Why Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is more of a process than a destination

Constantly evolving and led by the desire to deliver what web users want with as few clicks as possible, search engines are just delivering content. From the ‘keyword stuffing’ of the ‘90s to the ‘pillar pages’ and ‘searcher intent writing’ of today, SEO has seen many changes and evolved through multiple shades of meaning.

No doubt many more are yet to come.

Ultimately, SEO is about helping search engines do their job. So, what’s the best way to do that and stand out in a crowded internet? Read on for the detail.

Two Sides of the SEO Coin

SEO includes a bunch of different things. Attending to each incrementally raises your possible Search Engine Results Page (SERP) ranking. The idea is to do enough of them so your website, blog, or ecommerce store lands not only on page one of Google, Bing, or Baidu’s SERP but as close to the top of that page as possible. The lower you go, the less traffic you get. Simple.

Some of the SEO requirements have to do with how, why, and where your content is made and published. That’s what you’ll find here.

Others have to do with what I think of as the technical side of the internet — site speeds, structure, and responsiveness. Things like how easily your site can be navigated from a smartphone screen have a massive impact on your ranking. So does site security — skip the ‘S’ from the HTTP:// of your website address and watch your ranking plummet.

As I have little to do with website development, other than delivering the words, I’m going to focus on the content elements of using SEO to stand out. If you want to understand the ‘techy’ side of SEO and get these ducks in order, check out this and this.

Using Content to Drive Your Ranking Up

It seems pretty simple, but lots of bloggers and businesses ignore one of the most obvious parts of SEO content — if you want your content to rank, you have to create the stuff that people want to consume.

Too often we get caught up in trying to figure out Google’s algorithms. Google’s spiders don’t read for pleasure. Bing has no interest in buying the latest fashion. Baidu doesn’t want to learn how to make moussaka.

The only thing search engines want to do is serve the best content to their users. They’re designed to deliver the right answers to the questions people are asking. And that’s what SEO is about — creating content for people in a way that search engines can find it, match it to searcher’s intent, and deliver it ranked near the top of the list of best to worst matches.

So you need to make the stuff that people want, then let the search engine’s know you have, simple as that.

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” — Steve Jobs

But that’s the thing about SEO and simple things, it can be much harder than it looks…

Always Start With the Data

It’s helpful to start with a good understanding of where you stand with SEO. Google’s Search Console is free and you can install it on your website in a matter of minutes. It’s worth the effort as you’ll be able to find out which keywords you’re already ranking for, website errors that are holding you back (including the techy kind mentioned above), and where exactly your traffic is coming from.

All of this is valuable information as it’s the basis for a gap analysis — what’s working and where the holes are.

You can do the same thing for Bing searches by installing Microsoft’s Webmaster Tool. Again, this is handy because Google isn’t the source of every search query. They do have the largest piece of the search pie, but Bing holds second place in terms of market share, managing around a third of the USA’s search queries.

Now that you’ve got the data, it’s time to start thinking about what you’ve got.

What Have You Got Already?

Now that you know how your content is ranking along with the keywords you’re appearing in results for, it’s time to audit that content.

What have you got and what do you need? I find that a lot of clients I work with have content for the start of their marketing funnel — the awareness stage. The rest has been created in a kind of scattergun approach. A bit for returning customers, a couple of email templates that lead prospects to the home page of their website, maybe a blog or two explaining what their business does and why their customers like it.

In terms of your marketing and sales, this can make it difficult to hold the attention of a potential customer long enough to convert them into an actual customer. In terms of SEO, it means your content is showing up for some searches and not others.

A good SEO content plan has assets that speak to all levels of the customer journey. These levels need to be mapped to the search engine’s prediction of searcher intent.

‘Searcher intent?’ I hear you ask. This is the reason behind the question posed to Google, Bing, or any other search engine. Search engines generally break intent into three areas: Do, Know, and Go.

Which Should You Focus on, SEO or SIO?

I’d argue that good SEO is Searcher Intent Optimization (SIO). If you do your content planning and SEO well, you’ll naturally be meeting SIO needs too.

When you’re thinking about searcher intent, you can break it down in a couple of ways. The marketer’s way is to think about it as a funnel — Awareness, Consideration, Conversion, Loyalty, Advocacy — or some variation of this. When search engines identify intent, it’s more along the lines of Do, Know, or Go.

