We sat down with Nathaniel Schooler from Influential Visions to discuss how audience intelligence technology can be used to formulate more effective SEO strategies.
The session was led by Rory Hope, who shared insights into how SEO should always focus on the audience, and how audience intelligence can help to deliver better SEO campaigns.
The podcast transcript can be found below.
So today I’m joined by Rory Hope, head of inbound marketing at Semetrical.
You’ve got lots of experience in formulating SEO strategies that deliver clear ROI, Right? Because, I mean, that’s really important for multi million pound revenues and for the global organisations delivering those. There’s a lot of fluff around SEO and there has been for 10 years, right, or however long it’s been going on for 10 plus years.
Yeah, SEO itself has been going for, you know, a long, long time. And it’s changed significantly over the years, very much from black hat and grey hat SEO where companies could spam search engines and generate lots of links from low quality sites to a certain page that then boosts the ranking of that page for a target keyword. Whereas nowadays, it’s become very much more around delivering quality content that’s hyper relevant to what your audience or prospective audiences want to consume. Both from an informational perspective, but also in making sure that you get the right content for all stages of the funnel, all the way from awareness and consideration through to the decision.
So, SEO has really over the last 5 to 10 years towards what we’re talking about here and I have been going on about it for some time. It’s evolved towards audience first SEO, that’s the term that I’m aiming to coin and talk about, because you really have to invest that time and resource into fully understanding the audience’s behind the keywords that you’re identifying as being relevant to your business.
That makes a lot of sense, because they’re going to type information into search engines in a certain way that is going to really resonate with them, right? And would you say that’s where this sort of buying intent comes in?
Well, that’s a really interesting point. One of the seminars that I gave recently at the Social Data Summit, and a webinar we partnered with Audiense and Pulsar to deliver a few weeks ago, were both very much focused on improving performance with audience-first SEO. The specifics of those were around identifying the keywords that you believe are relevant to your business, but making sure that you analyse the search results to see exactly which type of websites and pages are appearing for that given keyword, or keyword segment.
Let’s say you’re targeting luxury properties, and you’re trying to rank for luxury property keywords. You’re going to want to review what’s ranking for luxury property, because that’s the best indicator of the type of audience or what the audience wants from how they’re searching at that given moment of their journey. So, you might see a lot of transactional pages ranking that list various luxury properties, or you might start to see pages that explain more about the different types of properties that are deemed as luxury in a certain location.
You have to really take the time to focus on the data you can gather that gives you an indication of what the audience wants when they search for a given keyword, but also exactly who they are. Adding on that layer to find out who the audience is that’s searching for the keyword segment is really where you’ll start to add that extra layer of value. You can then craft and optimise your content, not just for the keyword, but for the audiences around that keyword.
Yeah! Can you simplify it a bit more, because not everyone that is going to listen to this is going to be top level in SEO. Even I struggle with it and I’ve been able to understand it almost as long as you – but maybe not in the same detail.
What you’re saying is that audience first SEO is sort of bridging the gap between listening and understanding the audience. It’s about understanding the kind of words that they would use when they are searching. Is that right?
Yeah! So we actually held a survey for the SEO and wider digital marketing community, which nowadays is all marketers. SEO is an important part of developing a strategy for most businesses, specifically with Google, but also for people who are driving organic traffic without paying for it – minus their time and any technology they use. The results of that survey, when we asked which data sources do people use to develop their SEO strategy, showed us that 96% use keyword data. So, SEO’s and digital marketers are quite used to analysing keywords and understanding the way in which you see from Google’s research technologies and platforms like Google Keyword Planner, exactly what keywords people are using to find your product or service and the amount of times they search that on average per month. That data is readily available and has been there for quite some time.
SEO’s and digital marketers will often then use backlink data and content analytics data as a good indicator of the other topics that are most relevant or most engaging to their audience by looking at their competitors, or publications that are prevalent around a keyword topic that they’re trying to target. But what’s really interesting is that only 16% use social media data when they develop their SEO strategy!
