How much do you consider search intent when developing your SEO content strategy? Why is it so important to understand intent as it is? And how do you cater for intent?
That's what we're going to be discussing today with a lady who develops holistic online marketing strategies for B2B and B2C companies across Europe and North America. She's spoken at Brighton SEO, and has been featured in Moz and HubSpot. Our warm welcome to the In Search SEO podcast to the founder and CEO at AS marketing, Adriana Stein.
The tips include:
Streamline buyer personas
Keyword research and clustering
Create your content
Adriana: Hey, David, thanks so much for having me here today. It's really nice to talk to you.
D: Thanks so much for joining us. You can find Adriana over at asmarketingagency.com. So Adriana, is search intent more important than it used to be?
A: I think that's an interesting question because I would argue that search intent has always been important. I think it's always been one of the foundations of SEO, but I think it has become more important in distinguishing top rankings. With some of the latest algorithm updates, especially from the mid-last year, in the summer, they were really focused on providing the best possible results for the search intent of the user. I think that's one thing that whenever you're creating content and developing your SEO strategy, that should be maybe the number one thing that you honestly look at and check because now it's not just about content and quantity, SEO strategy and quantity. It's about the quality. Does it actually match the information that someone is looking for depending on the keyword that you're targeting? And does that actually make sense for your business? Is that related to purchase intent? Or is it informational? Or how can you actually use that within your strategy? We'll dive into that a little bit more later on. So my answer is kind of both yes or no. Yes. It's always been important, but I think it's more important than ever before.
D: Well, you said a number of things, so that certainly seems like it's important to me. So today, we're covering the four ways to determine search intent for a B2B audience. Starting off with number one, streamline buyer personas.
1. Streamline buyer personas
A: Yes. I think it's important, regardless of what business you're in, not just B2B, but also B2C, eCommerce, etc, every single business should understand who their audience is. So if you don't know who your audience is, then you don't know how-to talk to them. And that's the purpose of having a buyer persona. For those that are unfamiliar with the concept, basically, a buyer persona is an outline of who your target audience is, and what's important to them, maybe there are some demographics and things like that in there. For B2B in particular, you'll definitely want things like buying obstacles, where they are in their organization in terms of their supervisory level or their managerial level. In terms of decision-making, how much decision-making power do they have? What are the buying jobs that they want to accomplish? What are their goals at their job? And how can what you do as a business help them accomplish those jobs? All of that should go into your messaging strategy. Once you know that, it's a whole lot easier to orient your SEO strategy and the content that you create, by explaining and describing how what you do as a business completes the goals that your audience needs to complete.
D: What are the biggest mistakes that marketers are making with buyer personas at the moment? Is it for instance, the fact that they've got too many of them? Is the fact that they don't have the right information in there? Or is it the fact that perhaps they don't have buyer personas at all?
A: Well, not having a buyer persona at all would definitely be the biggest mistake. But I think from my experience, especially focusing on B2B, is marketing and sales misalignment. Oftentimes, it's marketing's responsibility to create the buyer personas, but they're not spending time talking to the sales team about what's actually happening with their buyers. That creates this huge gap between what sales think the buyers want and what marketing thinks the buyers want. And then marketing is creating this messaging for a buyer that's different than what sales is experiencing and then they're at this clash where sales is asking marketing why are you sending us weird leads and marketing ia asking sales why are you not closing those leads.
One of the best ways to resolve that issue is to create buyer personas together. Minimally, at least marketing and sales, but even better is also to include customer service and product. It should be a company effort to understand that buyer from every single angle. Maybe marketing is the one who's actually creating the documents. But it should not just be marketing, as a side load department, trying to understand who the audience is.
D: I love that tip to actually get marketing and sales together to create the buyer persona. Get everyone in the room together and actually brainstorm together. Then not only will you get a better quality or more appropriate, more relevant buyer persona, you will also probably get more buy-in from your sales team as well in the whole marketing process.
A: Absolutely. I think even spending time talking to customers. Marketers should actually go and talk to customers much more than they do. It shouldn't just be that sales or customer service are talking to them. Marketers need to go and spend that time talking to customers as much as possible. Make this on a consistent basis. Talk to sales on a consistent basis, talk to customers, and update your buyer personas all the time. Everyone should always be communicating and understanding who the buyer is.
