By Amber Kemmis
Assuming that your customers will find you at the exact moment when they’re about to purchase is not only unrealistic, but it also hurts your ability to grow leads and customers. All customers take a journey when making a purchase. Today, this journey often involves the use of search engines.
As a marketer, I must admit that when I first began implementing SEO strategies, I was so focused on keywords and properly formatting websites that I forgot actual human beings would be using the search engine. But the Buyer’s Journey is one of the most important aspects of SEO because search engines like Google ultimately want to help buyers find what they're looking for.
What Is Alignment and Why Is It Important?
Alignment is the process of making sure the topics or keywords that you're optimizing for are the same topics that your target audience cares about in their particular stage of the Buyer's Journey.
Alignment is important for reaching the right audience at the right place and time. You don't want to just drive a lot of visitors to your website. You want to make sure you’re driving the right personas.
Alignment Fails to Avoid
1. Choosing jargon phrases as topics.
A common mistake companies make is choosing topics or keywords that do not match the keywords people search for. This tends to happen when internal staff—the marketers and salespeople—create a list of topics that they think their buyers care about but use a lot of jargon that their buyer personas may not have heard of yet. This is a big alignment fail. Beware of being overly focused on the qualitative side and not allowing data to inform what you are optimizing for.
2. Optimizing the wrong page for the wrong topic.
In this case, after you've pulled your keyword research together, you have a list of keywords that don’t align with the page you have content for, which means you won’t rank for those terms.
We see this when prospects or clients try to do everything internally. All of their persona research, all their Buyer's Journey development—all internally in a boardroom. This is a big issue because you're not talking to your customers, you're not talking to your prospects, and you may not be going to the industry forums where these conversations are happening. You do all of this research in a bubble and then you optimize your website with terms that no one is searching for, which leads to a big fail.
4. Not doing qualitative and quantitative research simultaneously.
You need to do qualitative and quantitative research simultaneously in order to come up with an accurate and effective SEO strategy. Sometimes, marketers will rely on quantitative metrics as the only basis for decision-making, such as by going to HubSpot, pulling 300 keywords, and not doing any of the qualitative research of reading industry forums or talking to customers to see which of those highly searched terms their personas care about.
On the other hand, some marketers rely too heavily on the qualitative side. You need to use the tools that are out there (like Moz, SEMrush, HubSpot) to make sure that people are actively searching for your terms.
What Is a Buyer’s Journey?
A Buyer’s Journey, simply put, is the path a person or company takes when purchasing a product or service. This path may be quite short (e.g., I hopped on Amazon to do all of my holiday shopping in a record 30 minutes), but it can also be quite long (e.g., I spent two months researching the car I leased due to the cost and impact the investment would have on my life). Each action that the customer takes on his or her way to a purchase is considered an important step in the Buyer’s Journey.
The Buyer’s Journey is an essential part of inbound marketing, because it can help you identify gaps in your existing strategy. One company’s Buyer’s Journey will be wildly different from another company’s, and your company will likely have a different Buyer’s Journey for each of your buyer personas.
Identify Buyer Personas
Before you jump into SEO or the Buyer’s Journey, you should have a clear understanding of your buyer personas. A buyer persona is, essentially, a profile of your ideal prospect. You can learn more about creating buyer personas in our Ultimate Guide to Inbound Marketing Personas, but here is the basic information that is important for creating a buyer persona:
- Type of company they work for
- Pain points
- Common objections
- Identifiers (e.g., risk-taker)
Once you’ve developed 3-5 buyer personas, you can begin identifying how well existing content fits the buyer persona, map it to the Buyer’s Journey, and utilize this information to build your SEO strategy.
Map Content to the Buyer’s Journey
Considering that SEO helps people find your content, you should start aligning your SEO strategy and Buyer’s Journey by first mapping your content to the Buyer’s Journey. To do this, you’ll take each piece of content you have and identify the stage and buyer persona that this content applies to (content may overlap for some buyer personas).
