5 Unheralded SEO Tools for Content Marketers

Smiling businesswoman at computer image.

Are you using the latest search engine optimization (SEO) tools to help with your content marketing efforts?

Don’t worry, as we’ve got you covered with a look at some of the most helpful SEO tools to help you refine and augment your content marketing plans.

Sorting through lists of the seemingly endless number of available SEO tools can be frustrating as well as a hit and miss proposition, however we’ve put this collection together so that you can skip the search and get right into SEO tools you can use today to help you create amazing content marketing stories.

Let’s jump in with our collection of fresh SEO tools to boost your content marketing experiences.

1 — Google Lighthouse

Google Lighthouse

Google’s own Lighthouse tool — an open-source project — offers a simple way to check a number of basic SEO-related issues that every website should consider. Among its auditing functions are tools specifically focusing on performance, SEO, accessibility, and progressive web apps, and it’s also capable of examining webpages requiring authentication.

The tool can be run standalone, from the web, in Google’s Chrome DevTools, or incorporated into continuous integration systems, and its Lighthouse Viewer allows viewing and sharing of analysis data online.

2 — Botify SEO Platform

Botify

There are numerous powerful SEO platforms that each look to be as close to a one-stop-shop as possible for marketers and brands to gain reliable and relevant search insight, and squarely in this category is enterprise SEO suite company Botify.

Botify offers a vast array of SEO analysis, data crawling intelligence and indexing metrics tools, all while working to make this complex information both easy to understand and act on, as Google’s Martin Splitt recently touched on in a live video conversation.

3 — Bing URL Submissions Plugin for WordPress

Bing

B2B marketers in WordPress environments recently got access to an open-source plug-in from Bing Webmaster Tools, automating the submission of new site content to the Microsoft’s Bing search engine.

Bing URL Submissions Plugin in a feature-rich plug-in that can also be customized via Bing’s API for incorporation into other content management systems.

4 — Schema.org

Schema

Google and other search engine firms prefer that businesses use schema markup for structured data in the format set forth and maintained by the Schema.org organization, which is especially important today as features including Google’s Knowledge Graphs rely in part on this simple yet often-overlooked element, as Michal Pecánek recently examined for Ahrefs.

5 — WebPagetest

WebPagetest

Another free tool frequently used by savvy search industry professionals is WebPagetest, allowing webmasters and technically-proficient marketers to run a variety of tests including content type breakdowns, page speed data and others providing helpful information.

The data from WebPagetest can be used to troubleshoot website slowness issues, as Barry Schwartz recently outlined in “Google: How To Diagnose Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) Slowness.”

Smart SEO Tools To Make You A Knowledge Builder

via GIPHY

We hope you’ve found at least a few new-to-you SEO content marketing tools among those we’ve taken a look at here, and that you’ll find them useful as you create new campaigns that are using the soundest practices of SEO, and that they’ll also help build your own team’s knowledge.

We have a multi-year history of highlighting helpful marketing tools, and here are a few of the other most recent articles we’ve published on the subject:

Three B2B Marketing Tactics That Will Outlast the COVID19 Pandemic

B2B Marketing Pandemic

Without question, the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on the B2B world with companies generally reducing marketing budgets. At the same time, many B2B companies are maintaining or increasing marketing spend as we’ve seen with most of our clients at TopRank Marketing.

While there has generally been a shift from explicit sales/push marketing content to brand messaging that is more aligned with the times and empathetic to customers, sales expectations still exist for B2B brands during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The challenge many B2B marketers are facing is to understand how to navigate both the short term changes in what works for customers in the current environment as as well as in the long term, post-crisis.

According to research from McKinsey, one of the biggest changes that has happened is the boost in importance of B2B digital over traditional means of engaging customers – 200% more than before COVID-19. This move to digital means higher expectations by B2B customers of self service as well as B2B ecommerce experiences. With those changes in expectations come changes in marketing, short and long term.

Not only do B2B companies need to mitigate sales losses because of the uncertainty during the pandemic but those who want to continue being the best solution and top of mind for customers when purchasing behavior comes back need to look at what pandemic-era tactics will stick after the crisis has subsided.

For a great overview of how to measure marketing goals in a crisis, be sure to check out Birdie’s post here. 

How buyers feel about B2B brands short and long term will directly contribute to which brands are the most relevant as budgets open up and business solutions investments experience substantial growth. Some of the long term metrics include branding goals measured by share of voice for social, share of search and earned media.

So, can B2B marketers do to optimize and measure their pandemic era marketing?

Content is the kingdom. Providing customers with information and resources for surviving and thriving during the pandemic that are useful from the customer’s perspective is a good starting point. Demonstrating how the B2B brand’s solution provides value in the current environment is also essential for creating relevance and utility with customers. Of course, useful information isn’t all there is. The shift towards digital, B2B brands need to make sure the digital experiences they provide are 100%: Information is easy to find, the inquiry or ordering process is easy and fast, there are zero glitches in using online systems.

Search is even more relevant. As mentioned in the research from McKinsey, self service is an increasing expectations amongst B2B buyers. One way buyers are performing self serve marketing  is through the use of search engines.

An emphasis on search also helps B2B brands reach sales goals without being “salesly”.  This trend has been picked up on by savvy B2B marketers with 63% of marketers saying it will be most important during the pandemic according to a survey by Conductor. This confidence is also exemplified from data reported by G2 Crowd showing B2B tech categories having a 200-600% increase in organic search traffic during the pandemic.

Of course to make search work, B2B brands need content and SEO best practices in place to ensure optimized visibility for what customers are looking for. We’ve seen many B2B brands emphasize SEO during the pandemic which enables buyers who are no longer attending trade shows and engaging in experiential or field marketing activities to use search engines for finding useful information and solutions on their own terms.

Findability works best with credibility.  Customers are as skeptical of brand marketing as ever and are tiring of the “in these uncertain times, we’re here for you” ads and messaging. While bypassing that with search engine optimization and advertising works well for connecting with customers, optimized content that has added 3rd party credibility can work even better.

In our own research in the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report, 77% of B2B marketers say their prospects rely on influencers for information. Confidence in influencer marketing is on the rise for B2B marketers. 63% of survey respondents believe they would have better marketing results with an influencer marketing program.

So, crisis era marketing that emphasizes SEO to help buyers pull themselves to brand content that also includes credibility inspiring content from industry experts is what can really create trust and the confidence for buyers to make the connection. This is why SEO and influence are essential partners for any B2B marketing effort during and after the pandemic.

Measuring the impact of B2B content marketing that is optimized and influencer activated means understanding the search phrases and topics of influence that are most relevant for customers and then tracking the brand’s relevance, engagement and conversion for those topics.

