of numerous layers…however, their initial search query may be somewhat more simplistic to start them off on the right path.
Keyword research can also be a fickle temptress, enticing you to create content that your business really shouldn’t be creating because you are not authoritative enough or don’t have anything truly unique to add to the subject matter.
Far better than your content strategy being keyword-first focused, is to turn it into an audience-focused strategy that will enable you to start from a much better place in creating SEO content that converts. Keyword research will always play an important role in targeted SEO, but – when it comes to your content strategy, at least – it comes slightly further down the list of priorities, having first thoroughly analysed your audience and done extensive competitor and market research.
Do this, and your small business will be well positioned to have a firm grip on your audience, not to mention a much deeper understanding of the all-important ‘user intent’ and deliver content that they need and want. This will also help service the needs of SEO Pros, too, as they can duplicate this hyper-relevant and higher-quality content across various channels to increase their chances of getting in front of an even bigger target market.
What is the difference between an audience-focused content strategy and a keyword-focused content strategy?
Good content marketing strategy starts with the target audience in mind and digs deeper into understanding your own brand’s area of specialist knowledge and individual value proposition. Keyword research is incredibly useful for discovering how people relate to and search for topics relevant to your business…however, it is limited when trying to understand your audience’s often complex needs and wants.
Have a think about one of your prospective customer’s conversion channels. Is search the only route to conversion they use to glean information? Assuming you are collecting data around leads and / or you run remarketing ads, then this wouldn’t be an ideal situation for your business or your marketing ROI. So, based on this perspective, your knowledge around your target audience shouldn’t be limited to keyword research alone.
A well-conceived content strategy is an overarching plan that answers questions such as:
- Who is my target audience?
- What is the true intent of their search query?
- What are they looking for and what do they want?
- What content format do they want to be delivered to them?
- Which channels / platforms are they currently using to have conversations (online or offline, or both)?
- What individual expertise does your brand offer to meet these requirements?
- How can your business match this expertise to your audience’s needs?
How to find your unique content angle
If you remember your Venn diagrams from college or university, then the real key to connecting with your audience is to create that ‘sweet spot’ – that unique content angle that intersects perfectly between your business’s expertise and what your audience really wants and can’t do without.
Joe Pulizzi – founder of the Content Marketing Institute – first made the phrase ‘content tilt’ popular by saying that it’s the best way to have “a fighter’s chance of breaking through and becoming relevant.” The content tilt refers to that sweet spot I mentioned earlier, when a subject related to your product or service has little to no competition. The Content Marketing Institute refers to this as a ‘content tilt’ because it involves taking a much bigger subject area and ‘tilting’ it, or giving it your own angle. Defining your brand’s individual expertise is often much harder than it otherwise might appear at first glance.
It’s not unusual for brands to reference their own product line as what makes them unique, but if there is a competitor in the market with even a similar type of product to them, then it is not unique. Think what it really is that makes your business different from that of your competitors.
Here’s a list of a few ways that you can create your own content ‘tilt’ / angle:
- Create market research surveys and conduct interviews with similar people to your target audience, so you can ask them exactly what their pain points are and what they’re really looking for from a company like yours
- Change the tone of your blog or article content to become more conversational and utilise real quotes, testimonials and insights from existing customers to help drive content that is hyper-relevant, more relatable and more engaging
- Rather than simply advising customers or clients on what to do…perhaps leverage your content and find new ways of communicating with your audience through giving them the resources they’re searching for and empowering them up front via ‘presuasion’
Presuasion is a term for giving away a high value piece of content or a business tool up front for Free. Making the prospective customer feel good from their first interaction with your company and then following that up with an ‘engagement strategy,’ can lead to much higher conversion rates in the medium term, as opposed to trying to sell them something right from the start of the conversation.
It’s fair to say that you might be thinking…”So, I can only develop content that fits into a very specific tilt? Isn’t that a bit limiting?”
As SEO Pros, it can be really difficult (and seem counter-logical) to dismiss some keyword opportunities that come up through our research if they don’t fit within the overall content strategy. It’s natural that there are likely going to be some keywords out there that you could create content for which would increase your organic traffic. However, if they don’t match your target audience’s needs and your brand’s expertise (that intersection on the Venn diagram), will it be the kind of traffic that’s going to convert? The probability is quite low. It’s definitely not a wise use of time or resources to create content that will distract you from your bigger strategic objective.
