Confusion. That’s what I would call it. After looking at Google Analytics, sales were not up in any significant way. I got that sinking feeling you get when something just isn’t right. My biggest SEO win was turning out to be my biggest SEO mistake.
How could this be happening?
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me explain how I got here.
We had just had our greatest SEO win ever. Yes, we saw a content gap on the SERP for three of our client’s biggest keywords. I wrote a nice detailed blog post, published it, and went ahead with the usual blog promotions. A short time later, the post hit the top of Google for all three terms. Over time the post began to rank for thousands of long-tail terms.
I was the office hero… until we looked at Google Analytics. Where were all the sales?
After recounting this story, I want to share some big lessons from one of my biggest SEO failures. I’ll be sharing the one big picture strategy that could turn this failure into a colossal success.
This post is where SEO meets marketing. It’s about seeing your SEO efforts in the bigger picture of marketing and sales.
Now let’s first figure out what went wrong in my blog post…
Figuring Out What Went Wrong
I have to admit I was pretty new to SEO back then. I had gone from intern to in-house writer. The first SEO metric (perhaps the only metric) I would look at before writing content was search volume (yes, we were all beginners once). It never really occurred to me that SEO is a branch of marketing.
So obvious in hindsight.
It took a bit of soul searching to figure out what the problem was and to come up with a strategy that could knock it out of the park.
Firstly, what went wrong?
This is pretty simple to figure out. We were working for a company that sells skin lightening products. (Just as an aside, for those of you with a conscience, the products did not contain any harmful ingredients but were designed to deal with hyperpigmentation naturally.) I had written an informational blog post that was designed to answer an informational query.
Nothing wrong with that.
However, the queries were incredibly broad. The keywords my post ranked for are:
- skin lightening
- skin whitening
- skin brightening
Now, take a look at these terms and see if you can figure out what the problem is.
The issue is people typing ‘skin lightening’ into Google are not necessarily looking for products. They’re most likely looking for information. In fact, they might never have any interest in buying anything to do with skin lightening.
Realizing this, I understood why there were very few new sales.
Now, I’m not saying ranking for a query like this is bad. Quite the opposite. I have introduced my client’s site to tens of thousands of people every month. From a brand awareness standpoint, I helped my client. But, what I’m also saying is since our goal was to generate sales, a lot would have to happen before we could convert the vast majority of our readers into paying customers.
In order to truly understand this, let’s look at a basic marketing 101 concept.
Sales Funnels 101
Yes, I’m sure you’ve heard about sales funnels. Also, I can imagine you’re wondering why I’m covering sales funnels in the context of an SEO blog post. The answer is simple. As an SEO, you need to be thinking about the big picture.
I mean, you wouldn’t spend your client’s money setting up paid ads without thinking about where that traffic is going to, so why should your client pay you month after month to generate organic traffic that has no chance of converting?
That said, on with sales funnels…
A sales funnel is a relationship-building framework designed to take a lead through the stages of the buyer’s journey in order to convert them into a customer. Typically this is done through educating your potential customer. By doing this you will be helping them through the stages of the buyer’s journey. Now, since the buyer’s journey is made up of more than one step, you might need to educate them through each stage of the journey. This might require them to see more than one resource before you can actually sell them anything.
Let’s go through an example.
Let’s see how in the example of the skin lightening blog post, I could build a relationship with my readers and turn many of them into buyers at the same time. In this section, I am focusing on the overall strategy. I will show you how to implement this in a later section.
Top of the Funnel – Problem Aware to Solution Aware
In other words, your potential customer might have a problem but might not know how to solve it. In our example, let’s say they have unattractive hyperpigmentation they want to get rid of. They might be looking for a bit of information. Maybe they know about skin lightening but don’t know if it is a solution to hyperpigmentation. A little research will help them to figure this all out.
This is where you step in and educate your audience with a nice, well-written article about skin lightening. You can introduce your audience to what it is and how it deals with hyperpigmentation. By doing this you’ve educated your reader. They now know that skin lightening is a solution to their problem.
This is what we call Top of the Funnel Content. It’s designed to take your audience from problem aware, to solution aware. When you do that you’re building trust and establishing yourself as an expert.
Your reader, now understanding what the solution to their problem is, has now become one step closer to becoming a buyer. What’s more, they now have a relationship with your brand.
Middle of the Funnel – Solution Aware to Product Aware
But relationships need to be nurtured. Without taking the relationship further, it will pretty much die. So here is where you want to step in and engage with your audience again.
This time your audience knows the solution to their problem, so here you can engage them with more granular information about the solution. In other words, they might know they want a skin lightening cream, but don’t know that many of the creams contain toxic chemicals. Here is where you step in with more content. (I’ll explain how you get them to see your second piece of content after your first piece later in this post.)
What you’ve done at this point is educated your potential audience a second time. This will help your audience narrow down their product options. Seeing your brand again will help nurture the relationship and will establish you as the expert that they can trust. What’s more, they moved from someone who knows there is a solution, to someone who is evaluating what solution is the best solution for them. Again, they are another step closer to a sale.
Bottom of the Funnel – Earning a Buyer
You now have a relationship with your audience. You might want to engage them differently this time. Perhaps you want to show them something about your brand. Since you already have a relationship with them, this is a good time to do this. Your goal now is to convince your audience that your solution is the one they want. You are bringing your relationship to the next level. At this point, you can ask for a sale.
As you can see, by educating your audience you’ve not only helped steer your audience in the right direction, but you’ve also positioned yourself as a trusted expert. Who better to recommend a product? This way a sale is earned.