For  search marketing, key measures include:

  • Topic visibility reporting & share of search for those topics
  • Referred traffic to content optimized for the target topics
  • Conversions from target topic content

Influencer marketing, metrics to track include:

  • Share of voice on topics of include
  • Growth of brand affinity with influencers
  • Reach of topic content amongst influencer networks
  • Engagement and conversion performance of topic content shared by influencers
  • Growth in affinity of topics and brand in social
  • Growth of organic brand advocacy by influencers and their networks

Uncertainty is a dangerous state for businesses and making no decision is often worse than making the wrong decision or failing fast. Understanding the shifts in buyer behavior can help B2B brands gain confidence in the role content marketing will play in the short and long term. Relevant content that is both findable for increasingly self-serve buyers and credible through industry expert contributions can give the competitive advantage needed to perform both short term and post-pandemic.

How Influence and SEO Can Drive Customer Experience

Influence and Customer Experience

We talk a lot here on Online Marketing Blog about influencer marketing and one of the benefits of incorporating the voices of influencers in brand content is not often covered: customer experience.

What’s the connection between CX and influence? A big part of customer experience is trust and many customers simply do not trust brands or advertising.

That’s where adding credible 3rd party voices to brand content comes into play. Brands that want to deliver the most relevant, engaging and actionable experience for their customers will often incorporate external experts that already have the attention of the audience that brands want to reach.

Partnering with relevant influencers to co-create content can open doors for brands trying to engage hard to reach and increasingly skeptical audiences. Those content collaborations can also help deliver an experience that is more credible and trusted than brand content alone.

Of course, simply including influencer quotes in brand content is not enough. In order to optimize brand content to be more trusted, influencer contributions must be genuine, authentic, and ultimately impactful.

The starting point for influencer collaboration success begins with brands identifying specific topics of influence. Those topics need to be aligned with what customers care about so that when the brand identifies and engages with influencers on those topics, they are authentic to customer interests. Influencers that understand firsthand what buyer goals, pain and interests are in the context of solutions the brand offers can be critical for content collaboration that is genuine and impactful.

Another part of influencer and brand authenticity is disclosure. If the influencer has been compensated in any way, they need to disclose the relationship as sponsored or as an advertisement. If the content is relevant and engaging, the disclosure will not be a distraction.

Boosting the credibility of B2B content with influence can be complemented with making sure that content is findable. That is where the intersection of SEO and influence come into play.

Search engines like Google have realized long ago that delivering the best search experience correlates with successful advertising engagement. That means the left side organic results and ads alike need to be the best answer for customers.

For brands, delivering a great user experience in search means understanding searcher intent and providing content that meets those expectations at the very moment of need. Modern SEO best practices do exactly that: provide highly specific, useful information that is relevant to the purpose of the customer in solving their problem or meeting their need.

For optimal SEO performance, those best answer content experiences should be delivered with relevant, fast loading pages that are mobile friendly and deemed credible by other websites that link to them. Even better, is when that content is optimized for trust with relevant 3rd party experts.

Effective Content Marketing is about delivering useful information where, when and in the formats that are most meaningful to buyers. Optimizing content for effective discovery, consumption and action according to buyer preferences relies on insights for each of those outcomes. How buyers discover solution content, their preferences for content format, device and topic and the triggers that will motivate action are all insights that can lead to corresponding metrics such as Attract, Engage, and Convert.

For example:
Attract: Organic visibility of target topic content with a high click through rate from Google search results to brand content
Engage: On-topic content consumption, interaction, engagement and low bounce or abandon rates
Convert: Visits that result in relevant action: Subscriptions, downloads, trials, demos, inquiries, sales, referrals

While the marketing world is focused on the many obvious approaches to improving customer experience, those that understand the value of content that is optimized for findability and credibility will realize even greater benefits.

SEO is Not Enough: Why B2B Marketers Need to Optimize for Trust with Influence

Optimize Trust Credibility

Studies over the years have shown that the vast majority of B2B buyers start their journey with a Google search. But what good is being found if the content doesn’t create immediate feelings of trust for the searcher?

According to the 2019 Content Preferences Survey Report, 95% of B2B buyers prefer credible content from industry influencers. At the same time, few B2B influencer marketing programs integrate SEO. Most business influencer marketing programs rely almost exclusively on the social media reach of the brand and influencers for content promotion and buyer discovery.

This findability and credibility disconnect is an opportunity for marketers to optimize for a much better customer experience.

Time to E-A-T for Better Search Visibility

Search engines like Google do their best to find, sort and present the best answers for those who are searching. The core approach for brands to earn top visibility on the topics their customers are searching for is through content that satisfies the searchers intent, aka “high quality content”.

But what does Google deem the highest quality content? We can find examples and guidelines for quality content in Google search quality evaluator guidelines (pdf) that highlight criteria for content quality including E-A-T: Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness. These guidelines apply to a website as well as the author “quality evaluators would now be asked to review not only a website’s E-A-T but also the content creators E-A-T too.” as reported by Moz. If E-A-T guidelines apply to content creators, as well as websites, then the intersection of SEO and influencers is pretty clear.

Good for Bots, Good for Buyers – Everybody Wins

Creating topically relevant content that is structured and presented in a way that is credible and specifically useful to the searcher is not only good for search engines but for business buyers researching solutions. As SEO becomes more ingrained with content marketing, finding opportunities to effectively deliver on the promise of expertise, authority and trust are becoming more important.

Optimize for Findability and Credibility with Influence

As B2B influencer programs evolve from short term campaigns to always on programs, the opportunity to fully leverage organic search as a way to attract actively seeking buyers to brand content grows significantly.

At a minimum, content marketers should leverage the keyword and topic research done for SEO as inspiration for the queries used to find relevant influencers on those topics. In other words, as each content asset is held accountable to being optimized for specific topics that buyers are searching on, marketers should also be thinking about the influence of the content author and how industry influencers can play a role in boosting the content’s E-A-T.

There are several ways to think about influencers from a SEO perspective:

  • Identify influencers that already create content on the topics of interest that already have great visibility on Google
  • Pick influencers identified by Google as entities
  • Evaluate influencer’s likelihood of attracting links when they publish or contribute content
  • Provide influencers with SEO audits of their blogs so they can improve their search visibility

Also, there are several ways to incorporate SEO topics with influencer content:

  • Use SEO topics when searching for influencers using an influencer marketing platform
  • Consider SEO topics to guide the theme of the content collaboration and titles
  • Use SEO topics in influencer interview questions to inspire SEO-friendly answers
  • Provide influencers and content creators with topic clusters they can use in content and social shares
  • Track whether influencers cross post content they collaborated on with the brand to industry publications or their own blog

Of course these are the basics and essentially the tip of the iceberg when it comes to optimizing for both search visibility and content credibility. Since influencer, content and SEO are core to what we do for B2B brands at TopRank Marketing, we’re in the midst of many different applications, testing and evaluation. This intersection is definitely a space worth watching for B2B marketers that want to better attract, engage and inspire action amongst buyers that are distracted and losing trust in companies.

For a more succinct take on optimizing B2B content for findability and credibility, here’s short video on the topic I made for Oracle Marketing Cloud.

5 SEO Mistakes Killing Your Content Performance and a Fix for Each

Common SEO Mistakes

Even the most seasoned content marketers make mistakes. In the world of SEO-driven content, with constant algorithm tweaks and changing search patterns, it’s nearly unavoidable. However, those same mistakes can often lead to discoveries that enable even better content performance.