Now, we believe that social media data is the best data source for really understanding the person or the audience’s details around their interests, their behaviours, and their affinities. So, to really get a good understanding of who the audiences are that are searching for your products or services, in line with the keywords you found, you really need to think about how you can integrate social media data. So, when we’re looking at SEO and talking about audience first SEO, what we’re saying here is that we’ve got a process now where we use audience intelligence technology, which essentially uses social media data at scale, to overlay and enrich the original SEO approach towards keyword research and keyword intelligence.
Interestingly, in that same survey, we found that 63% of SEO’s and digital marketers don’t believe that search engine keyword data gives them enough insights into fully understanding the interests and behaviours of their target audience. That’s 63% who say that the tried and tested traditional methods of keyword research for SEO which help you to then build pages and content and improve your rankings, still doesn’t give you enough information about your target audiences or their interests!
So, all of this is about improving performance with audience first SEO and the survey really gave us some insights into where the problems lie. One of the other questions we asked was: do you find it difficult to generate content and digital PR campaign ideas? Because with SEO, once you know which keywords you want to rank for, you also need to have a steady stream of relevant content being published that supports that topic. That’s relevant to that topic. Google likes that – search engines like finding that content and therefore it helps you improve your rankings overall for that keyword topic. That’s a strategy that people and companies will use, right?
But at the same time, you need to be generating backlinks. PR is a core part of SEO. You need to be generating backlinks on websites that are relevant to the keyword topic you’re going after.
So, for example, let’s use the keyword topic of ‘new homes’. You would want to be generating backlinks from websites that talk about new home topics such as: housing planning, construction websites, property sites, estate agent groups, etc. But, to do that you need to come up with continuously good ideas that are relevant to the keyword topic you’re going after. Shockingly, our survey found that 53% of people, so over half of the SEO community surveyed, said they find it difficult to generate content and digital PR campaigns on an ongoing basis. Now, that sort of starts to make sense because 93% use keyword data with their strategy development, but only 16% even consider social media data from audience intelligence platforms. So they’re not getting that level of interest and behavioural data about their audiences that search around the keyword topic to devise those creative campaigns to generate good digital PR results and boost your SEO performance.
So, what we’re talking about here with audience first SEO is a new approach, and a way of integrating social media data into your tried and tested approach for keyword research. One of the other key aspects of that survey that we drill down into is that 88% of people surveyed want to increase the speed and efficiency of their link opportunity prospecting. So, what that means is 88% of people want to be able to find websites that are relevant to the topic they’re interested in or the service that they provide. If we again put that into the context of ‘new homes’, 88% of people want to find websites that are relevant to ‘new homes’ as a keyword group faster than they currently do. And because that’s a very manual process of going through backlinks from competitor websites and other websites that rank for ‘new homes’ as a keyword segment, that takes time. But that’s what you need to do to find opportunities to build backlinks and improve your performance for keyword groups that you care about.
So, ultimately, what we found here are the gaps and pain points that the SEO community are struggling with. And what we’re trying to do is show how, with an integration of social media data from audience intelligence platforms such as Audiense, you can go about integrating this information to craft a better SEO strategy, where you find link opportunities quicker with better content ideas based upon a better understanding of your audience’s affinities, interests and behaviours. That’s something you wouldn’t normally have that with keyword data alone.
So basically, you’re creating more content relevance, and you’re creating it faster, because you’re more in tune with what the market wants to talk about, and what the market is talking about. Right? So then your chances are, if you can do that quickly enough, you’re going to manage to get backlinks that are going to be more powerful, because you’re probably one of only five or ten people talking about it. And it’s so recent to what’s actually happening in the market versus long term SEO, which aims to rank for a keyword in a year or so’s time.