What is the searcher trying to get from their query?

Your job is to match your content, very obviously, to the range of intents that a searcher has. You can do this with the marketing funnel — early stages of the funnel match the search engine’s category of ‘Know.’ ‘Do’ is for the engaged searcher who is ready to convert, and ‘Go’ is your loyal customers — they’re comfortable with you and want to go straight to your site. ‘Go’ content should be about delighting these customers. Give them content they can use to become advocates of your brand.

So how do you bring all this back around to creating SEO content for website users? With the words you use.

What phrases and words do people use to find the things they want at the Know-Awareness-Consideration stage of their journey? What about the Do-Conversion-Loyalty stage? Or the Go-Advocacy-Delight stage? What types of content do people typically look for to answer these different needs? You should already know what you’ve got, which in turn lets you know what you need.

Keywords, Topics, and Content Planning

One of the easiest ways to find out what people are searching for on the internet is to ask the internet. There are loads of tools available to find out what words people use to search for things in your niche.

Try checking out places like Answer The Public or playing around with Google Suggest for a while and you’ll start to see inside the Hive’s mind. It all comes down to language when you’re attracting website users and matching the content you’ve made to what they’re looking for.

If you have a team of people working with your content and website, get together for a brainstorm. Everyone uses different words and phrases in their search. A group brainstorm can expose words associated with your brand you’d never considered.

SEO content aims to meet searchers where they are by matching with their language. That includes single and double word phrases along with longtail keywords and queries.

That’s why you hear so much about keywords and topic themes. People use words to communicate with their search engine of choice. Then, the search engine analyses the words they use to try and understand their intent and bring them the content that matches.

Let’s imagine you provide a sales service. You’ll have a bunch of keywords that are related to what you do — sales, B2B, B2C, deal, purchase, profit, prospecting, sales team, salesperson, salesforce, sales and marketing, sales pipeline, and a bunch of others. You’ll want to rank well for these words. Just as important is to match your ideal audience’s queries with your content.

Great content will answer the initial ‘Know-Awareness’ stage with informative content that gives general information about your product or service.

Let’s use the sales service example again. Content fitting this stage of the intent/marketing funnel will answer questions like ‘what are outsourced sales,’ ‘how do outsourced sales work,’ ‘what are the benefits of outsourcing sales.’ Your content should succinctly and thoroughly answer these questions while naturally using appropriate words from your keyword pool.

The Know/Consideration and the Do/Conversion stages of SEO content will be answering questions like ‘What are the best-outsourced sales options for startups,’ ‘why outsourcing sales boost profits,’ ‘which outsourced sales teams are for estate agents,’ ‘choosing outsourced sales for part of your sales pipeline.’

Your Go/Advocacy/Delight stages will be case studies, testimonials, special offers, and more. This content should help your loyal customers promote the service they chose to others and help them feel great about having chosen your service.

Making It Obvious to Google

Once you’ve created your content — using the relevant keywords and phrases and answering the right questions for the different stages of the marketing funnel and types of searcher intent — it’s time to finish by making all this work obvious to Google and other search engines.

These finishing points are activities that support standout SEO content. These often get forgotten and great content never sees the light of page one’s search results. They’re simple, but key:

  • Place the primary keyword naturally in the first 150 words of your content.
  • Tailor a 150–160 character meta description that includes your main keyword, summarizes the content, and attracts clicks.
  • Tag your headings, subheadings, and secondary subheadings correctly(H1, H2, and H3 tags).
  • Format your content so it’s easy to skim, is logically ordered, and is easily understood.
  • Break up paragraphs with optimised images — image and video file names include keywords and alt tags that describe what is shown with main keywords where appropriate.
  • Include links to your other blogs with related and relevant content/
  • Include outbound links to reputable, non-competing websites that support your message.
  • Cover your topics thoroughly without rambling, branching into other topics, or filling it with a lot of ‘fluff.’
  • Be original, be engaging, and make it easy for the human searcher to find what they wanted.

Writing for your audience in the language that they use to find things is only part of SEO. Addressing the technical and other content elements of SEO is also important. That means thinking about headings from the reader’s perspective, naming image files, and giving alt descriptions that make sense to the viewer and search engines.

Great SEO content stands out because it’s written for people and matches the various intent stages of their customer journey, plus background work is completed so search engines can understand the value it brings. It’s as simple and as complicated as that.