The key is being able to recognize those easy-to-fix SEO mistakes and address them. As a result, your content will become an optimized, integrated network of metaphorical highways, leading searchers to best-answer content in a strategic and purposeful way.

So, what are the most common SEO mistakes, and how can they be addressed? Below, I’ve singled out the ‘usual suspects’ along with guidance on how to fix them while setting yourself up for long-term SEO success.

SEO Mistake #1 – Choosing Target Keywords Based on Volume vs. Relevance

How Keywords Affect Content Marketers: Great content isn’t great unless people see it. But when content marketers overemphasize high-volume keywords, they miss out on meaningful engagement.

It’s tempting to plug into your keyword research tool of choice and select keywords with the highest search volume as your focuses for new content. But if the content you’re creating doesn’t match the search intent for that high-volume keyword, it’s unlikely to perform to your expectations.

The Fix: Google it! All jokes aside, evaluating the first ten search results for your target keywords can help you understand what searchers are trying to find, and what supporting content you should provide to truly be the best answer for that query.

While you’re analyzing those top results, pay attention to key factors that will shape your content creation and promotion strategy:

  1. What type of information is NOT included in top content, but is topically related? This can help you inform how you differentiate your content.
  2. What’s the content demand for that keyword? For example, are mostly top of funnel blog posts ranking, or are you seeing mostly product or service pages?
  3. How many backlinks and referring domains are pointing to the top search results? This can help you understand how competitive the first page of results is, and whether or not ongoing link building should be part of your content promotion strategy.
  4. How long is the top-ranking content for that keyword? This will help you determine ideal content length for your own post.

SEO Mistake #2 – Targeting the Same Keyword with Multiple Pages or Posts

How Same-Topic Targeting Affects Content Marketers: Pressure to create comprehensive content on a topic can actually result in dilution within search.

The conventional wisdom that more is better doesn’t apply universally — especially when it comes to SEO-driven content. Creating multiple pieces of content that target the exact same keyword is a surefire way to stand in your own way of success. There’s enough competition out there for B2B marketers without having to compete with your own content.

For example, a B2B technology company that wants to rank for B2B software consulting should optimize their service page for that term based on what is currently being served in search results. But, if they also create a series of blogs or resources that are targeting that specific term, search engine bots will be confused about which page is the best answer for that query. This could result in none of the content appearing in the top 10 results, in favor of competing sites with a more clear ‘answer’ to that query.

The Fix: Determine which of your pages or posts is the best answer for that particular query by analyzing ranking and analytics data. Which post or page sees the greatest amount of engaged organic traffic for your target keyword, and most closely matches the associated search intent?

Once you’ve determined your target page, it’s time to evaluate the remaining content targeting that keyword. Look for opportunities to:

  1. Remove or prune low-value or outdated content. Is there a blog post full of stats from 2009 that’s hindering your priority page’s chances of ranking? It might be time to consider removing that post and implementing the proper redirects.
  2. Optimize existing content for related, but different, keyword targets. For example, if you have a priority post for Chocolate Chip Cookies, and another post that more closely relates to ‘Crunchy Chocolate Chip Cookies’, consider optimizing that post for the latter and implementing internal links back to your priority cookies post.
  3. Combine closely related content. For example, if you have several blog posts around your targeted keyword(s), consider combining those posts into a longer, more robust piece of content.

SEO Mistake #3 – Ignoring Internal Link Structure

How Internal Linking Affects Content Marketers: Links are like electricity on the web, lighting up content for people and search engines alike.

Content is discovered by links. Your site’s internal linking structure tells bots (and users) which pages are most important, and which pages are most relevant to specific keywords. If you link to several pages from the same anchor text, for example, there will be some confusion about which page is truly ‘about’ that topic. Other times, you could have pages or posts on your site that are orphaned, with no internal links directing users or bots their way. This can confuse your site users, search engine bots, and even your own team. Confusion is not a ranking factor!

The Fix: Make sure you develop and continue to update your site’s keyword map. It can be as simple as a spreadsheet that lists your page’s URL and associated target keyword(s). This keyword map will help you determine what anchor text should be used to link to your target pages.

Next, conduct a site audit to determine:

  1. If there are orphaned pages that need internal links
  2. If you are linking to multiple pages with the same keyword-rich anchor text
  3. Where there are opportunities to create additional supporting content
  4. Where you might have opportunities to reduce and prune existing supporting content

Next, you’re going to want to crawl your site to find any orphaned pages. Then, map those into your overall keyword strategy and implement internal links.

SEO Mistake #4 – Ignoring Data from Other Digital Tactics

How Marketing Data Affects Content Marketers: Inspiration often drives ideation for many content marketers, but data drives optimization for ideal content performance. Marketing performance data can provide both.

Any data you can collect about how your audience engages with your content has the potential to be an SEO gold mine. For example, analyzing the keywords from your paid search campaigns can give you insight into which keywords are your best converters, and what content best suits searchers for those terms. Social posts that get the greatest amount of engagement can tell you which topics your audience is most interested in. Ignoring data from your other marketing and sales channels means missing out on an opportunity to better engage your prospects.

The Fix: Meet with different teams or departments to find out what kind of content performs best on their channels. Look at the data each platform or channel provides and compare that with your site analytics data for a full picture. And, be sure to share your channel performance data with the rest of your marketing team. The more information available related to content and marketing performance, the better equipped you are to optimize.

SEO Mistake #5 – Giving Up

How Persistence Affects Content Marketers: Content performance in search is a long game and persistence is essential for success.

SEO is a marathon, not a sprint. Sometimes a lack of results can feel demoralizing, but giving up is simply not an option. You wouldn’t stop building your house just because the nearest lumber yard ran out of wood, right? You’d find another lumber yard and keep plugging along.

The Fix: Take a step back. Re-evaluate the search landscape, your competitor’s organic presence, and your site’s overall health. Being able to remove yourself from the frustration can help you find opportunities you may have missed and additional whitespace to tackle.

Next, seek out advice from other SEOs. Ask questions on social media, in specific groups or forums, or send a question to your favorite SEO blog. If budget permits, enlist the help of a consultant or SEO agency that can help you break through your roadblocks.

Finally, we have two big SEO bummers that are tougher to fix, but absolutely necessary to address.

Bonus SEO Mistake: Migrating Your Site with No SEO Plan

How Migrating Without a Plan Affects Content Marketers: A bad migration can effectively undo your hard work, reducing content visibility and creating more user friction.

If you listen closely, you can hear the sound of SEOs cringing around the globe. A botched site migration can wreak havoc on your organic positioning and torpedo your results. It can take months, even years to recuperate organic visibility to pre-migration levels.

The Fix: Always, always consult your in-house SEO team or SEO agency when you’re considering a website migration. Before you move forward, it’s imperative you have a plan for technical, on-page, and off-page factors.

If you’ve already migrated your site and have experienced a loss of organic traffic and rankings, start with a site audit. Check for the basics, like whether or not your site is being indexed, first. Then start to evaluate technical factors like broken links, crawl errors, and duplicate content.

