Unless you’re a search engine marketer who’s been living under a rock, you are aware of the recent Google algorithm updates such as Panda, which was a penalty update that stops sites with low-quality content from creeping into the top of the SERPs, and Hummingbird, which in essence revamped the engine to better detect query intent and cater to conversational search. Side note: there is a great Search Engine Land article that explains the role Hummingbird plays when looking at the structure of Google's search engine.
With updates such as these, SEOs are focusing more towards pushing out as much rich, unique content to users on-site, and shifting way from the old, rigid days of a keyword-centric strategy. Google has spoken, and it’s all about natural, interesting content that your target market is looking to find. In essence, an SEO strategist takes on a new alias: content strategist. However, it’s important to point out that for this type of content to be truly successful, it should be able to not only dominate the SERPs, but also leave an impact on users searching through other channels. This is where content strategy gets tricky, because it requires SEO strategists to take on a new mindset.
No matter how top-notch your content is, the “if you build it, they will come” approach of simply launching your content and waiting is not going to cut if you want to see long-term, on-site engagement and continuous growth of readers, customers, and brand advocates.
The Bullseye Framework is a central concept of the book, Traction, A Startup Guide to Getting Customers, by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares. The book explores successful startups such as Mint and DuckDuckGo, and how they applied the framework to find the channel that helped them gain the most traction, or “moving the growth curve” of businesses upwards, signifying “quantitative evidence” of customer demand. The framework also targets the syndrome that entrepreneurs get where “if you build a killer product, your customers will beat a path to your door”, similar to the content mantra resonating across the SEO community today. Sorry to disappoint folks, it’s not that simple.
Before we dive in to the topic, I would like to point out that out of all the 19 channels Weinberg and Mares focus on, SEO is one of them. The book particularly discusses the various types of SEO strategies such as fat-head (keywords that directly describe your business and service) and long-tail (conversational, very specific keywords), and research strategies that most SEOs are familiar with (Keyword Planner Tool, competitive research, Google Trends diagnosis, link building analysis). Weinberg and Mares focus on SEO as being a potential traction channel if businesses do their due diligence in the competitive landscape and gauge whether or not they have a chance of ranking at the top of search engines for keywords that bring in a large number of qualified customers.
In my role as an SEO strategist, a large chunk of my job is to measure the traffic growth and leads that are acquired through organic search, but there’s just as much collaboration with other departments. For instance, my role also involves optimizing social assets, consulting in paid search optimization, and making sure digital PR connections are optimizing their releases for keywords related to the brand and linking back appropriately. Besides all that, there’s optimizing company blogs and making sure the brand is talking about the information their customers are actually looking for. So, hopefully you can see that my perspective is that someone who’s in SEO is no longer just optimizing for the search engine, but optimizing content in general so that the brand’s voice is translated the right way, at the right time, to the right channels. Sure, on the surface we are optimizing content for search engine bots to understand and factor into their ranking algorithm, but Google’s direction towards conversational search and user intent should extent our strategy to optimize for user interest and persuasion.
The Bullseye Framework gives SEOs a system for being more proactive with our content. I found the Bullseye Framework extremely relevant in the SEO world, providing us the tools to stretch our creative boundaries and collaborate cross-functionally with other departments to get our content campaigns launches successfully.
The Framework can be applied to push different types of content to the right channels that are interested in a brand voice style (such as resource-oriented, service-oriented, offers and specials, campaign content). Here are the five foundational steps to kick-start your strategy:
At this stage, do not strike out any traction channels, but try to prioritize the likelihood each channel will be successful. See if you have an idea how each channel can be used to market your content, campaign, offer, or service. Important questions to ask would be (taken from the book):
• What’s the probability that this idea will work?
• What’s the expected cost to acquire this customer through the idea?
• How many users/customers do you expect to acquire from this idea?
• What’s the timeframe to run these tests?
Next, try and organize the ideas you have for each channel into probability groups. The book suggests a split between 3 groups:
• The Inner Circle (most promising)
• Potential (could possibly work)
• Long-Shot (least probable of gaining success)
You should prioritize your channel depending on what topic or keyword(s) you want to optimize your site and gain link value for. For example, if there is a discount special or sale, a press release might not be the route to take. If you are a furniture store writing a blog post on decorating tips creating an optimization strategy through a paid search ad might not be the way to go, but maybe there’s potential to gain traction through social advertising or email marketing. This is where our skills of competitive and market research help us gain some insight into how we can prioritize all these channels at the right time for our optimization strategies that extend beyond the search engine.
Limit your most promising list to at least 3 channels and opportunities to test these channels in parallel.
Once you have your limited list, start testing them to see how much it would cost at scale to acquire these users the number of users available through this channel, and if these are the type of users you want.
Once you find the golden ticket (assuming all goes well and there is one channel that yields the most positive response rate), pool your resources into marketing and optimizing your content for that specific channel and the audience it contains. For example, if you see a high response rate on Twitter for your blog posts or a specific topic in your blog, segment that topic and actively push your content there. You can further optimize the channel using open graph markup to create eye-catching Twitter cards and surrounding the link to your content with a relevant, engaging post.
6.If at first you don’t succeed, repeat.
Unfortunately, there might be times where the Inner Circle did not have any successful channels. In this case, you should repeat the processes over. However, this time around you’ll have an advantage with the data you collected from round one to give you better insight into what worked for your users and what didn’t.
Remember, multi-channel optimization and engagement DO have some weight in rankings overall, so take the time to see which channels will generate the most engagement and response rate for the type of content you put out, and leverage those platforms for your efforts to truly get noticed.