D: And your number two way of four ways to determine search intent for B2B audiences is keyword research and clustering.
2. Keyword research and clustering
A: Yes. So to develop an SEO strategy in the most efficient manner, you should always be focusing on keywords that have search volume. That's the number one thing and that's actually a quite a big issue that we see in B2B is that there's this concept of creating content for content sake. We kind of say this internally on our team that there's this content created, but what's the purpose behind it. You create that purpose when you understand who your audience is. And then you connect that to keywords, ideally purchase intent-related keywords, to your SEO strategy. And that's what you create content for. So you know it has a purpose, you know that it's going to bring in something into your business in terms of qualified traffic. That's a really big thing that I'd like to emphasize. It's not just about quantity, piling up search volume, and piling up organic clicks, because especially in B2B, if that does not lead to leads generated or some sort of important conversion, then it's kind of all for nothing. You always want to make sure that you have keywords with search volume and that matches what your audience wants.
Where the clustering part comes in. When you're going through, and you're doing keyword research, the way that we like to build the topics, it makes it easier to rank one page for multiple different keywords if they are semantically related. So words that have the same or similar meaning, but they're just phrased a little bit differently. And then you put those into groups. And that's what a keyword cluster is. A keyword cluster is a group of semantically related keywords that have the same search intent type. And then from that you know the angle of the content that you want to create based on your audience.
D: And is it possible nowadays to actually rank a page for a semantically related keyword phrase that doesn't occur within the page copy?
A: Actually, yes. And that's a big piece of what was included in Google's last algorithm update from last year. It's actually become a lot less about using exact match keywords, using the exact word or the exact phrase in your copy. It's more about, do you have the intent behind the general idea of this phrase? And does your content cover that and then you can rank for a lot of keywords. We've had a blog article towards the end of last year that ranked for over 100 keywords. So it's definitely possible if you holistically cover a topic and you match the search intent behind it.
D: And what's the easiest way to determine the intent behind the keyword phrase? Is it something that has to be done on a manual basis? You have to review it and actually decide based on that, or are there tools that can help you with that?
A: That's a good question. It's a really common question that we get, especially since SEMrush released its intent data. So they do have search intent data when you do keyword research. But I always say to look at this very cautiously, because SEMrush is like any other tool. It doesn't actually understand the human side of things. It doesn't know your business strategy, it doesn't know your audience. It can maybe give you a general idea but you should always look at it through the lens of what would I like to accomplish as a business? What does our audience need, and then you can start to determine the search intent.
Typically, I like to break it into two basic categories. They're more than that, depending on who you talk to but I like to keep it simple. There are purchase intent-related keywords that are keywords related to what you sell as a business. So a product or service that basically describes your keyword, or there is some sort of information type keywords. What is this? How does something work? How do I do this? Any of those type keywords are more information-based, and they are related to more long-form content where you're explaining things, whereas a product or service type keyword could maybe be a landing page. But again, it depends on what you're doing as a business and what your products or services are, as to where that fits into your overall strategy. That's why you have to do quite a lot of it manually, but it's worth it because you know when you look at it that this is the intent I that I need for my buyer, and I know where this is going to fit within our content strategy. Then you can make that decision there much easier.
D: And it’s a lot of work as well. But it could make the difference between you and your competition ranking for that keyword phrase.
A: Absolutely. And it ensures that you have quality traffic. That's what we like to emphasize on our team because we are doing primarily SEO projects, that it's not just about, you know, piling on traffic, you want traffic that matches the intent that is bringing something into your business that is related to what you stand for as a brand or what you're trying to sell.
D: So let's move on to number three, keyword map.
3. Keyword mapping
A: Keyword mapping is the process of outlining all of the keyword research that you do and the keyword clusters. It can be just a big spreadsheet. But you can put it into a project manager as well, depending on the way that you like working. The goal of it is that you know from the keyword types that you have, the intent behind them, and the audience that they are for, then you can create the content from that. If you want to talk about a whole how-to topic, then you have all the related keywords in that cluster there. And then you build the content based on that. You build those keywords into the headings where you can, and that actually becomes your full content piece. That way ensures that this content has search volume, it has the potential to rank for multiple keywords. It relates to what you do as a business. So there's a whole lot of value in building it out like that.