How to build your content strategy
- Set your goals
Start at the end. What does your target audience truly need and want? What is their intent via their search queries? What are you ultimately trying to achieve? Do you want to increase organic leads by a specific percentage? Do you want to drive an increase in overall sales? Are you trying to drive subscribers to a newsletter? First, write down these goals. This will help you establish what type of content you want to create and what the calls-to-action should be.
If your business is primarily after leads and that is your ultimate goal, then a proven strategy is to create ungated content (e.g. blog posts, infographics, or videos) that provides useful insights, but entices them to come back for more in-depth information. Make your calls-to-action point to a gated piece of content requiring them to give you essential pieces of contact information that goes into more depth.
If you are a business like a car dealership, then you will most likely have a primary goal of physically getting people to your dealership to buy a car. This content doesn’t necessarily need to be gated, but it will most likely have a local angle to it and answer frequently asked questions people have about the car buying process, as well as portray the human / personal side that make the dealership unique, which will establish trust and indicate how customers will be treated. Trust is especially key in this industry because they need to work hard to eliminate the used car salesman stereotype.
- Identify your target audience and what their pain points are
Step 2 is to identify who exactly you are targeting with your content. There’s a lot of help and advice online to aid with this part of the process. Within your own company, it’s a good idea to talk to these departments:
- Customer Services
- Technical Services / IT
- Product Marketing
- Social Media Marketing
In larger organisations albeit, these are often the departments who interact the most with customers. Find out what your audience is struggling with and what content could be developed to help solve their queries and pain points. You can also carry out some of this research on your own by looking at relevant forums and through social media. Some of these social media platforms (such as Reddit, Quora, StumbleUpon etc.) that have relevant discussions to your topic can be a goldmine – and can also be a case of ‘falling down the rabbit hole’ from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (a novel by Lewis Carroll). Alternatively, there are also live groups on social media platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook. Some of these platform forums go into so much depth on a given topic area that you can create an entire content stream out of the questions and responses.
- Determine your business’s and brand’s unique expertise
Dive more deeply into what it really is and try to work out what makes your brand truly unique. It probably isn’t the product or service offering itself. Establish who your SMEs (subject matter experts) are and how they contribute to the company. Have a think about how new products are developed or how new service offerings can be created / leveraged.
We all know that some pockets of expertise may even seem boring to the SEM themselves – but this can be extremely valuable to someone else. Don’t be afraid to get too niche with your expertise. Sometimes this can create its own market by specialising only in a small sub-area within a broader subject area. For example, you might be an expert in cyber security specialising in how to help advise parents who are buying their child their first laptop or tablet. Or your business could provide tailored technology instruction or courses targeting baby boomers who are learning computer skills for the first time. Expertise in niche areas doesn’t necessarily mean you will be ‘niching yourself out of the market’ by creating too small a total market size.
- Figure out your content tilt / angle
Having done the first three steps, put your answers for #2 and #3 together and work out what your unique content angle will look like.
- Create a list of possible content topics based on your content angle
In this step, put your collective heads together and come up with some topics. Now that you know your content angle, it’s much easier to come up with subject areas that your brand should be creating content about. Additionally, these are topics you know your audience wants and cares about. This is when you can get other people involved from around your company, from departments like sales, product management and customer services etc. It’s advisable to ensure your content angle is clear right from the outset, prior to the brainstorm, to stop the process getting off topic.
- Carry out your keyword research
Now that you have a list of good content topics, it’s time to thoroughly dive into long-tail keyword research and determine what the best keyword targets are around these topics. There are plenty of good keyword research tools out there to help you with this. Here are a few suggestions:
- Create an editorial calendar
Based on your keyword research findings, create an editorial calendar for your content. This will allow you to consolidate your content plan so you can schedule what is content when and to which audience etc. Make sure you include what your keyword targets are, so if you have someone else developing the content…they know what is important to include in it.
This is easy to develop and can be set up using Excel or Google Sheets.