When in doubt, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Recovering from a site migration is a challenge for even the best of SEOs, and sometimes those big challenges call for a little teamwork.

Bonus SEO Mistake: Not Optimizing for Mobile

How Not Optimizing for Mobile Affects Content Marketers: Even the greatest content can’t stand up to a bad mobile experience. Users will bounce, reducing engagement and sending negative signals to search engines.

Mobile accounts for about half of web traffic worldwide. Knowing this, in March 2018 Google started migrating sites to mobile-first indexing. Providing a seamless mobile experience is no longer optional, especially when you’re living in the wild world of search.

Sites that didn’t properly prepare for this can and will likely see some declines in organic search traffic and rankings as a result. And, as more sites follow mobile best practices, more users will notice and become frustrated by poor mobile experiences. This leads to declines in other pivotal ranking factors like on-page engagement. In short, if not properly addressed, a poor mobile experience can wreak havoc on your search visibility.

The Fix: The first thing to do is to conduct a mobile audit on your site. Understanding your site’s mobile performance is step one toward making improvements. Look for things like:

  1. Mobile site speed. A couple great tools for this are Google Page Speed Insights and Pingdom. These tools can tell you where to look for issues like slow-loading code, images that aren’t optimized, and other technical issues.
  2. Mobile experience. Visit your site on your phone. Ask someone who doesn’t use your site regularly to do the same. Record your experience, take notes on where you get stuck and why. Click on everything. Turn your phone into horizontal mode. Try to think of every single way a user could browse your site. And, don’t forget to try a site search on mobile.
  3. Look at mobile analytics. This will tell you key metrics like mobile bounce rate, mobile time on page and pages per session.

These steps will help you build a hypothesis to test against. Is your mobile bounce rate crazy high? Does your site take a long time to load? Is your time on page way out of line with desktop traffic? Then, use A/B testing to root out the discrepancy. Use these same metrics to test if the fix is working. Then, repeat with another element.

So, What Does This All Mean for You?

Ultimately, following SEO best practices as a content marketer can reduce performance-related headaches and set you up for long-term success.

For example, when Innovatech Labs decided it was time to make major changes to their website, they worked with our team at TopRank Marketing to implement a safe website transition strategy, minimizing their risk of reduced content visibility on Google. This assessment involved avoiding many of the big risks mentioned above, including linking, use of data and keyword research which allowed us to act quickly post-migration to combat organic traffic declines. The result? Double- and triple-digit increases in organic traffic (and increased conversions, too!).

A best-answer content strategy focused on creating content with the most relevance to their audience was the ticket to better marketing performance for a martech SaaS company. Working with the team at TopRank Marketing, long-tail and hyper-relevant keywords were researched for a comprehensive content strategy to help the brand content become the best answer for those queries. The “best answer” approach and topics were applied across organic and paid efforts. As a result, the volume of both paid and organic MQLs increased, leading to better content performance and spontaneous proclamations of love from the client’s sales team.

Fixing these big SEO mistakes aren’t only for short-term wins. Our longtime partner Antea Group USA has achieved amazing triple-digit growth over three years by avoiding these big mistakes and implementing an ongoing commitment to SEO-driven, best answer content.

As I mentioned earlier, even the most experienced content marketers can make these common SEO mistakes. But, with the right SEO strategy driven by diligent execution and monitoring of results, you can get back on track. The key is to be intentional about your site’s architecture, as well as the content you create, and to never, ever give up.

Still feeling stuck? Or maybe your team doesn’t have the resources to take on this battle alone? Check out our SEO services, tweet us your thoughts @toprank, or drop me a line in the comments. We are here to help!

Hey Alexa: How Do I Bake Voice Search Into My B2B Marketing Strategy?

Voice Search & B2B Marketing Strategy

Can you imagine if we actually talked to one another the same way we’ve historically talked to search engines? It would make for some awkward interactions.

“Minneapolis movie showtimes.”

“Um… come again?”

“Showtimes Captain Marvel 55441.”

“Are you –”

“Movie showtimes cheapest theater arcade games. I’m feeling lucky.”

“Sir, this is a Wendy’s.”

It’s only fitting I suppose that our adherence to Google’s robotic algorithms has, in turn, made us more robotic. Searchers became trained to speak in the engine’s keyword-driven language. Marketers crafted SEO strategies accordingly.

Today, the advent of voice search is making our conversations with search engines more… conversational. It’s not incidental that we activate this feature on our smartphones or voice assistants by addressing “Alexa” or “Siri” — this dynamic is very much intended to humanize the devices, which is a little creepy and dystopian if you think about it, but it’s best not to think about it.

In any event, this movement toward more conversational search aligns with a general focus on humanizing B2B brands. So let’s take a look at how marketers can adapt and thrive in the age of voice search.

Voice Search and B2B Marketing Strategy

In January, TopRank Marketing’s Associate Director of Search and Analytics Tiffani Allen outlined SEO predictions and trends for 2019, and voice search was of course one of the pillars.  

“In 2019 and beyond it will be increasingly important for marketers to optimize and create content that lends itself to voice search,” she wrote, pointing out that — according to Gartner projections — 30% of web browsing sessions will be done without a screen by next year. “From a technical perspective, the usual suspects of page speed, site security, and domain authority will play an important role here. But at the end of the day, it’s all about ensuring your site content can be easily found via voice search.”

So, beyond those mainstay technical aspects, how can we ensure our content is discoverable for the right people?

Fundamentally, the solution lies in best answer content. We recently discussed the ways in which a best answer SEO strategy lines up with voice search, because it compels us to understand the mindsets of searchers and speak their language. That post features a number of suggested methods for learning about the questions your customers are asking. Once you’ve completed this groundwork, it’s all about creating content that comprehensively answers those queries.

Beyond this overarching guideline, here a few specific items for B2B marketers to keep in mind when assessing their go-forward approach to voice search.

Think Mobile

The majority of voice searches come from mobile devices, increasing the emphasis on what should already be a central consideration. Research shows that some 50% of B2B queries come from smartphones, and Boston Consulting Group expects that figure to reach 70% by 2020.

Responsive design and lightning-quick load times will be the big difference-makers here. If you haven’t lately, we recommend working with an agency or your internal SEO and analytics team to conduct a full mobile audit for your website and any other key digital real estate.

Think Local

A significant portion of voice searches carry some level of location-based intent. This is often at odds with digitally oriented B2B brands, which tend to be less reliant on attracting physical customers and thus less likely to prioritize local search. But if you want to be visible (er — audible) in voice search results, it’s worth exploring ways you can invest in local content.

Think Vocal

This brings us back to the “best answer” imperative we mentioned earlier. When conceiving and creating content, do so with a literal question-and-answer format in mind, based on the research you’ve done to understand your audience’s top curiosities. And I mean really answering the questions, not just fulfilling the search query. Nearly every piece of content we generate should tie back to some particular question that might follow a “Hey Alexa…”

Google has been prioritizing semantic search ever since the Hummingbird update, so this is a consideration that extends beyond voice.

B2B Marketers: Find Your Voice

Even though one recent study suggests that the seemingly unstoppable momentum of voice search is slowing just a tad, there’s no question that it has become a sizable factor in customer journeys and will remain one going forward.