Exactly! That’s it. Ultimately, to get backlinks for SEO for a keyword topic that you want to build backlinks around, those backlinks are going to help you rank for keywords you’ve identified in the short term and can have impact nowadays very quickly, but they’ll also support your business long term. So, any backlinks generated are another brick in the foundation of the house that you’re building.
I know from personal experience that publications and influencers are going to be so much more receptive to you sharing new insights or new data or new perspectives from experts around a topic that’s currently very culturally relevant and being talked about here and now by the other influencers, publications and thought leaders. They’re much more likely to pick up on that and you’re much more likely to get a backlink, versus if you just looked at backlink data which is quite slow. You can end up looking at backlinks generated two years ago and thinking that’s a good campaign idea! You’re two and a half years down the line and, yes there might be some aspects of that which still work, but if you’re not on the pulse of what’s being talked about by the influencers of your audience that are relevant to a keyword you care about, then you’re not going to generate the backlinks.
If you were to look at the ‘new homes’ keyword segment in UK property again and find the top 15 websites that rank well on average for that keyword segment, you could upload them into an audience intelligence platform like Audiense and also a social listening platform like Pulsar. This would then allow you to track what was being talked about day to day and you would begin to see the themes that you need to be focusing on within the ‘new homes’ keyword segment. You can then start to come up with ideas around these themes, such as how COVID-19 will reshape the property development sector or, how Gen Z will reshape real estate in the next 30 years or, where the greenest new homes across the UK are. Those are the types of ideas that will then be offered up to publications and will have a much greater chance of being included and linked. You will then get a backlink that’s relevant to ‘new homes’ because you’ve come up with a content idea that’s hyper relevant to what’s being discussed at this moment in time.
Yeah, I agree. It is very difficult to come up with topics all the time around certain keywords. It’s tough. I mean, you’re talking to someone who has been writing blogs for quite a long time, right? I’ve probably got nearly 165 blogs on my site and done loads of podcasts, and even I struggle to come up with relevant ideas. I think that it goes back to the strategy and what you want to be known for.
Let’s take a website, say it’s a WordPress site for simplicity, and let’s say we’ve got five key topics that we want to have in our tree. Is that what you would call it, a tree?
Yeah! So we call it topical modelling in SEO often, but the tree analogy is a nice way of thinking about it. You’ve got your roots and trunk as the homepage, and then you’ve got your other category pages that are probably relevant to different services, products or topics as your branches.
Okay, yeah! So within a blog, let’s say we’ve got five different topics, with technology being the main one you want to be known for. Then underneath that you would have SEO, security, the internet, 5g, or whatever it is. How then do you integrate keyword intelligence and audience intelligence to formulate this strategy off the back of the topics in your blog?
So, let’s take cybersecurity as an example. What you would want to do initially is undertake your keyword intelligence research, which is basically identifying all of the keywords that people search on Google that are relevant to cybersecurity or an aspect of cybersecurity that you’re interested in. To do that you would type in a couple of cybersecurity terms, identify which websites rank well for those terms and plug them into a keyword intelligence tool like SEMRush, Moz or Ahrefs. These are something most marketers have access to and they help you identify which keywords that cybersecurity websites rank for. You can then use Google Keyword Planner to bulk them out and find all of the relevant keywords to cybersecurity.
Next, you have to go through the process of segmenting them. So, you might have “cybersecurity” + “services”, or “cybersecurity” + “statistics” and “information”, and you need to break them down within the cybersecurity branch of your tree using Excel.
Then, what you’re going to need to do is use a keyword ranking and tracking technology, such as Get Stat, to upload the keywords that you’ve tagged as relevant to cybersecurity. This will pull back at scale all of the websites or web pages that rank for every single keyword that you may have identified as being relevant to cybersecurity, so you can then filter down to just the domain and create a pivot table in Excel to identify which websites rank for the most amount of keywords within your cybersecurity keyword segment at the best average rank. So you’re looking at that data from Google and using the algorithms to understand what is ranking for cybersecurity, and you’re then going to take the best performing ones as your SEO competitors. They might not be direct competitors to your business all the time, but they are websites that rank well on Google and they take up real estate within cybersecurity.
