An inspirational SEO leader in my team once said “SEO is really business development’. And he is right. To be good at SEO is to create a search-led business development strategy and anyone that has ever worked in sales knows that if you leave a lead to go cold, it is highly unlikely it will convert with you. This is the same with SEO, if we don’t build in a nurture strategy, we’re leaving it to chance that someone will come back. For all the effort it takes to achieve some of the highest rankings, it is madness to leave it to chance.
I believe that understanding human behaviour is fundamental to supercharging digital marketing results. This means that before you even consider starting to do SEO work, you must follow a process of understanding your audience and customer journey mapping. It is within the customer journey mapping phase that you can really start to understand the cross-channel opportunities and where email needs to be baked in.
In a recent survey, Salesforce found that 66% of customers expect brands ‘to understand their unique needs and expectations.’ And Epsilon found that 80% of consumers were more likely to purchase from a brand that provides personalised experiences.
This data really demonstrates that as SEOs we can’t stick our heads in the sand and just keep driving traffic, we need to know that there is a plan to nurture and build a relationship with the users. The key is that our knowledge of understanding how users search and the intent behind it is the key to planning the right journey with the right engagement points.
This is marketing 101 no doubt for most of you, but I do feel it is something that can easily be forgotten when there is a pressing need for results. Taking time to get this right will increase your likelihood of success by many multiples.
In understanding your audience you will be able to group them into similar characteristics. My advice is not to get swept away with the ease of doing this based on demographics, but instead to do this based on the motivation to buy your product/service or engage with your content.
For example, we can’t assume all 20-25 females have the same taste in clothing, a better angle is to consider those website visitors that are motivated to buy something to lounge at home in or something to wear to a wedding. From here we can start to plan the customer journey, with insight from their motivation. Someone looking for loungewear is looking for comfort, something to make them feel good and relaxed versus someone looking for a wedding outfit is looking for style and something they’ll feel amazing in. The lead time from awareness to purchase is likely to be different, plus also the likelihood of returns is going to be different. I know I’ve been the victim of buying multiple outfits for a special occasion and then returning all but one.
This insight can help us plan our customer journey but can also help us think about things like post-purchase regret - how can we avoid that happening in the second scenario? I’ll come to this.
At the end of this phase, you should have a persona bible, something everyone in your business can buy into and understand. Below is an example of the opening page of one of our client’s personas:
Source: Reflect Digital Persona Bible
For me, a perfect persona includes the following:
There are varying ways to reach this conclusion, from working with some of your customers, to running surveys or to working closely with your customer-facing team. The key thing here is that you do this, however, you do it, you must do it - without this, the next phase is all guesswork.
Here we get to bring in some of our SEO skills, but we MUST also continue to think bigger than SEO, yes I know - that sentence feels like swearing, after all, what could be bigger than SEO?! Well, this is. This is where the best results come from.
Let me give you some context - have you ever achieved fantastic rankings, and seen traffic increase but not seen the end goal objective grow at the same rate? Well, it is probably down to not getting this part right, without a clear plan of how the customer can flow through the marketing funnel - chances are they will get lost and buy from somewhere else that does get it right.
The image below demonstrates the marketing funnel - in bold what the customer is doing and below it what as marketers you should be doing.
How do we make this into a customer journey plan? Well, you take each of your audience personas and you map out the most likely journey - thinking online as well as offline. Depending on budget and timelines, you can do this supported by customer research, focus groups etc. But if the budget does not allow it, doing this by working with the team in your business that is closest to your customers is the next best option, with the addition of GA data and any research you can find.
Rather than thinking like a marketeer at this point, you need to think like a human, put yourself in the shoes of that person with the motivation to buy and think about the many touchpoints. Google refers to this journey as the messy middle, as it can get messy - a whiteboard is a good starting point. Below is a fantastic representation from Google of the many touchpoints in a user’s journey.
