SEO Bizarro World: Are You Too Focused on Keywords?

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Sometimes I feel like I’m in the SEO Bizarro World.

Search engines are smarter than ever and becoming smarter, so trying to game them by cramming keywords or phrases into content doesn’t make sense. Yet, not only do I still see B2B marketers doing this, but sometimes this is their only SEO strategy for content.

That’s unfortunate four a couple of reasons. First, getting organic search optimization right is essential, because it’s become an indicator of market performance as buyers tend to choose from among top-ranked listings. Second, the evolution of search engines has opened a golden opportunity for SEO and content teams to work closer together for bigger benefit. In fact, today’s organic search optimization is really about content optimization, but SEO teams have a big part.

Optimize for the Experience Engine

Google’s search engine continues to morph into an experience engine that prioritizes comprehensive, unique and authoritative answers to queries. The engine is better at finding answers to niche questions, and it dings sites that provide thin or widely repeated answers.

Machine learning has already pushed the bar for SEO way above a list of words or even long-tail phrases, and this is especially true for B2B marketing. Organic search optimization is not just about making your content discoverable but also about providing a superior customer experience (CX).

And while B2B and B2C marketing are overlapping in many areas, my knowledge of B2B buyers tells me organic search experience isn’t one of them.

This is primarily because B2B buyers have their paychecks on the line when they make purchase decisions, and they are usually part of a larger group making the ultimate choice. You aren’t answering questions for just one person with a singular goal. Your content has to prove you have trusted expertise on often-competing priorities: buy vs. build, return on investment, total cost of ownership, alignment with existing resources, ease of use, ease of doing business, partnership capabilities, liabilities and risks, user feedback mechanisms and roadmaps, supply chain integrity, etc.

Think about the experience of buying a washing machine online. If you need an average machine, you’ll use search to educate yourself on six or fewer variables, and it will be easy to find this information. When the washer arrives, you hook it up to water, plug it in and it works. It’s a good experience.

But what about choosing new production equipment? Or a new ERP system? Or a new waste-mitigation services provider? Or calling center location? These are much more complex decisions that involve lots of people and partners, have much longer buying cycles and take more work and time to operationalize. Everything is different about this type of purchase, and you’ll need to have enough of the right content and content orchestration to answer all the questions for all the roles on the buying team—while also maintaining cohesive and consistent messaging.

This requires a strategy that goes beyond words and phrases and aligns with the keywords that buyers are using at each stage of the buyer’s journey. An ideal strategy would have keyword research happening at the same time you are mapping the buyer’s journey.

Focus on the Output

A good way to tell if your content and SEO teams are effectively aligned for B2B is if SEO optimization takes place before the content is created and not after. SEO teams and content teams can combine their tools, experience and data to discover what buyer roles are searching for and build content strategy around providing high-quality answers to their queries.

At times this SEO exercise will be about identifying information gaps, and other times it will be about confirming or rejecting existing knowledge about what the target audience wants. Either way, this is a much better strategy than causing unnatural language by forcing words into already created content, especially because natural language is something Google ranks on.

In a recent Search Engine Journal article, Kameron Jenkins, Director of Brand, Content and Communications at Botify, encourages people to look at keywords differently. Keywords are the input, but when writing for search we need to focus on the output, she says.

“So instead of asking, How can I include this keyword?, we need to start content creation by asking, How can I answer this query?” Jenkins writes.

And again, this is especially important with B2B marketing. Most of us don’t need someone to hold our hand when deciding which washing machine to buy, but we would want as much guidance as possible if we were spending large sums of other people’s money on a purchase that will bring us either praise or pain, success or failure.

For more helpful SEO tips, read “Get Ready for the Google Page Experience Update.”

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