Next, you’re going to take those websites and find the Twitter profiles and other social profiles that are associated with these sites and upload them to your audience intelligence solution. If you’re using Audiense, which is our preferred tool, then you can open up an audience insights report and analyse the followers of those different SEO competitors for cybersecurity. You will need to make sure that your sites are hyper relevant to cybersecurity because you might get Wikipedia there which can dilute your report. And once you’ve created that report, what you’re going to get back is a comprehensive overview of all of the social consumer segments that are active within your cyber security community or keyword segment.
From there, you’ll start to break that down and you might see that there’s a whole pocket of Java developers, or you might see that there are digital entrepreneurs, or GDPR legal lawyers. And what this technology does is it analyses the social media behaviours of these groups of people. The interconnected profile analysis analyses what the behaviours are of all of these different Twitter accounts on the web, and it clusters them into segments.
The brilliance of this is that then you can click into a segment, such as the social consumer segment within your cybersecurity keyword audience, and we drill down into that digital entrepreneur social consumer segment. And suddenly, we get a list of 1000 different influencer entities, which are entities that have a noted affinity to this group of digital entrepreneurs.
So you might see Search Engine Journal, you might see Mashed, you might see Entrepreneur, you might see Ted. They’re obviously the bigger examples, but you’ve also got loads of hidden gems! So you start to mine that data and then you can literally build a profile of a community that is active within the cybersecurity keyword, topic and space and wider ecosystem. And then from that, you create a list of websites that you can go after for backlinks, for PR, for content partnerships, or for partnerships that are commercial. You know it’s relevant to cybersecurity because you did your keyword analysis and use that to determine what you uploaded into your audience intelligence solution, and you know it’s really important to craft creative campaigns from cybersecurity for entrepreneurs because you know that they’re active and that area.
So you’re kind of taking your core service and specialism and you need to know how you’re going to position it to really resonate with those audiences that are active within your keyword group cybersecurity, because that will mean that ultimately your brand becomes more relevant, you’re likely to get more backlinks, more coverage, more shares on social. Although not directly related to the Google search results, social media data still has an impact indirectly.
And that’s just one example. If you want you then pivot your position at the Java developers, or you might target the data legal side of cybersecurity. And then you’ll find all of the influencer entities that are relevant to these different niche communities within your overall keyword topic or ‘tree branch’ of cybersecurity. And you feed that into your content plans and your digital PR plans. And you’ve used keyword intelligence to direct all of your analysis, so everything is in line with your keyword targeting strategy, which ultimately is going to be the evergreen content on your website, that Google is going to like and see is relevant to the ways the patterns in which people search for cybersecurity services or information. And if you get those bases covered, and you fuel that with the content and digital PR ideas/campaigns targeting these different niche communities that are relevant to cybersecurity, I guarantee you’ll see significantly stronger results than if you’ve adopted and enrich your keyword data with this audience intelligence analysis and social media data.
So, it’s extremely powerful. And to take it one step further, if you have social listening platform like Pulsar, you can take the influence entities that are relevant to each social consumer segment like digital entrepreneurs, Java developers, and legal digital law, then upload the top 15 influencer entities you identify for each, they might be like niche blogs about Java or development blogs, they might be law, legal blogs, but specific to like GDPR, or specific to certain aspects of cybersecurity. And they might be entrepreneur blogs or small business start-up blogs, etc. Upload the Twitter profiles that you’ve seen have high affinity scores with these audience groups that are relevant to cybersecurity, put them into a social listening platform that Pulsar, put them on a track search.
What that then does is it monitors every tweet, that these Twitter accounts are publishing in real time with engagement data. So, you know we’re talking about making sure you’re staying relevant – this is where suddenly you’re much more agile than your competitors because you’re not looking at link data from two years ago and trying to create a campaign around that, you’re looking at what is being talked about by the people that influence the audiences within the keyword you want to target.