Source: Think with Google Blog
Think about the trigger, then what they might be feeling, their fears and concerns, who they might be talking to about the purchase/service, and what they will be searching for along the journey.
As you are doing this, a great thing to do is zoom out further and then you can start to layer in your marketeer mind. In the most loving way possible, you need to think of these users as a baton in a relay race. How will you get the ‘baton’ (user) from one stage to the next? What needs to happen to help move the user along?
Often the answer is email marketing or remarketing. Email is the stronger of the two as if we can offer the user something that helps them (e.g. a downloadable guide or a 10% off first purchase), in trade for their email address, then we have captured a way to keep in touch. Thinking back to the statistics at the start showing how important personalisation is - if there is any way to gather more information at this point, then definitely do this - but this needs to be balanced with making the conversion happen. If you start asking too many questions, you will likely see the user give up. An interesting concept here is to find ways to create games or quizzes that data capture users but teach you something about them - this becomes a win-win without forcing them to put themselves into boxes. An example below that we created for a Student Housing client inviting students to find out what their dorm type’ would be.
Once captured and into an email marketing journey, you can then monitor their interaction with the follow-up emails and use this channel along with the website content, social content and a splash of remarketing to build a relationship with the user. Getting feedback from the email marketing team on what content is proving most interesting is also super useful in prioritising your content strategy.
Without thinking about the journey in this way it is so easy to miss the requirement for email and other channels to play their part. Without their support, you could deliver the most amazing SEO results but you could still be failing on your overall objective to drive sales/enquiries or engagement.
Now is not the time to get overwhelmed, as it’s true - a lot of this might not be your remit. Here is an opportunity to bring a wider team together to look at the solution for this new strategy you are forming.
You can start to prioritise the actions based on resources across the varying teams to deliver the biggest impact. For example, if for the early stage ‘unaware’ researching visitors you need a download for you to capture the email address but the team responsible for creating the content can’t produce it in time, then maybe this isn’t the best starting point. You should always be thinking about actions with the highest propensity to deliver results. Alternatively, you may also weigh this up in the knowledge that the required keywords need six months to achieve top positions, therefore you might as well start now! This is all about project management with an eye on the results you want to achieve.
Whatever you do though, do something - start moving this plan forward and get the different teams talking. SEO on its own leaves so much to chance, SEO in partnership with the wider digital channels is where the magic happens. Think of every channel and every touchpoint as part of building a relationship, the fewer touchpoints, the less time you and the user get to spend together, and the weaker the relationship. Loyalty can be driven from the early part of a relationship, we all know the phrase ‘first impressions count’ it is the same with a digital journey, every action you as a brand do, or don’t do, is part of creating that first impression and building that relationship.
The great thing about the process we have just gone through is that you can be a customer of your competitors and you should do this. You can follow their journey and map how they interact with you and get ideas or get to pat yourself on the back that your journey is so much more tailored than theirs. When you think about the research phase of buying a product, it is not often that you would put all your eggs in one basket, as it were. This is the same for your users, so as they are experiencing your journey, there is a good chance they are experiencing a competitor’s as well - therefore it would be crazy not to intimately understand that process to allow you to ensure your brand has the edge.
The number one takeaway here is to stop thinking about users and start thinking about humans and put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Remember SEO = Business Development, albeit you don’t have to hit the phones, you do have to drive traffic and to do that responsibly is to ensure there is a plan to ‘pass the baton’ as it were and to drive that user to your joint end goal. To do this well is to truly integrate with all digital channels, but your quickest win should be to integrate with email marketing, as email can take on the role of the friendly salesperson checking in.
Reflect Digital was once nothing but a dream in Becky’s head. Becky is Reflect Digital’s CEO, having started Reflect Digital in 2011 she has grown the business to the strong agency team it is today.
Becky is a strategist at heart, and she shares her experience and knowledge with the Reflect Digital team and the business we work with. Full of creative ideas but with an eye always on ROI, Becky has a natural talent for spotting campaign opportunities and ensuring value is delivered.More about Becky