Customer data is one of your most valuable metrics.
The goal of SEO is to generate sales.
Speaking to actual customers is the best way to work out how to get more sales.
What's more, most SEOs start the SEO process by looking at keyword data. The problem with this approach is it assumes you'll be able to predict how your potential customers think about your product or service. This is making a big assumption.
The better way to do SEO is to research how actual potential customers relate to your product and then build your SEO strategy around that.
In this episode, Eli Schwartz explains three ways to use customer data to build SEO strategies.
Eli Schwartz is the bestselling author of Product-Led SEO and an SEO expert and consultant with more than a decade of experience working for leading B2B and B2C companies. Eli’s strategies have generated millions of dollars in revenue for some of the internet’s top websites. He has helped clients like Shutterstock, Coinbase, WordPress, Blue Nile, Quora, and Zendesk execute highly successful global SEO strategies.
1. Customer Data Over Keyword Data and Why
David: Welcome to the In Search SEO podcast, Eli Schwartz.
Eli: It's great to be here, David. Thank you for having me.
D: Yeah, thanks so much for coming on, Eli. Today we're covering the three ways to use customer data to build SEO strategies in 2022. So why start with customer data?
E: I love that you open with that. I think, and I wrote an entire book on this, the most important thing is to actually start with customer data, and not do SEO the way too many people do SEO, which is keyword data. So when you're doing keyword data, you're essentially trying to back into customer data and saying, well, people, potential customers, use these keywords on search engines, which I have now found on any of the popular search tools, which Rank Ranger is, of course, one of them. So you find keywords, then you create content around those keywords with the expectation that potential customers might search those keywords on search engines, with the expectation that if they search those keywords, you're going to rank highly on the search engine. And with another expectation, and now we're going into assumption territory because you can't even have expectations anymore, that they're going to click on your results. And finally, we're in the craziest assumption of all, that if they click on your result, they're going to convert into whatever sort of meaningful conversion action you want them to have.
So that's gone so far down the assumption and expectation trajectory, that I think that's not the way SEO should be done. Instead, if using customer data to build your SEO strategy, you're doing what marketers should do, you're doing what anybody trying to sell a product should do, which is, I want to know exactly what it is that my customers want. Therefore, I'm going to create what my customers want. And lo and behold, if that works like that, they're going to find you, they're going to discover you, and they're going to convert because you know that is what they're looking for. Does that mean that you're creating keywords in your content? You probably are, but you're basing it on what your customers are looking for rather than basing it on some sort of convoluted "This is my topic, this is my category” so therefore I found a bunch of keywords.
D: And in terms of using customer data in practice, the first method that you're sharing is in person on the street surveys. Are you really advocating that SEOs need to speak with people?
Street Surveys May Help You Understand Your Core Customers
E: If they don't like speaking with people, that's okay. They can ask someone else to speak with people. When I say on-the-street interviews, it doesn't really have to be on-the-street interview, it doesn't actually have to be a survey, it really has to be finding a target customer and learning more about them as an individual. For example, we had a little bit of a conversation before as we were getting the camera set up. I mentioned that I had to stand up and I was wearing pants and you had an assumption that pants meant something else because you're in the UK and I'm in the US. In the US, pants meant I was wearing jeans, and I don't know what you were thinking, you can share that on your own. But if I were building my SEO based on customer data, I should probably talk to someone about what their expectation is of the product I'm selling. What do they call it? Do they call it pants? Do they call it leggings? Do they call it jeans? Do they call it sweatpants? Do they call it sweats? All of those things? Rather than going to a keyword tool and saying that I'm selling a product that people wear on their bottom half. That’s my topic so what are the keywords that have become very popular? I would imagine jeans are pretty popular. But if you're not actually selling jeans, why would you use jeans as a keyword?
So talking to a customer or learning from a real customer could mean reading an article written by someone in your target audience. That's what I mean by on the street interviews by understanding the real human customer behind who you're selling to know what they're actually looking for, and building your SEO around that. Again, rather than some sort of arbitrary, this is my topic, therefore I'm going to create content that has the keyword that is very popular in my category.
D: Okay, so you're essentially saying that keyword tools can be great, but by themselves, they might miss out on certain subtleties that can be gained by speaking with people in person or researching your audience. How many people do you need to speak to you? I mean, obviously, just speaking to a couple of people isn't representative. Do you need to get to a certain number?