Now that we understand how we can build up to a sale, let’s see how we can apply this to SEO.
Awareness Level SEO
Yes, as an SEO you should be thinking about how you can get sales. In order to avoid the mistake that I made, you should be actively looking to create content that is middle to bottom of the funnel. The lower down the funnel your audience is, the better chance you have to make a sale.
In order to do that, you need to be doing effective keyword research.
When doing your keyword research for a new piece of content, it’s important to avoid terms that are not likely to convert. In other words, how do you identify terms that are going to be difficult to turn into sales, such as ‘skin lightening’ and what should you target instead?
As you can see in the screenshot above, the term ‘skin lightening’ gets 9900 searches a month with a keyword difficulty score of 94. This is often (but not always) a sign that a broad range of users are searching for this term.
More importantly, the term is incredibly broad. What I mean by broad is, there is nothing in the search term that explains what specific information the user is looking for by searching for the term ‘skin lightening.’ Are they looking for a solution to a problem? Are they just looking for a definition? Who knows. Therefore if your post is ranking at the top of Google for this term, you are likely to get traffic from any number of search intents.
Wouldn’t it be a better approach to target terms that people are typing into Google that are designed to help them make a purchase? How much convincing would you have to do to get them to make a purchase?
Most likely not that much.
In other words, look to serve people who are further down the sales funnel. Can you find terms that solution aware people (they know the type of product they are looking for) are searching for?
Better yet, look for people who are already product aware, but are weighing up their options. If you could create blog posts around these terms, you will have much less work to do to convert your audience into buyers.
Terms like these often have a much lower search volume than broad terms. The reason is, if you look at any broad search term like ‘skin lightening,’ only a small number of those users are looking to buy something. Therefore, expect comparatively lower search volumes.
In order to do this, take a look again at your keyword research tool. Start to look for terms that you can imagine someone who is researching the best product would type into Google.
Let’s look again at the Keyword Research tool for the term ‘skin lightening.’ We will be using the Related Keywords report.
In the screenshot below, you’ll notice that the first term is ‘safe skin lightening creams’ and just after it ‘skin lightening cream.’ Which term do you think is a better term to target?
If you answered ‘safe skin lightening creams’ I would be inclined to agree with you.
The reason is, the more information the searcher adds to the term, the more specific it is. Let’s face it, the more specific the term, the easier it is to create winning content that the user will love.
Well, the person who is typing a broad term like ‘skin lightening cream’ into Google, isn’t hinting to you what type of cream are they looking for? Is it cheap or expensive? Do they want something natural? Do they want something they can apply to their body or only their face?
But for the term ‘safe skin lightening cream,’ they are likely looking for something natural. Understanding this, we can assume they are also more likely willing to pay more for a safer product. Their focus isn’t entirely on price. That’s a world of information.
Now, there is a lot more to keyword research than what I’m letting on, but, I just want to focus on the buyer’s journey in this post. The point I am making is, try to find terms that you can rank for that are not only lower down on the sales funnel but are also as specific as possible.
But, let’s go back to my skin lightening post I wrote for my client that was getting so much unfocused traffic. As I have mentioned, getting them to see a second and third post can help them towards making a buying decision.
The problem is…
How can I guarantee that they will see the next pieces of content and how do I know they will see them in the right order?
That’s easier done than said…
Strategies to Move Your Audience Down the Funnel
Okay, thousands of people have seen my post, and I want to get them to see the next post to drive them down the funnel. Here are two easy to implement strategies.
The key here is to move out of SEO and start to think about other channels. I’m going to share two strategies, but there are way more. One of these strategies requires you to pay for ads and the other requires some effort but both of these strategies can really pay off in the end.
Always test and don’t be afraid to try new things.
Let’s jump in…
This is by far my favorite marketing medium. On your top of the funnel content, you can include an email opt-in. This can be in the form of a button or link on the post, or can even be served via a popup.
Usually, marketers offer their audience something of value, called a lead magnet, in exchange for their email address. This is usually in the form of a downloadable PDF with valuable information related to the topic. What you can then do, is send them a series of emails all designed to build a deeper relationship with your audience.
Personally, I don’t love lead magnets. They almost always end up sitting unread on your reader’s hard drive. Pretty pointless if you ask me. If your audience doesn’t read your material, you are wasting a prime opportunity to engage with them. Also, there is often little or no reason to read the emails. They’ve already got the lead magnet, why do they need to open a bunch of emails?
Instead, I prefer to make the emails themselves the lead magnet. In other words, don’t offer a PDF. Rather, offer an email course that takes your audience to the next level of the buyer’s journey.
The reason I love this strategy is, if they like your content, they will keep opening your emails. And don’t forget, with every piece of content, you are deepening the relationship with your audience.
But beware, if you don’t dazzle them, they will quickly drop you.
Facebook and Instagram Ads
Facebook ads are great for delivering both content and ads. All you have to do to set them up is to make sure you have a Facebook pixel on your site. You can then go into the Business Tools and under Create Audience create a Custom Audience. Once there, choose Create a Website Audience. You can then create an audience based on people who visited a specific page.
At this point, choose your page. You can now send content to people who have seen your page.
The Two Hats of SEO
Yes, as we have covered in this post, it simply isn’t enough for an SEO to only focus on SERPs and rankings. Many of us have a tendency to be preoccupied with Google updates, link building, EAT, and all that good stuff. It can be quite addictive. Nothing wrong with that…
However, before beginning to plan content, you as an SEO must first wear your marketer’s hat. What are your overall goals? How is each piece of new content bringing you closer to that goal? Don’t think about this after your post goes live. Plan your strategy meticulously.