You’re being very agile and writing content that’s in line with what they’re talking about, you’re doing PR campaigns in line with what’s being discussed day to day and if you get the dashboards in front of your content and your PR teams within your SEO department and suddenly your creative sessions on a Monday morning, or whenever it is, suddenly become so much more informed and effective because you’ve adopted this process for audience-first SEO.
Yeah, you’re going to be able to keep up in real time with the market and actually what’s happening in the market and what people are talking about, because you might miss it. And also the popularity of certain articles, because, for example, piggybacking a news article to get traffic is huge, right? Like, if you find a really popular video and take that and put it on your website and embed it on YouTube and you write a little blog, and then boom, you publish it – and it goes crazy! So you get all that extra traffic, but then it always goes back to is your website set up for traffic, right? Because it’s all very well getting all this traffic, but then if you get the traffic and your website isn’t optimised for conversion, then, you know, that’s a whole other interview in a whole different series. Right?
Yeah, I mean that’s so interesting, because you mentioned about intent earlier, and you’ve got to think about things as you’re almost doing a pincer strategy to build conversations, traffic, engagement, shares, backlinks, around blog articles, informational articles, hub pages that are relevant to what’s being discussed. You’re generating all of those pages, because they’re more interesting, you can be more agile, you can talk about things you can add videos, etc. And then what you do, which is absolutely crucial to making this audience-first SEO rather than just PR and content strategy, is you’re going to know which pages are going to drive conversions, that are relevant to whatever you want to achieve – news ad sign ups or actual sales or lead gen. Those pages are going to rank for the transactional keywords that have transactional intent that you identified during a keyword intelligence process. But they’re not really going to get backlinks. They’re boring generally.
But if these informational pages are relevant, and they’re getting lots of links, lots of coverage, lots of traffic, what do you do if you make sure that you get really good internal links across to your transactional page that’s evergreen. This evergreen page should be updated every so often that is geared towards ranking for the terms of going to drive you money or signups or whatever conversions. And Google or other search engines are going to see all this like link equity, in other words, topical authority on these hub pages. Then as a result these blog posts have created hyper relevance to what’s being discussed through the process. And Google is going to follow those links across your transactional page.
We call them SEO pillar pages sometimes, right. And then you’ll see their rankings increase for the month for the keywords that are going to drive you revenue, and are going to drive your new audience, new signups, which ultimately, is the lifeblood of the business that you’d be employing these strategies for, right. So that’s the really crucial part there. And a very good point to bring up is how to take this approach of audience first SEO, make it so that it works towards you, it’s the parts of your site that need to actually do what sites intended to do to drive the conversions, drive the revenue, etc.
Super, I learned masses about SEO just now. That’s brilliant. Like all that knowledge that I spent picking up over the last, what, 10 years or whatever, it just came into a like enlightenment moment. You know, like a light bulb goes off in your mind, right? Yeah. And yeah, you when you said that, that’s absolutely super. So basically linking all of these blog articles, to buyer intent to that page. And putting a link to that page on all of those blog articles is what’s good, basically Dr. Yu the sames, providing the blog articles relevant to that particular.
Exactly. And that’s SEO, topical clustering or SEO, topical modelling. And it’s an approach that’s quite advanced SEO. But generally what would happen is you would quickly dry up in terms of ideation for creating all of these other informational blog posts that are relevant to a topic that you want to rank for supporting the transactional page, otherwise known as the “money” page. This is because keyword data alone is stagnant and quite slow, as it’s 12 months of average keyword data, it’s not hyper relevant to the real time of what’s being discussed.
That’s where the audience first SEO has to take social data, but make sure that you’re using it in line with the keywords that are going to drive you the money, conversions, revenue. This then enriches that ideation process.
As seen in what’s been discussed, you’re much more likely to get backlinks, social shares traffic, and in, view those pages and transfer that equity across the page is going to drive the value.