E: I think there's a number. If you talk to one, you may discover that all of your assumptions are wrong. If you talk to ten, and eight out of the ten told you the same thing... again, we'll keep on the jeans topic here. If you talk to ten people, and you ask them what they call pants that are made out of denim, and eight out of the ten of them say they are called jeans, then you know that jeans are the things that you should be optimizing for. I know, in South America, Levi's jeans are very popular so Levi's is the keyword they use. So you really want to find out from the people that you're talking to what it is that you should be focusing on. Is Levi's going to be your keyword? Maybe not, maybe you're still going to use jeans as the keyword. But you've now gained more of an awareness about a new keyword in your space that no keyword tool would have told you about.
Now once you get that keyword, you can then use the keyword tool to tell if you should use keyword A, keyword B, keyword c, etc. What should be your expectations? What are the similarities? What are synonyms? What are some other suggestions that come out of that keyword? I totally use keyword tools, and I love them. And I love Rank Ranger, but I use them as an addition to really optimizing my discoveries rather than my discoveries beginning there.
D: That’s a great point actually because in the United States, there are over 50 states and it means that people are likely to refer to items in a different phraseology than they would in other states. So keyword tools aren't necessarily going to break things down on a state-by-state basis. Even across the UK, people talk about things or refer to things using many different types of words, depending on where someone happens to be located. So I love your point there. Your point number two was to use competitor data. So what competitor data is key?
2. Using Competitor Data to Your Advantage
E: This is where you're going to want to look at your competition and try to estimate what your competition is doing. I don't love looking at content gaps, because I think content gaps are just content gaps. They have content, you have content, and it doesn't mean that you should have the same content they have. However, I would try to look a little bit deeper into it and say what kind of content does my competitor have? What sort of content does it look like they're selling into? And how do I sell better? So instead of saying, "Oh, my competitor has 1500 words using this keyword, so, therefore, I have to have 1600 words using this keyword,” say, "My competitor has 1500 words that are confusing as hell, and I'm going to write 500 words, and I'm going to get straight to the point. And in the process, I'm going to tell you that my product has better quality, my product is cheaper than the competitors.” That's what I mean by using competitor data and saying, What is it my competitors are doing wrong in their approach to selling with SEO rather than their approach to ranking on SEO?
D: Okay. And if that's your hunch, that you may be able to rank more effectively than your competitor by having fewer words on your page, is it better off doing a split test on a small number of your pages just to see if your hunch is correct?
E: Yes, but I just want to clarify that my goal with SEO is not ranking. My goal with SEO is selling. So if my competitors are hyper-focused on a specific keyword, even if they're ranking number one on it, but they're missing out on 50 other keywords in the space because they're hyper-focused on that keyword, I would rather they can own the head term, and I get the 50 other terms. I think what it comes down to is that the KPI for SEO is sales. KPI for SEO is revenue. So if we go in there, and we can say that my competitors are ranking well, we're happy for them, but they're not selling and making as much money as they can with SEO, I want to do better. So that's where I'm expanding what they've done saying, well, they're only focused on the keyword, they've run 10 pieces of content towards this keyword, how can in my meta description or title tag, when I'm ranking lower than them or when I'm ranking on different keywords, how can I really bring out the point that I'm better than them?
D: Is it really possible to measure the KPI being sales if you have a long sales cycle for say, a year or so and someone visits you initially using quite a generic keyword phrase?
E: Probably not. Well, yes, when there's a long sales cycle, and it's B2B software, I'm not even a proponent of doing SEO necessarily the way we do SEO, because I don't think you can track it at all. And I think SEO is something you invest in. So if you can't track it, how do you justify the investment? I do think you should do SEO from a brand standpoint, which is me doing a great job of creating awareness about my product and my brand. I want to make sure that when you Google my product, my brand, you do find that content. So wherever you are in the sales process and the buyer's journey, I'm giving you the right information. But to really optimize for keywords and to build that entire process that's not cheap, certainly not free. So we're link building, we're creating content, and we’re really measuring. If you can't ever get to that ultimate sales KPI, I find it hard to justify.
So long sales cycle products, expensive products, B2B products, something that ultimately ends up with multiple handshakes or phone calls or video meetings, or whatever it is, that's not online, I do find it hard to justify really going and spending money in SEO.
