One of the dream scenarios for a business which has an online presence is as follows: A potential customer in your product or service (P&S) plugs in the keyword into the search engine that he uses, and finds that your site is near the top of the search results. He logs onto the site, and finds what he needs and closes the purchase. He also comes back to your site, whenever he needs a similar P&S, and becomes a regular customer.
But how many times does this happen? We know that this is a pretty rare occurrence and except the biggies such as Amazon, others have not been able to satisfy and retain customers.
For many businesses, the opposite is more likely to happen, and users, after exploring your home page, move back to the search results, not finding what they had desired. Firms are realizing that Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy is not just about paying an expert and getting your site to the top of the rank on a search engine.
One of the biggest problems that businesses are having with their heavy investments in SEO is that their page ranks have definitely improved but their online traffic remains low. Also, when they use cutting-edge analytics software, it reveals that visitors do not find what they want on the site and the ‘bounce rate’ (the percentage of people who leave your site, after visiting the home page of a website) is too high for comfort.
Time to wake up and smell the coffee folks, the money that you have put into SEO might not get you the results that you were hoping for. This happens when you do not have a broader plan, and invest in SEO without aligning the other parts of your organization for achieving the same goal.
Here, I would like to give the example of Apple, the masters of the cerebral advertising and satisfying the requirements of their customers. This can be possible only when you put yourself in the shoes of the customer and try to think of why is he or she interested in your P&S? So, your strategy must change from just superficially attracting users to your site, to actually looking at their needs, and customizing the site to fulfill them.
Applying the Apple analogy again, you need to keep their interests in mind from the time you begin designing your online presence, not when you’ve done most things, and then just go and do some SEO and hope it works. When Apple designs a product, the customer experience is at the forefront at every level of the design stage, and that is why Steve Jobs was known as a hard man to please. Even a mismatch in color combinations would lead to a rejection from his side. I am not telling you to have that level of perfection, but unless you incorporate this mentality, it will be hard to succeed.
But again it would be a mistake if you ignore SEO, because that means a user with no knowledge of your business has absolutely no chance of visiting your site. So how does one solve this quandary?
Let us take a rather basic case study to explain this point better. Suppose you are a player in the wealth management industry, which specializes in investing money for old people. Kevin, a wealthy retail store owner does not know much about which places to invest his money for his old age. He, like all users uses the search engine to check the various options out there.
The question is what would he see when he clicks on your website’s landing page (this is the first page that a search engine user is directed to on your website). Will he see lots of figures and details about the investment strategies that he can adopt, which could rather alarm him, as he has little idea of these concepts, or will he see a free offer to call the adviser of your company and discuss the investment strategy to be adopted in the comfort of his home?
So, you will need to understand his needs and requirements if you want to succeed in capturing the mind and heart of the user. This is possible only when you go into the emotional aspects of his needs, rather than research on keywords. This depends on a lot of things, ranging from the welcome note for visitors on the landing page, pictures on your website (in this case they should indicate your reliability), to the prices that you offer. All these and many other factors work in combination to determine your success rate.
If you are aware of what your target users want, you can use precision based SEO to get increased rates, and even get references. This will give a sustainable boost to your profitability, and probably change the way that you do business.
But the same user might have different needs. If Kevin has made up his mind to invest in a particular asset, your advice would be of no use to him, and a list of quotes could better serve your purpose. This state of mind you can identify through the keyword that he uses. More on that later.
People with expertise in this area often advise their clients to pay attention to each part of their site as any page could be a landing page, and decide if they can answer these questions:
o Why are they visiting this section?
o Which are the issues they are looking to address?
o How we can offer an effective solution to their problem?
If you can address these questions, you are bound to delight your customers, and keep them coming back to your site.
Decoding the User Psychology
Now let us first solve the ‘why’ part to understand the mentality of your potential user. But how do you do this without indulging in any questionable practices which intrude the privacy of the users?
However, there are a lot of things in your control. You can check the visitor behavior on your site using the various analytic tools available on the web. Examples of user behavior that you can monitor on your site are:
o How much time do they spend checking out the different segments?
o Which pages are they most interested in?
You can also experiment with different aspects of your site, and see which combination is the most popular with users.
Another important aspect of this approach is monitoring the behaviour of your ‘best visitors’. These can be defined as the people who actually use your site the way you want them to.
With all this information, and using a bit of your intuition, as you know your business better than others, you can make a very precise assessment of the psychology of users while visiting your website. And using all this data, you can optimize your website to user needs to suit their demands better.
Keywords, the basic building block
Having an idea of the keywords that direct a user to your site can provide you an idea of their frame of mind when they visit your site. This allows you to create specific landing pages for particular segments of keywords, and the benefit of such an effort exceeds the cost by a long margin. There is a lot of free online software such as Google’s Adwords and other paid options to analyze this information.