This exercise is to help align the journey with SEO, so you should also do this with website product and service pages, as well as with your blogs because you’ll want to be sure later on that you have search queries for all of your content. If you have a significant number of blogs, map them by topics.
Once you’ve compiled a list of your content and mapped it to the appropriate stage, you can complete further analysis to identify the content that you are missing for each step of the Buyer’s Journey. For now, let’s transition to SEO.
Create Categories and Topics of Current and Future Content
During the buyer persona exercise, you should have identified keywords, problems, goals, and terminology used by each buyer persona. Use this information to compile a list of topics or categories that will then be used to form the basis of your keyword strategy. For example:
- Lead generation
- Web design
From here, you can begin to drill down further to identify target keywords.
Identify Keyword Possibilities
Now that you’ve identified 5-10 different categories of topics, which are really the categories of your keyword strategy, you can move on to identifying keywords for your content. To do this, follow the steps below:
1. Start by identifying your existing ranked keywords using a tool like SEMRush.
2. Explore new keyword opportunities by using the following:
- Start generally by checking your categories/topics.
- Discover long-tail opportunities by combining each stage’s query words with the topic (e.g., [query type = improve] + [topic = lead generation] = improve lead generation).
When Are Keywords Most Important in the Buyer’s Journey?
Although a buyer may search for a product or service during the consideration and decision stages, most searches occur during the awareness stage when the buyer is first learning about the problem and opportunity. Thus, when doing keyword research, you’re likely to see more monthly searches for keywords that fall into the awareness stage.
In addition, there is significantly less search volume for keywords that may fall into the decision stage. In some industries and for some Buyer’s Journeys, the buyer may not search at all during the decision stage.
For these reasons, you should consider the following tips:
- Start by researching keywords in the consideration and decision stages. Low monthly search volume may mean that search isn’t used by your buyer in these stages.
- Concentrate on more target keywords in the awareness stage. This widens your funnel of prospects by helping people find you before they’ve discovered the best way to solve their problems.
Where Should Keywords Be Implemented?
After you’ve identified 20-30 target keywords that are optimized for your Buyer’s Journey and personas, you’ll have the task of implementing them on your website. The intent behind the keyword (dependent on its corresponding stage in the funnel) largely dictates where keywords should be placed. There are logical steps you should take as you implement, but let’s first go over the important elements of on-page SEO. Here are all the basic elements you should be sure to add target keywords to:
- H1 tags or headlines
- Page titles
- The copy of the page (throughout)
- Image alt text
To learn more about optimizing website pages for SEO, download this guide.
Next, you should follow these logical steps for implementing keywords (an SEO worksheet will be valuable at this point):
1. Product/Service pages: Start by identifying target keywords from your list that fit your core service and product website pages best. These are typically the keywords found in the decision stage.
2. Persona-based pages: You’ve already divided your keywords up by persona. If you have webpages that are tailored to particular personas, optimize them for the keywords that are only relevant to that page and persona.
3. Content offers: If you already have landing pages for content offers, make sure that they are optimized around one of your target keywords. Once you’ve finished optimizing existing content offers, identify keywords and stages of the funnel that are lacking content.
4. Blogs: Your blog posts can contain keywords from each stage of the funnel and for each persona, which is why they are so helpful for growing search engine traffic. Start by optimizing existing blogs for SEO and then ensure that blogs you create in the future adhere to those guidelines.
Caution: One Size Doesn’t Fit All
Identifying buyer personas, mapping content, and developing keywords are important because you need a thorough understanding of who will be searching and when they’ll be searching before you implement SEO. Utilize the advice in this article, but by all means, take time to consider what works best your Buyer’s Journey.
If you would like help developing your Buyer’s Journey and the content that satisfies the buyer’s needs at each stage, contact SmartBug Media today for a consultation.
This post was originally published in 2015 and has been updated since.