Measuring and Monitoring Visits
D: And when you're looking at competitor pages, you're also trying to get a handle on how many visitors are likely to be clicking through visiting other pages on the site, and perhaps even making a sale as a result of landing on that page, or is it too difficult to get data from competitors?
E: Oh, I think that's very important. Use tools like Similarweb, SEMRush has some traffic prediction tools, try to do things that. Do competitor intelligence, buy the product yourself, talk to customers, every competitor, run a survey of your competitors, customers, anything you can really learn about how they're doing what they're doing. You could be more expensive than them and sell better, even if you're ranking lower. I think it comes down to how much revenue is generated from the channel. So really learn as much about it. And don't be focused on just the keywords. They rank on that keyword and that keyword so they must be doing better than me. They have more content than me, so they're doing better. I've seen this over and over in my consulting practice, where companies get very focused on their competitors. And they say the competitor must be doing well, because they have 200 blog posts. Look at these blog posts, they're entertaining, but there's no way that they sell. When you're done reading this blog post, you go and read another blog post. But that's it, that doesn't do anything. It has no motivation to even share it on social media. So metrics like number of pieces of content, number of keywords, number of anything, really doesn't matter if your KPI is sales.
3. Fully Utilizing Existing Customer Support Data
D: And your third way to use customer data is customer support. So what do you mean by that?
E: So if you're in the fortunate position of doing SEO at a company that has customer support data, then this is the data you should be using. I've been in this position a handful of times and it's great. For example, I worked at Survey Monkey, so customers called in or they emailed in and had certain complaints, or they had certain pieces of feedback about the product. And they use their own natural language to explain how they were doing what they were doing. And that really is an opportunity for me to say, "Wow, I have real customers, a handful of customers that have told me something, and it can break out of my mold of thinking and saying, Well, this is how I should position it.”
For example, I don't know if a lot of listeners and watchers here will be familiar with the concept of a net promoter score. A net promoter score is a standard customer satisfaction benchmark. So Survey Monkey actually had a tool to do net promoter scores. But the customers didn't know it existed, because that's not how they were looking for it. So we call it Net Promoter Score. That's the way you're supposed to call it. But if you look at customer support data, you could understand the way it was being referred to. And now I could build SEO efforts around the way it was being referred to. Again, it doesn't come down to my ranking on the word Net Promoter Score, because I was. It comes down to my ranking on the thing that real customers are going to be looking for. Because real customers are going to click, real customers are going to convert.
The Pareto Pickle -The Advantage of a Heat Map
D: Great advice. Well, let's finish off with the Pareto Pickle. So Pareto says that you can get 80% of your results from 20% of your efforts. So what's one SEO activity that you would recommend that provides incredible results for modest levels of effort?
E: So most people aren't going to consider this SEO activity. Hopefully, after watching or listening to this podcast, you're going to realize that SEO goes beyond just doing a little bit of keyword research. Again, something you consider non-SEO activity, I consider SEO activity anything that helps you get more traffic from search. And that is using a tool like user testing, or FullStory, or HotJar or Google Analytics has that tool where you can heat map. Look at how customers, real users, are experiencing your pages. So if you're using Google Analytics, maybe you can see that it was an organic search visit. Look at what happens. Do they land on your page? Do they know where they're going? Ultimately, I think SEO is around converting customers. So understand the actual click journey, understand how people are experiencing the page. And I think it would help guide you in building better pages and building better SEO efforts that will drive more revenue.
For me, it could be as much as 10 minutes watching a few users going through something and I'll have an epiphany of wow, we have all this faceted navigation but there's too much of it. Or we don't have enough facet navigation or we built the wrong category page. Because everyone that lands on this page they click over to another page. So why not create that other page and optimize that other page and maybe even get rid of the first page that people have landed on. So I think a little bit of actual customer data, watching these videos is great. If you don't have access to any of these kinds of tools, some of them are free. I think Google Analytics has its own heat map tool so go for it.
D: Okay, great. And just to remind the listener, the three ways to use customer data that you shared today was number one is sharing in person on street surveys. Now that's not necessarily going on to the street, but actually researching your core customer and seeing how they refer to things. Number two is competitor data, diving into precisely what your competitor pages are about and what conversion rates to sales are likely to be on there. And thirdly, customer support data. What kind of phraseology do your customers use. I've been your host, David Bain. Thanks so much for being on the In Search SEO podcast.
E: Thanks for having me, David.
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