The good news is that optimizing your B2B content strategy for voice search doesn’t need to be a separate and distinct focus. Most of the practices that are conducive to voice search traction are just plain generally advisable for B2B brands:

  • Answer your audience’s most burning questions in conversational terms.
  • Summarize the core substance of your content early on for traction in featured snippets.
  • Deliver a seamless mobile experience at every step.
  • Tap into the hidden B2B opportunity that is local search.

The bottom line is that B2B companies need to be less robotic, and more human. The rise of voice search is simply another trend feeding the urgency.

For a deeper dive into the combination of best answer content and search, read: How B2B Marketers Win at Search with Best Answer Content.

The Intersection of SEO & Influencer Marketing: What B2B Marketers Need to Know

The Intersection of SEO & Influence

Peanut butter and jelly.

Milk and cookies.

Steak and potatoes.

Wine and cheese.

Bread and butter.

SEO and influencer marketing.

via GIPHY

All of these exceptional pairings have something special in common: They work together.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. And I get it. From red or white to pungent or salty, there are several incredibly important variables to consider when crafting the perfect wine and cheese combo.

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For real, though. Integration is key for B2B content marketing success. But some tactics and strategies seem like natural fits, while others seem a bit mismatched. If you feel like SEO and influencer marketing fall into the latter category, it might be time to flip your thinking.

SEO is one of the oldest digital marketing tactics, defined by consistency, commitment, and agility over the long-term to see results. And despite the fact that most peg influencer marketing as a campaign-based, social media amplification tactic, influencer success is also tied to that always-on approach.

But how exactly can SEO and influence intersect and support each other? Let’s dive in.

What B2B Marketers Need to Know About Pairing SEO & Influencer Marketing

#1 – Influencers can be an incredible keyword and topical research tool.

Your influencers are experts who are embedded in your niche or industry. They have relevant expertise that can help educate and inspire your audience. They have perspectives and experiences your audience can relate to. They are engaged with their followings and industry happenings. And … they are your audience in many cases.

This means, when you work with the right influencers, there’s an incredible opportunity to gain deeper insights about who your audience is, what they care about, and what they’re struggling with so you can create content they’re searching for and need.

Dr. Konstanze Alex, Head of Corporate Influencer Relations for Dell, said it best when she declared:

“Working with B2B influencers allows our brand to have a constant pulse check with purchase decision makers. Informed influencers who share our vision of the future based on their own experience and expertise provide for independent, third party validation.

Strategic partnerships with influencers provide for an outside in view when creating content for our customers. We need to constantly ensure that, as a brand, we don’t start talking to ourselves, but keep a keen focus on the evolving challenges our customers have and on language they use to express these challenges.”

With insights gained straight from a reputable source, you can then turn to your traditional SEO tools to validate topics, uncover related queries and opportunities, and refine your integrated content marketing strategy for maximum impact.

Working with B2B influencers allows our brand to have a constant pulse check with purchase decision makers. – @konstanze #B2BInfluencerMarketing #SEO #B2BContentMarketing Click To Tweet

#2 – Influencers can help you create the best answer content that your audience and search engines crave.

Search engines are answer engines. They’re built to satisfy searchers’ needs by delivering the most relevant, helpful, and accurate information possible. They’re built to deliver the best content. This is why we believe B2B brands need to strive to be the best answer whenever and wherever their audience is searching.

By collaborating with influencers to contribute original content or co-created content, they can help you put SEO insights into action by providing the answers your audience and search engines are looking for. As Lee Odden, TopRank Marketing’s CEO and resident industry influencer, said on why B2b marketers need optimized and influencer activated content:

“B2B brands that integrate both SEO and influence into their content marketing create a compelling opportunity to be found when it matters most and to be trusted when it matters more.

“With an understanding of keyword demand, B2B marketers can tap into the opportunity to be the best answer for buyers with content at the very moment of need. Even better is that influencer contributions to that optimized content will give it the credibility and engagement needed to inspire action.”

#B2B brands that integrate both #SEO and influence into their #contentmarketing create a compelling opportunity to be found when it matters most and to be trusted when it matters more. – @leeodden Click To Tweet

#3 – Influencers can help you send the right signals to search engines.

Search engine algorithms are complex, elusive creatures. For the last decade or so, most marketers have been operating under the assumption that Google’s algorithm considers roughly 200 variables when ranking content.

But as Search Engine Journal points out, a lot has changed in the last 10 years—including RankBrain, mobile-first indexing, and the HTTPS boost—so, it’s pretty likely that number has ballooned. Of course, the rise of influencer marketing has undoubtedly made an impact, too. (More on that in a minute.)

Thanks to some confirmations straight from the source, as well as in-depth research and analysis, there are several known ranking factors—including a handful that can be reinforced with the help of an influencer marketing strategy. A couple of those opportunities include:

Content & Search Intent

A couple years ago, it was revealed that content is one of Google’s top 3 ranking factors. While “content” as a ranking factor is pretty damn broad, marketers know the nuance.

We know it’s all about creating quality, relevant content that resonates with our audience and signals search engines. In addition, thanks to RankBrain, Google is getting increasingly better at handling never-before-seen queries and making correlations with other queries to serve up content that best matches search intent. And influencers, with their unique expertise and knowledge, can help us hit the best-answer, intent-match quality mark.

This insight from my talented colleague Josh Nite captures the essence of all this:

“Quality content demonstrates to your audience that you’re listening to them and you care … When content is useful, valuable, and meaningful, it’s not part of the deluge of content that surrounds us. It’s signal, not noise.”

Plus, when you commit to building mutually beneficial, long-term relationships, you have the opportunity to consistently create fresh quality content, which is also critical for increasing search visibility and domain authority.

When content is useful, valuable, and meaningful, it’s not part of the deluge of content that surrounds us. It’s signal, not noise. – @NiteWrites Click To Tweet

Inbound Links

Getting backlinks from reputable, relevant, authoritative websites is a ranking factor that has stood the test of time. It’s simple: When you create comprehensive, insightful, quality content you give others something to “link about”—and search engines see that as a sign of relevance and authority.

Unsurprisingly, influencers can play a massive role in the creation of that link-worthy content. From original research featuring reactions and commentary to a thoughtful listicle featuring top industry influencers to follow on social media, the possibilities are seemingly endless here.

In addition, influencers can be the source of those quality backlinks.

For example, if you partner with an influencer to co-create an article for their blog or another relevant industry publication, there’s likely a natural opportunity to include a link back to your site through optimized anchor text.

But an important thing to note here: If you’re exchanging any sort of payment (e.g. straight cash or free goods and services) that not only needs to be noted in the content, but it’s also recommended that a “nofollow” link be implemented. (You may forfeit the baseline SEO advantages here, but you don’t lose the ability to direct traffic to your site through the link.)

However, if you’ve partnered without payment beyond recognition, thought leadership, or forming an organic partnership, you’re probably safe.