D: When generating these initial keywords for a business, is there any minimum number of keywords that you encourage a business to start off with? Fifty, hundreds, several 1000s? Or you can’t say that a generic number applies to any particular type of business?
A: I don't think there's any specific number because it again goes back to search volume. Are you in an industry that has a lot of search volume, or has only a little search volume? If you have only a little, then you're probably going to start out with a smaller number. And then you're going to have to build thematic links. More like brand-related topics in order to scale your SEO strategy. But if you're in an industry with a lot of search volume, like maybe you're an eCommerce business and you have all different sorts of products with search volume, then you're going to have a lot more. But at the end of the day, what's most important to start with is purchase intent-related keywords, so keywords that are as close as possible to what you sell, so that you make sure that the SEO work that you do has an impact on leads generated and sales.
D: Great advice. And that takes us up to number four, which is creating the content itself. How do you go about doing that?
4. Create your content
A: When we have the keyword clusters built in the keyword map, the nice thing about the keyword map is it groups all of the content into verticals, and it's based on your site structure. So if you think of your navigation menu in spreadsheet columns, that's why a spreadsheet is really useful, then you just put the keywords under each column that you want. And that allows you to basically build out your verticals. So you follow the typical best practice process where you're writing your content using the keywords you have. Again, it doesn't need to be exact match, but it does need to relate to the topic in general. You'll also want to do some initial SERP analysis. Just checking what shows up and the search results where you can check things like People Also Ask so maybe you want to add in some of those as some of your headlines. Or maybe you see that videos are ranking so you think that maybe we need to add a video or a specific infographic type or something like this. Then you write your content, edit it, proofread it, and publish it.
D: Do you have a preferred length or format for purchase intent-related keyword phrases? Does it have to be a certain number of words or a minimum? And do you have any thoughts on structure?
A: That’s a really good question. We do get asked that quite a lot. There's this kind of this push in the marketing world to create shorter content, which I can understand because I don't have a big attention span nowadays, either. But what's quite interesting is we have seen from SERPs that content has gotten longer. Especially How-to type content has gotten a lot longer, maybe upwards of 3000 words, that's pretty common. So when you're trying to decide the length of what you want to write, there's a balance. You first have to check the competitors in the SERPs. If they all have 4000 words, then you might need to write a longer piece. You might not have to do completely 4000 words, but you've got to get a pretty meaty content piece out that really covers the topic in order to compete with them. But if you see, for example, you have a product landing page, and others are ranking for it with only 500 words, then you can definitely do that. You can maybe even do a little bit longer than them because you see some People Also Ask FAQ opportunities. So it starts with the SERP analysis and just trying to balance out the information that the reader needs because you don't want to add in a bunch of fluff. It should always be relevant. It's just a balance between what the readers need and what is already ranking.
D: That's great advice. Start off with a SERP analysis, and look to see what's already ranking for those keyword phrases. And that will give you clues in terms of what search engines are looking for, and will likely to appeal to them.
The Pareto Pickle - Promote Your Content
Let's move on to the Pareto Pickle. Pareto says you can get 80% of your results from 20% of your efforts. What's one SEO activity you would recommend that provides incredible results for modest levels of effort?
A: I think it's just promotion. This goes back down to that you should never just create content to create content. You want to have a purpose behind it. And when you have a purpose behind it, then it's much easier to promote because you think about how you can repurpose this. How can I share it on social media? How can I put it in my newsletter? Maybe even do some paid advertising boost to it. The more people that see it, the more likely it is to rank organically and also generate backlinks. That's one of the most important things when you publish content not to just let it sit, but to promote it, promote it, promote it.
D: Absolutely. We talked briefly before we started recording and I mentioned that maybe 10 years ago, you can get away with publishing a piece of content-generating a lot of organic reach from which is much more challenging to do that nowadays. To me, the question you have to ask yourself is, where does that piece of content fit into your existing marketing funnel and how can you drive existing traffic to that piece as well?
I’ve been your host David Bain, you can find Adriana over at asmarketingagency.com. Adriana, thanks so much for being on the In Search SEO podcast.
A: Thank you so much for having me. It's been a pleasure.