Stop treating algorithms as the only answer to SEO

lee wilsonThe wealth of data on offer to marketers is unprecedented. The accessibility of analytics tools such as Google Search Console can lead brands to think that metrics are the be-all and end-all of marketing strategy. But this overlooks the whole point of SEO: behind every search term is a person with complex needs that your strategy must aim to solve.

In this regard, the exponential growth of data sources has led to a deterioration of SEO strategy towards delivery and metrics rather than a deep understanding of the person behind the data. This, in turn, creates a blinkered approach that shifts the focus away from the consumer.

So, how do we get back to the human aspect of search: who are we targeting, what matters to them, and how can we be of value?

Back to brilliant basics for better SEO
When creating an SEO strategy, brands must go to the essentials, establish meaningful goals and objectives, then apply a humanistic mentality to data analysis.

It’s necessary to approach search data with an open mindset. Try to avoid setting out with any known data bias or intention of getting the data to prove your hypothesis first.

In SEO, enhancing the consumer experience with tangible value should be the top – if not the only – priority. By taking a step back and not treating the algorithm as the answer to everything, it becomes possible to humanise your approach. In turn, this produces real consumer insight and generates an understanding of the search intent behind each search query.

A more open-minded approach can eliminate preconceived ideas and uncover more avenues to explore. Your audience is constantly evolving, and it’s important for brands to be aware of changes by understanding the needs of the consumer.

In the process, you can also glean the true meaning of big volumes of search terms that are actually just different ways that users are looking for the same thing. Identifying these cohorts – groups of people with commonalities looking for a similar experience – is the next step in a successful search strategy.

In this way, pre-click data – the individual user’s search term – can be married with post-click data to provide more layers of understanding of the people who click through to your website. You can then respond by building better, more valuable experiences they were looking for when they first set out on their journey.

How to ‘humanise’ SEO again
To focus on the individual user, brands must strip everything back. Focus on what your target audience wants. For example:

Make the data useful – SEO may be a technical discipline, but using the data to engage with a human rather than satisfy a metric is key. Give them what they want, in the way they want it.

Provide visual content – We’ve all been used to consuming information through reading, but today’s on-the-go consumer often prefers to research using shorter, easy digestible formats.

Get the user experience right – When someone lands on your site don’t disappoint them. Make sure it renders and runs well, is easy to navigate for the information required – does what it says in the pre-click search results – and will make them return in future.

Give a comprehensive answer – Do everything you can to fully satisfy the user’s desire for information or advice, preferably without them having to leave your website to find it.

To achieve this understanding, a really important first step is for brands to get all their key people in a room, and build audience profiles. Start by asking fundamental questions such as who are our audience personas, what do they need answers to, where they go for their information etc.

Doing this once is not enough as people and behaviours change all the time. Instead this should be an evolving process. Then with that understanding, go forward with your SEO strategy, always keeping those people at the heart of everything you do.

It’s important to offer a value exchange in order to achieve investment from consumers. Whether this is through offering engaging content or advice through a chat bot, the right engagement in the right channels offer brands the potential to gain deeper layers of insight about the individual.

With all of the above in mind, brands should not be afraid to use this SEO-derived user insights to challenge their existing marketing strategies. The result may not be what you expect but this demonstrates the evolving nature of consumer behaviour, and their wants and needs. By being prepared to adapt, brands can ensure their customers always benefit by finding what they were looking for in the first place. And that’s what will keep them keen.

Forget the person and you forget the whole purpose of what you are doing. There’s no shame in going back to the core fundamentals with your search strategy – or, indeed, your overall approach to marketing. In fact, this could be the key to brand fame and fortune. Get in front of the right people, give them something of personal value, and you’ll shorten the gap between information and conversion.

Lee Wilson is service operations director at Vertical Leap

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