SEO + Influence = The Perfect Pair

Integration is absolutely essential for driving digital and content marketing success in the crowded, competitive B2B landscape. By pairing an old favorite and a rising star, B2B marketers have the opportunity to design a long-term strategy for maximum impact.

For more insights on the intersection of SEO and influencer marketing, check out:

How B2B Marketers Can Win at Search with Best Answer Content

Winning Search with Best Answer Content

Marketers are engaged in a continuous battle to gain an edge when it comes to SEO, seeking those crucial advantages provided by top visibility where customers are looking. Multiple disciplines from technical SEO to creative content can be leveraged to win the search marketing game. At TopRank Marketing, we believe the best answer to this quandary is… well, to be the Best Answer.

To simplify and clarify, it might be helpful to take a step back.

In October of 2000, Larry Page laid out his ambitious vision for Google, a company he’d founded along with Sergey Brin just two years earlier.

Page foresaw his creation as “the ultimate search engine that would understand everything on the Web. It would understand exactly what you wanted, and it would give you the right thing.”

“We’re nowhere near doing that now,” he admitted. “However, we can get incrementally closer to that, and that is basically what we work on.”

At the time, here’s what the Google homepage looked liked (prepare for nostalgia shock in 3… 2… 1…):

Fast-forward almost 20 years. Google’s interface looks decidedly more modern and its functionality is now much closer to what Page envisioned. Through artificial intelligence, machine learning, and sophisticated algorithms, the search engine is amazingly adept at understanding a searcher’s intent and motives.

And digital marketers are just out here trying to keep pace.

The Answer Machine

Back in the day, we had these wacky contraptions called “answering machines,” which hooked up to “landline phones” (!) and recorded messages on little cassette tapes (!!) when calls were missed. This precursor to the voicemail now seems prehistoric — a sign of the speed at which technology is advancing.

In 2019, answering machines are mostly gone, but the digital “answer machine” is a staple of everyday life for many of us. In fact, Google’s brand name itself is now used as a verb, describing the act of asking the internet a question. Input query and receive answers, in order of relevance. Bleep, bloop.

Our hunger for knowledge is insatiable: Google processes 35,000 searches per second, and 3.5 billion each day.

With this kind of volume, the high end of a search engine results page (SERP) is critical real estate; one study found that the top position gets one-third of all search traffic on average. So it’s easy to see why SEO has become a cornerstone of marketing strategies everywhere.

At TopRank Marketing, we talk often about gaining this coveted visibility by being the best answer for customers, and how to achieve it through deep, comprehensive, high-quality content. But before a brand can go about creating best answers, it must determine which crucial curiosities it wants to satisfy.

Herein lies the key to developing a search marketing approach that integrates with a customer-centric strategy.

Hearing Your Customer’s Voice

In many ways, the advent of voice search really crystallizes Google’s function as an answer machine (or “answer engine” as our CEO Lee Odden has put it). ComScore predicted a while back that by 2020, more than 50% of searches would be conducted by voice, and suddenly that’s less than a year away.

This fast-rising trend strengthens the wisdom of a “best answer” strategy for two primary reasons:

  1. Featured snippets (aka “answer boxes”) are gaining more prominence as the default result delivered by a voice search. These excerpts are deemed by Google to be the “best answer” for a particular query, based on various factors.  
  2. We’re moving toward a more literal question/answer format with search, because while people might type a string of keywords to research a particular topic (“best answer seo strategy digital marketing”), they tend to be more colloquial when speaking to a voice-search device (“What does a best answer SEO strategy mean for digital marketers?”).

Structuring SEO around conversational keywords is nothing new. As we wrote here on the TopRank Marketing Blog a couple of years ago:

Google has been encouraging this type of behavior for years, especially with the Hummingbird update back in 2013. People communicate with conversations, not just keywords. Associating the right keywords with concepts helps the overall content quality as opposed to targeting only one or a couple keywords per page.

In other words, you want to address not just a specific keyword with your content, but rather the breadth of what someone is trying to learn when they search for that keyword.

And so, search marketing today is less about building traditional keyword lists, and more about using those lists – along with other resources – to make deductions about which questions your customers (and potential customers) are asking. Your findings should become the foundational basis for both organic and paid strategy.

Unfortunately, no machine will serve up a quick-and-easy answer in this case. It’ll take meticulous research and deep insight about your audience. Let’s walk through that process a little to set you on the right path.

How to Identify Best Answer Opportunities

Here are a few tactics for making confident determinations about the burning questions you want to answer for your customers

Reverse-Engineer Keyword Data

Marketers have a wealth of SEO data at their fingertips, and can use this information as breadcrumbs tracing back to a user’s starting point. Dig into Google Search Console to learn which queries are bringing people to your site and how many people are clicking through from particular searches. Instead of simply parsing out keywords, seek patterns and greater meaning in this data. What is it telling you about the mindset of searchers who end up on your page?

By connecting search terms to pages on your site, you can get a better idea of the intent behind them (e.g., searches that are bringing people to solutions pages likely represent a more advanced stage of research).

Use the “People Also Asked” Feature in Google

I love this little feature. When you run a search, Google will often serve up a list of related questions, and these can be extremely helpful when it comes to building out your best answer content. If you want to create an authoritative resource on the topic you’re targeting, chances are you’ll want to account for each of these tangential queries in some way.

Leverage Schema Markup

Schema structured data helps search engines (and their users) understand the purpose of a page, and the questions it is trying to answer. Adding these tags to your source code enables a SERP to display rich snippets that are directly relevant to a searcher’s query.

Why is this so powerful and relevant? Last summer Google confirmed that it had been testing a new featured snippets in the form of FAQs, Q&A, and How-tos. And as it turns out, Schema.org has a lot of this markup readily available.

Rely on the Right Tools

There are three in particular that I like to use for this type of research:

  • SEMrush: Awesome SEO tool that shows real-time keyword volumes and (more importantly in this case) “Phrase Match Keywords” and “Related Keywords, which can lead you down other branching paths for that search journey. The Keyword Magic tool is very helpful for finding question keywords.
  • BuzzSumo: A great site for finding trends around any topic or keyword. In particular, I recommend using its Question Analyzer function, which is perfectly suited for the purpose at hand. This enables you to identify questions being asked on Q&A sites or forums, clustered by topics.
  • AnswerThePublic: The “auto suggest” feature in Google is similar in function to “People Also Asked,” but can provide more extensive insight. AnswerThePublic helpfully takes these snippets and turns them into conversational keywords, delivering a “question wheel” of longtail inquiries stemming from that term.

Example of an AnswerThePublic “question wheel”

Go In-Depth with Marketing Attribution Models

Multi-touch attribution is not easy to master, but those marketers who gain proficiency are able to tap into key buyer signals. When you follow the string backward on a purchase someone made, identifying touch points along the way, you can learn a great deal about the questions they asked and the content they consumed to reach that decision.  

As you start to gain a better grasp of the searches that carry clear commercial intent, you can begin to situate your PPC strategy around them. Those are usually the clicks worth paying for.

Search for Whitespace in SERPs

Not every priority question for your audience will be worth attacking. Make honest assessments about the existing search results for certain terms. If another company (or, in many cases, Wikipedia) is already owning the answer box with a stellar page, you may want to turn your attention elsewhere or at least push it to the back burner.