- Establish how you’re going to measure success
Once you’ve established what content you’re going to create, you’ll need to work out how you’re going to measure success. Again, if lead generation is your focus then put your efforts into measuring leads to your gated content and, subsequently, conversion of those leads to sales over a certain time period. It’s also good practice to measure organic hits to your ungated content. If the organic hits are growing (or not growing) disproportionately to your leads, then you should look closer into what specific pieces of content have high conversion rates and what pieces do not, then revise accordingly.
- Create content…and lots of it
Now that all the pieces of the puzzle are there, it’s time to actually start creating the content pieces. With your content angle in mind and your keyword research done, collate the information and research that you need in order to outline what you want the content to look like.
If you take a look at this search query example ‘How to get your driver’s licence’, you’ll see that the primary keyword target is: driver’s licence – and the intent suggests that the user wants to know what they need to do to obtain their driver’s licence. In many countries…this can be quite different even within varying states in each country, let alone different countries. Here in Australia, you’ll see numerous SERPs listings come up for various states on how to get your driver’s licence and the requirements in each state.
Looking at the ‘People also ask’ section, the queries vary around how to obtain a licence in a couple of different states in Australia, as well as how much it might cost and at what age you can get your full driver’s licence.
Further to this, in the ‘Searches related to…’ section at the bottom of the Google page, it also covers varying state licencing requirements as well as what might be needed for the driver’s knowledge test and what licence is needed if you are a foreigner coming to Australia, for example.
These are all quite important semantically related keywords which also have to be considered when linking your content to your keywords.
As just a couple of examples, how-to posts and lists of how to do something can be quite powerful and really useful for those searching for short form, easily digestible information at a glance. Some can then even become a featured snippet on Google.
After creating your content and publishing it – as with all types of SEO work – there will inherently be some lag time before you see any results. Set up reports for each piece of content so you can monitor the results in comparison to what you wrote down for your content strategy goals. This will allow you to keep track of the performance of your content on a daily basis…once the lag has diminished. After a few months, if you notice that the growth you were expecting isn’t there, then don’t despair! This can be a good opportunity to revisit the initial content strategy and assess whether or not you’ve got your unique angle right.
A good question to always ask yourself throughout the process, is: “What if the content I’ve created wasn’t there or had been taken down for some reason? Would that create a void in the market?” If your answer is no – then it really is time to go back to the drawing board with your content angle. Getting this spot on is by far the most difficult component in a content marketing strategy, but, if you can be patient and achieve the desired response, it will boost your rankings and serve your potential customers with hyper-relevant articles that they truly need and want.
So, in summary, a well-conceived and well-implemented content marketing strategy goes hand in hand with SEO at every step of the journey / cycle.
Here are five simple ways to get started:
- Define your subject area / topic
Instead of starting with your keyword research, start with defining your target audience and dig deeper into understanding your own brand’s area of specialist knowledge and individual value proposition and how you can help your target market.
- Discover what your content angle / tilt is
Find that content ‘sweet spot’ – that unique content angle that intersects perfectly between your business’s expertise and what your audience really wants and can’t do without.
- Establish who you want to target in Search
Who exactly is your audience likely to be? Here are some ways of gleaning insights into this which will help:
- Look at your existing customers / clients to see if there are any trends or industry sectors that are more prevalent than others
- One I like to use in the online analysis is Google Search Console. You can utilise their click data on your site to establish common queries and turn them into CTR strategies (contact us to help you with this)
- Have a look at who your competitors are targeting…and who they sell to
- Conduct market research surveys
- Spruik the advantages of your product lines or service offerings to discover who might need them
- Research keywords that match your subject area / topic and your target audience
Start your keyword research with a broad search term that creates your ‘stem keyword’ and aligns with your specialised field of expertise, then narrow down that keyword search term to best fit the criteria your target audience is looking for. Ask yourself, “What is their true user intent?”
- Run your keyword research through one of the industry-leading tools
For best practice, use SEMrush, Ahrefs, Moz (these are just a few examples, there are many others out there) to help hone your keywords and look at the search volume and click data etc to see what will work best for your SEO content marketing strategy.
See our other SEO blogs here for more trends.