SEO for Marketing Executives
As I have been writing in this space for the last three posts, SEO is not just the domain of consultants. It is a vital skill for every role in marketing and communications. Of course, SEO is essential for teams building digital experiences, and the communications professionals supporting those experiences. But none of that matters if their executives don’t support and fund what I call outside-in marketing, but what most people call content marketing. Because the pull marketing model is so new to these folks, it is often difficult to get their buy in. Without their buy in, digital marketing experiences don’t have a chance.
A Typical Conversation Between an Executive and an SEO
Executive: “I need a site about Brand X.”
SEO: “Our prospects search on Y when they’re looking for Brand X.”
Executive: “I don’t care, the site needs to be about Brand X and only Brand X.”
SEO: “Just so you understand, if we make it exclusively about Brand X, you will be missing a five-fold opportunity in search referrals and conversions about Y.”
SEO: “Yes, not to mention all the other marketing activities that will be much more aligned to what our clients and prospects need if we center them on Y.”
Executive; “So how can we be about both Y and Brand X?”
SEO: “You attract them through Y, and condition them towards Brand X.”
Executive: “Make it so.”
Obviously, this is a greatly simplified conversation, a version of which I have had dozens of times in my career. I have never convinced an executive in a short conversation on this topic. Most of these conversations have spanned several conference calls and involved multiple iterations of presentations before the executive eventually bought in. Until he or she did, the project was at a standstill. Or, worse yet, we built a whole site around Brand X before the executive bought in. In which case, we had to start over at the URL level with the site about Y. More often than not, I have been brought in after the site about Brand X was well into its third quarter of life with very little to show for it. At that point, we had no choice but to utterly redesign it.
Marketing executives are trained to make markets by strongly branding products and pushing them into the marketplace. This is the Mad Men approach. It might have worked in the heyday of TV, when everyone watched one of three channels every night and only the geeks went on the Internet. But it simply doesn’t work in the age of digital marketing–an age that is reaching maturity. In the new digital world, you need to capture markets, and condition prospects who speak in the language of the existing market to begin to speak the language of your brand. These days, the hot term for this kind of marketing is content marketing.
What is Content Marketing?
I have seen many definitions of this term. Allow me to offer my own, which is an amalgam of these.
Content marketing is the practice of engaging with clients and prospects on their terms through the media of their choice.
Content marketing typically involves publishing. Ann Handley–one of the top minds of content marketing–is fond of saying that companies need to accept the fact that they are publishers. Accepting that fact means accepting:
- They attract prospects through the content they publish
- They develop trust with prospects through their content
- They nurture clients in every stage of the buying cycle with their content
Content marketing is particularly effective in the digital age because it tends to tailor the message to the audience, and deliver it to them when and where they need it. Rather than interrupting prospects and hoping that some portion of them are intrigued enough to engage, content marketing intercepts clients and prospects who are already engaged in finding answers to their questions, gives them those answers, and develops a relationship with them. These relationships turn into more leads, sales, and loyal customers than the Mad Men approach ever did.
Perhaps it’s a generational thing. Perhaps Baby Boomers are more inclined to tolerate interruption marketing, whereas Gen X, Gen Y and Millenials are not (and the younger, the less tolerant). I suspect it has something to do with how digital has changed our expectations. When we can find whatever information we need on whatever topic interests us, we stop passively accepting the information we consume. At some point, ads just become noise. The signals we find through search or social means are the ones we trust. For whatever reason, content marketing fits the way people interact with digital. It is simply the most effective way to market in the digital age.
How is SEO Related to Content Marketing?
SEO is the core of content marketing. Most people use search to find answers to their questions. Mining these queries is the single most valuable source of market research. It is also an especially good way of developing a content strategy that will tend to attract and develop trust with prospects. The best content strategies include social and mobile integration. But they begin and end with SEO: learning the language of the target audience and ultimately optimizing content for that audience.
Executives don’t need to know the details of how we discover the language of our clients and prospects, or how we publish content for them through digital channels. But they do need to know the business case for SEO so that they can buy into and fund a content marketing approach.
About the Author: James Mathewson is the Global Search Strategy Lead for IBM, a role that involves helping content teams implement search best practices at every phase in the content development cycle. Because of the size and scale of IBM, this mostly involves building tools to automate keyword discovery and content strategy. But he also spends much of his time and energy supporting IBM's Digital Lab, which develops optimized digital experiences using the tools James develops and supports in an agile environment.