The sweet spot is when you can find popular questions among your audience that aren’t already being definitively covered. This also applies to paid keywords with lower competition. Those are the gaps you want to fill with your best answer strategy. As your site gains authority and backlinks, you may find it easier to topple some of the entrenched leaders for other high-volume queries and higher-cost keywords.

Break Down Questions and Build Up Best Answers

The late businessman Arnold Glasow once said, “It’s easier to see both sides of a question than the answer.” Very true. When marketers make the effort to see every side of the questions their customers are asking, we can see the bigger picture and craft content to fully satisfy the extent of a searcher’s interest. At TopRank Marketing, we’ve built our search marketing philosophies around this belief.

Google has come a long way since its early days, and our approach to working with it must evolve in kind. In the age of RankBrain, you’re not going to game this ultimate search engine through keyword-stuffing or other gimmicks. Google is continually getting better at understanding exactly what a searcher wants and giving them the right thing.

If we want to be that “right thing,” we also need to understand exactly what our customers want, and we need to deliver it.  

To paraphrase the great Ricky Bobby: If you’re not best, you’re last.

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Want to learn more about TopRank Marketing’s take on modern search marketing? Go ahead and peruse our SEO service page.

Our Top 10 Search Marketing Posts of 2018

Woman looking out from heart-shaped cave at sky with pink clouds.

Search marketing has continued to mature throughout 2018. At each twist and turn along the way, we’ve done our best to not only cover each change, but also offer insight and research-based strategy to help savvy digital marketers along the way.

We’re fortunate to have a fantastic group of digital marketing professionals contributing to the TopRank Marketing Blog, with our CEO Lee Odden, Associate Director of Search & Analytics Tiffani Allen, Vice President of Client Accounts Alexis Hall, Content Strategist Anne Leuman, and others, each contributing search marketing insights, tips, and tricks this past year.

To help our blog community grow its search marketing knowledge, we’re happy to offer this list of our most popular search marketing posts of 2018.

Our Most Popular Search Marketing Posts in 2018:

1. Google Game Changers: 5 Recent Updates and How They Affect Marketers — Anne Leuman

2018 Google Updates & What They Mean for Marketers
The talented Anne Leuman wrote the most popular search marketing post of 2018 on our blog, taking an important look at how to up your Google game by understanding and utilizing HTTPS warnings and numerous other factors that were being rolled out this year.

Anne broke down some the latest and greatest game-changing updates from Google, what they mean for marketers, and how marketers can adapt. Check out all of Anne’s posts here.

2. TopRank Marketing’s Top 6 SEO Predictions & Trends for 2019 — Tiffani Allen

SEO Trends & Predictions 2019
The second most popular search marketing post of the year is by Tiffani Allen, who deftly explores the top SEO predictions and trends marketers should know now and keep an eye on into the new year. Check out all of Tiffani’s posts here.

3. 5 Powerful Types (And Examples) of Link-Worthy Content — Anne Leuman

How to Create Link-Worthy Content
Anne also earned the No. 3 spot on our top search marketing posts of 2018 list, in an excellent post showing how to boost credible referrals, back-links, and organic visibility using five powerful types of link-worthy content.

4. Why Marketers Are Disenchanted with SEO — Anne Leuman

Why Marketers Are Turning Away from SEO
Anne also wrote our fourth most popular search marketing post of 2018, addressing why some marketers are disenchanted with SEO. She explores the modern marketer’s SEO struggles, and shows you why now is not the time to quit. Rather than abandoning a tried-and-true tactic, Anne looks at how to shift your search marketing strategy.

5. Redesigning Your Website? Make Sure SEO & Content Have a Seat at Website Migration Table — Alexis Hall

SEO and Content Integration During Website Migration
Alexis Hall earned spot the No. 5 on our top search marketing posts of the year list, with a helpful look at how SEO and content can combine to create a better website migration strategy. Alexis shows why SEO can’t stand alone, exploring how it needs a content lens to ensure solid performance after the migration switch is flipped. Check out all of Alexis’ posts here.

6. Power Pages and Best Answer Content: Should You Go Long or Short Form? — Lee Odden

Long vs short form content
Our CEO penned the sixth most popular search marketing post of 2018, with a detailed look at a perennial question — which is better: long or short-form content?

Lee explains how savvy marketers know that while statistical generalizations have their place, they aren’t always so useful in practice. He then dives into the intertwining of engagement and reach, and looks at depth-over-length and authority signals. Check out all of Lee’s posts here.

7. The Key to SEO & Content Marketing Success: Understanding Search Intent — Anne Leuman

Tips for Understanding Search Intent
Anne makes another appearance on our best-of-2018 list with another excellent post, showing the key to SEO and content marketing success. She dives into understanding search intent in its four incarnations — informational, navigational, commercial, and transactional — and goes on to offer three steps for building intent into your strategy.

8. How to Leverage Influencer Marketing for Improved SEO #Pubcon Florida — Lee Odden

How to Leverage Influencer Marketing for Improved SEO
Lee earned another spot on our top search marketing posts of 2018 list, with a take-away-filled live-blog piece from the Pubcon Florida conference. Lee shares an impressive number of insights from a session that featured Marcela De Vivo of SEMrush and Dixon Jones of Majestic, showing some of the best methods for leveraging influencer marketing to improve SEO.

9. SEO + Paid Search: An Aristotelian Lesson in Search Marketing Integration — Anne Leuman

Paid and SEO Search Marketing Integration
Making an impressive fifth appearance on our search marketing top 10 list, Anne provides us an Aristotelian lesson in how SEO can combine with paid search for powerful search marketing integration. In this helpful post, Anne shows how integration makes the digital marketing world go round and how it can bring balance and harmony to your efforts.

10. Relationship Powered Link Building #Pubcon Florida — Lee Odden

Relationship Powered Link Building Pubcon
In Lee’s third appearance on our top 10 list, this piece covers a session presented by Ann Smarty of Internet Marketing Ninjas during the Pubcon Florida conference, sharing numerous actionable tips for link-building through relationships.

We can’t thank Anne, Tiffani, Alexis, and Lee enough for these top 10 search marketing posts of 2018 — congratulations on making the list!

Thanks TopRank Marketing Writers & Readers

Thanks to each of you who read our blog, and to all of you who comment on and share our posts on the TopRank Marketing social media channels. We hope you find continuing benefit from these excellent search marketing posts from 2018.

We published dozens of posts this year specifically about search marketing, and plan to bring you even more in 2019, so stay tuned for a new year of the latest helpful research and insight.

Please let us know which search marketing topics and ideas you’d like to see us focus on for 2019 — we’d love to hear your suggestions. Feel free to leave those thoughts in the comments section below.

The Key to SEO & Content Marketing Success: Understanding Search Intent

Tips for Understanding Search Intent

From changes in how people search thanks to technological innovations such as voice assistants, to changes in how search engine algorithms identify searcher needs, smart SEO is now rooted in understanding and matching the intent behind search queries.