For example, a user who types in ‘Smartphone’ is probably interested in buying a new one, or just looking at the latest trends in the market. But when he types in ‘ Cheap smartphone on contract’, then a landing page which showcases the prices of the lowest priced smartphones, are more likely to appeal to him or her.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. But, it is where most of the businesses get their methods wrong. They use these tools only to see how many visitors are coming to their site. This information is like gold dust, and they are letting it slip away!
A thorough analysis of this data will reveal a lot about the users who are visiting your website, more than just their numbers. This will give you the powder to test different forms of your landing pages, and seeing which one works, and then doing this on a larger scale to boost the online demand for your product.
However, you need to realize that this information does not tell you exactly what they want, it only reveals their needs. Your aim should be to use this data to design the best possible website which has the maximum chance of satisfying these needs. This is what ‘smart SEO’ does!
Now how do you devise such a strategy? A reliable tool to build the plan is the following technique of marketing, which consists of:
- Tracking your current position
- Setting the aims for your business
- Finalizing the strategy and tactics to be used
- Deciding which people are going to implement this
- Ensuring regular monitoring and feedback
Now let us use this to devise a simple yet effective marketing plan.
Knowing where you are?
In any planning exercise, it is very important to know your current status in order to chart a path. In case of SEO, it is important to decode the state of your business according to the following parameters:
o Examining the ratings for the most valuable keywords (related to your segment), and applicable aspects of your firm such as SEO activities, targets for user traffic, etc.
o Checking whether your rankings have been improving or declining, over a period of time.
o Charting your position on the rankings for the most crucial keywords.
o Testing whether your strategy is capable of adapting to shifts in search engine technology. You should not be reliant on a specific set of keywords, such that a change in the methodology of the search engine can wipe you out.
Setting clear targets
The targets should be clear and everyone involved in the effort should be in the know. Define your priorities, and plan keeping in mind the following questions:
o What do you want to achieve? Is it more revenues/ profits or any other thing? Is your current SEO plan in tune with this?
o What are the near team and future goals, such as a 10% targeted increase of users in first month, and 20% increase in online revenues in the next months? You require detailed short term and long term targets for each period. The targets need to be realistic, and not wishful.
o Does your marketing team have any specific initiatives to take advantage of the expected surge? There needs to be a close coordination between the two, otherwise the fruits of increased traffic may not come to your business.
Targeting the right users:
The objective of your strategy is to fulfil the objectives of the consumers. Identify the target segment which you can serve optimally online. Tweaking your offerings to make them appeal to a wider audience is also something you can try to do.
Selecting the right weapons!
Well, you have prepared a detailed plan to win the war against your competitors. Now you need to choose what the weapons that you are going to deploy are! This is where you have to be a little smart, going all out and trying to use each and every SEO technique is not the ideal way. So:
o Decide which techniques you are going to use. Plan the order in which you deploy them.
o Create a unified message through both your marketing and SEO activities, so these complement each other. In the wealth management case, you could bring out an initiative that offers new customers lower fees for the first few years, and communicate this on the landing page for users such as Kevin.
o Plan the budget wisely, and try to maximize the effectiveness by targeting those channels that are viable, rather than spreading out small amounts for all channels.
o Ensure that you have a Plan B in case things do not pan out the way you thought.
Choose your warriors!
After all this, you must be rather tired of planning and itching for some action. But before this some other things you must decide on the persons that you will put in charge. Implement the following:
o Sketch out the role of each person, decide who is in charge. Depending on the size of business, it can be only one person, or specific people for each function.
o Select the right personnel for each task, and train them if they need any additional skills to ensure proper execution.
o Decide on deadlines for each step.
Stay in control
You need to be in charge and ensure that there no issues in your campaign, and to correct the ones that crop up. Make sure that the following steps are fulfilled:
o Devise a format for periodic generation of reports that have indicators that measure your progress effectively. Decide the optimal length of the reporting period. Finalize the tool or software you are going to use.
o Decide which actions require regular monitoring and which do not.
o Ensure that you get these reports regularly. Put a trusted employee in charge of this.
o Make sure that you have a ready backup plan if things go wrong.
Now last but not the least, after you have a charted out an action plan, you must check that if follows the tenets of the ‘race’ philosophy that tests:
o Effectiveness of your reaching out to potential customers.
o Ability to create a line of communication with them.
o Conversion of these users into concluded sales.
o Engagement of your customers and possibility of repeat business.
This is because the final objective of any SEO action plan is to ensure that your sales from the online channel go up, leading to a healthier business. This blueprint may look a bit complicated, but if you go step by step, it can give the results that you want.