And keep doing that, rinse, repeat, stay on the ball, culturally relevant to relevant topics, your business, and you’ll succeed. And I think to do this is where at Semetrical, we have specialists who can come in and help businesses to implement this audience first SEO strategy.
And, yeah, we’d love obviously, what, where we’re at the moment we’re in conversations with with lots of different people around this approach and consultation, and I’m just passionate about and I’d love to talk to anyone who does want to hear about it, and try and implement it for their business. all sizes, really.
And it works in all industries. And it’s just it’s a framework that you should follow. And believe me, your content and PR teams will thank you for it. And then at the end of the day, those responsible for SEO results will thank them for being more relevant and getting more backlinks and establishing better content architectures around your key tree branches, which I love the analogy that is relevant to your business.
Yeah, and also makes it a lot more interesting for these people doing these, what in essence are very mundane jobs.
I mean, like, you know, if you give me a good content idea, or I go and I find a good content idea myself, I find it a lot more interesting than writing something that is just absolute, you know, just whoring.
Yeah. Here are keywords I need to rank for. It’s like, Well, okay, you give me a keyword you want me to rank something for? So now I’ve got to go and I’ve got to use my brain power. Yeah. And that’s what a computer is for, right? Is that what all this stuff is for? It’s like, Well, you know, here’s, here’s some information, what insights you’re going to gather from it. And that’s why I love looking at the back of these platforms, because it just gives, it gives so much information.
Like I mean, you know, when you were talking about like, these clusters, yeah. And actually how, you know, you’re even going to know the sorts of words that these people like to use, you’re going to know, the magazines, they they they read the the kind of video platforms they watch. You get to, you know, you get to know so much about these people that it makes everything so much more relevant instead of Oh, well. I’ve just developed seven personas. Okay, you’ve got seven personas. That’s interesting. Yeah. What are you gonna do with it? Yeah, these seven personas are like five years out of date. Oh, but it’s like, yeah, but what’s a tech buyer? Right?
Yeah, yeah, it’s far too broad. And I think just one of the things to point out is, a lot of people don’t tweet, like a lot of people are quite quiet. And there’s a significant majority of people that aren’t screaming and shouting using the technology, the language sorry, that that you that, that will indicate that they are of x type person.
But what happens is that their influence entities, the publications or the speak for them, because they see the engagement data of these audiences at scale, they know what the audience they’re interested in.
So if you measure, analyse and listen to the influence entities of a given social consumer segment within a keyword topic like cybersecurity that you care about, you’re getting good and you’re getting a good idea of what language should be used, what niche topics and are being discussed any one time. And then as you said, you get that data.
That’s what that’s basically to the platforms, and then it’s up to you to go out and be creative around it and drive coverage links and shares for those supporting articles and then you leave your keyword focused transactional pages. Once they’re optimised to do their thing. You don’t just need to only think about keyword data alone. You can suddenly start to be creative around that overall keyword topic. Just make sure you’re very disciplined in regards to internally linking back to that transactional page.
Yeah, and I think the wins are when you combine all of this with people who have had decades of experience within industries, then that becomes really quite magical. Then, those insights and those personas are a tangible outcome!
So, if people want to get you, go to semetrical.com and you can discuss how to integrate the keyword intelligence with audience intel research – and obviously to help you come up with one of these audience-first SEO strategies for your business.
Exactly. And that’s really what I want to help lots of businesses now take their SEO into this audience-first approach! I’d love to speak to as many people as possible and get us moving towards audiences over keywords. It will deliver better results – we’ve won multiple awards over the years and we’ve adopted this strategy in pretty much all of those instances and when budget and time permits, it generates the results that win these awards!
It’s a fascinating approach towards SEO that I hope to share with a lot of businesses.
Yeah, it’s exciting! Thanks so much Rory, it’s been really interesting.
Thanks so much for having me!