When we marketers understand search intent, we can create new content and/or optimize existing content to be more tailored to their audience’s specific needs, problems, and questions—helping gain SERP visibility in the increasingly crowded content landscape, and attract more qualified traffic and build trust with those visitors (who will hopefully feel like you “get” them and their needs).

At TopRank Marketing, we call this SEO and content strategy striving to be the best answer for your audiences—wherever and whenever they’re searching. But where do you start?

It starts by understanding there are different types of intent. From there, there are steps you can take to create a more data- and intent-informed SEO and content marketing strategy.

Below, we dive into the different categories of search intent, as well as provide some starting steps for strategically mapping your content to what your audience is really asking for.

When marketers understand #searchintent, we can create #content more tailored to our audience’s specific needs, problems, and questions—helping gain visibility, attract more qualified traffic, & build trust. @annieleuman Click To Tweet

The Four Types of Search Intent

Whether you want to book a flight to Las Vegas or you’re looking to get a crash-course in underwater basket weaving, we all search for content that helps us achieve something. And generally speaking, there are four core types of search intent: informational (know), navigational (go), transactional (do), and commercial (do + know)—all of which manifest at different stages throughout the customer or buyer journey.

#1 – Informational

This type of search intent is all about learning; searchers are seeking knowledge. Searchers here want to learn more about a topic, are asking questions, and seek answers. Generally speaking, this is the most popular type of search intent—but queries can range from simple questions or phrases (broader queries with lots of search volume) to more complex queries (long-tail queries with more complicated answers and lower search volume.)

Typically, informational queries occur early in the funnel. Searchers have a problem and they’re looking for a solution. They’re going to take some nurturing before they will be ready to convert and are more interested in getting their questions answered quickly than sticking around and making a purchase.

Stage: Top

#2 – Navigational

Navigational intent is all about location. The searcher knows what they need and want, they just don’t know how to find it. Here, searchers often use branded keywords along with specific products and services to find the exact webpage they need. For example, a navigational search might be “L.L. Bean Winter Boots” or “Intel Cloud Computing.” As a result, the SERP typically contains products and service pages as well as brand-related news coverage.

Stage: Middle

#3 – Commercial

Searchers with commercial intent are ready to make a purchase, but they want additional information first—hence the “do + know” designation. They have additional questions that they want answered to help them inform their buying decisions. For instance, they might be trying to decide between two different products and services. They know they need one or the other, but just need an additional resource or guide to help them decide.

Stage: Middle + Bottom

#4 – Transactional

As the name implies, transactional intent is all about the purchase. Searchers are ready to convert and just need to find the correct page or place to convert. Keywords here are very specific as they’re in the bottom of the funnel and often include transactional terms like “buy,” “sale,” or “price.”

Stage: Bottom

We all search for #content that helps us achieve something. @annieleuman #ContentMarketing #SEO Click To Tweet

3 Steps for Building Search Intent into Your SEO & Content Strategy

Now that you’re able to look at your SEO and content strategy under the lens of search intent, the three steps below are a great starting point to leverage that knowledge to make strategic decisions.

Step 1: Take Stock of Your Performance

Unsurprisingly, you need to understand where your content stands before you can make informed decisions on where and what to optimize. Take a look at your current keyword map, and what queries you’re ranking for and where in the SERPs you’re ranking.

Use Google Search Console, Bing Webmaster Tools, or the same offering from another search engine for this task. Take a peek at your ranking content to determine what characteristics are contributing to your search position. (e.g. How is your content structured? Are you providing a specific answer to the query? Does your target keyword match the queries your ranking for?) Using the data, you should be able to draw some solid insights about the type of intent your existing content is serving, as well as where you may have some opportunities to fill gaps.

To gain some addition perspective, consider doing some internal recon to get more qualitative insight on your customers or buying audiences. Ask your sales team what they’re hearing from customers or review contact forms you’re receiving to see what real customers/buyers are looking for—or better yet, ask current customers directly how they found you and what problem you helped solve. Finally, work with your analysts to learn what queries are coming through on internal site searchers. All of this can add some additional perspective when analyzing the hard data.

The end goal here is to understand your current state, as well as surface additional opportunities where you can create best-answer content to match with audience search intent. Document your findings and move onto taking a deeper dive into the search results in the next step.

Step 2: Evaluate the Competition

Chances are, your content isn’t dominating Page 1 search results across the board; you have competition. So, you need to take the time to analyze the content topping search result pages for your top priority keywords and topics. This will help you can gain a deeper understanding of how search engines have determined intent and why they’ve identified your competition (indirect or direct) as the best match.

Some things to consider as you review results are:

  • Do my initial assumptions about search intent ring true? (e.g. Does my content fit the mold here?)
  • What types of results are on the SERP? (e.g. Are you up against other similar brands? Or are you competing with third-party sites such as Wikipedia? Or is there a variety of seemingly different types of content displayed?)
  • How detailed are the top-ranking pages? (e.g. what’s the length of the content)
  • How is the content structured on those top pages? (e.g. Are there short snackable paragraphs? Is there a strong use of header tags throughout? What CTAs or cross-links are present?)
  • Do I have an opportunity to do better? (How can I optimize my own content to leapfrog other results? Or what other gaps can I fill?)

These are important questions to ask as they can help you see how you measure up. As an example, if one of your target keywords has informational intent and your find top search results are made up of several in-depth, rich blog posts, you’ll know that you need to create an even stronger, media-rich resource to challenge the competition for a better position. (The competition on the SERP is already strong and matches well with the search intent, meaning you’ll have a tougher climb.)

Step 3: Optimize. Create. Iterate.

You’ve taken stock of your own positioning, you understand what you’re up against for increasing your visibility, and you’ve collected more definitive information on search intent. Now, it’s time to put insights into action.

Start with the low-hanging fruit. Through your analysis, you’ve hopefully found opportunities to improve existing content by making updates to align with the intent behind a specific target keyword query or topical cluster, as well as adding relevant crosslinks.

In addition, document, organize, and prioritize additional opportunities as a part of your content strategy so you can execute and track performance. In fact, you may consider adding the type of search intent, the state of the SERP, and how well you match to intent as categories to your keyword maps, glossaries, and other important SEO documents. These documents should be updated as you make improvements to your content, making it easier for you to track changes, measure performance, and do further optimization based on the results you’re seeing.

Searching High and Low

When you take steps to understand the intent behind your audience’s queries, you have the opportunity to not only optimize for your audience’s needs, but also show them you get them and what they’re looking for.

Good old fashioned keyword research and competitive scores paint the outlines of a picture. Search intent adds the color to make your content a work of art. So, start by identifying the type of search intent for your target keywords as you review SERPs. Once you know where you stand and where the competition may be winning, prioritize and execute on opportunities within your strategy to help move the needle.

Good old fashioned keyword research and competitive scores paint the outlines of a picture. #SearchIntent adds the color to make your #content a work of art. @annieleuman Click To Tweet

Matching search intent will be even more critical in 2019. But what other SEO trends do you need to keep an eye on? Check out our list top SEO trends and predictions to watch in 2019.