Today’s post is by ItsTheROI.com‘s Jonah Stein. Follow him on Twitter: @jonahstein

2013: the year of audience focus in search marketing.

Stop procrastinating. Exercise more. Lose weight. Stop smoking. Be nicer to your loved ones.

January is time for well-meaning promises that wind up as distant memories by March. My first resolution was broken by the time the ball hit the pavement in Times Square, but belatedly (be on time more!), here are some resolutions you have a chance of keeping:

2013 SEO Resolutions

1. Focus On Audience.
Stop thinking about visitors and clicks and start thinking about users as people—people who come to your site for their own reasons.

In the search for easily measured KPIs, we often set our goals and measure success with metrics that are only a small piece of the big picture. In our world of precise measurements and ROAS-based campaign strategies, it’s easy to reject terms like “audience,” “engagement,” and “share of voice” as old media desperation, but it’s difficult to learn to put users first when you think of them merely as clicks.

It is great to increase conversion from 2% to 3%, but if that is all you are focused on, you are disappointing people 97% of the time.Think about audience and engagement and create a culture that is truly user-centric.

2. Fix Your Mobile Experience.

It’s 2013, for God’s sake! If you haven’t spent a lot of time using your site on a few tablets and a couple of smart phones, you really don’t have any excuses. None of the 50-odd sites to which I have analytics access at the moment gets less than 15% of their traffic from mobile, and that percentage is only increasing. Take a long, hard look at your mobile experience and then remember that mobile users are generally at the end of the decision cycle and ready to make a purchase!

A recent study by Brafton showed that 49% of mobile queries in the automotive space resulted in a purchase the same day, and 36% converted within an hour. Is your mobile experience ready? Have you defined the difference between a desktop persona, a tablet persona and a phone persona? Here is how Brafton explained it:

Mobile users engage with custom content differently
However, even among the research audience, consumers behaved differently depending on the device they used. For example, tablet owners spent more time reading consumer reviews and comparing prices, and tablet users were three times more likely to be influenced by the content they read. On the other hand, 36 percent of smartphone auto searchers wanted to convert within the hour, compared to 15 percent of tablet users.

3. Push Content Creation Up The Org Chart.

All too often, the job of actually writing content gets pushed down to the lowest paid, most junior people on the marketing team; then the content gets batted around by every stakeholder going back to the top. Is it any wonder your site doesn’t speak with a clear voice and demonstrate a dazzling personality?

Getting the message right is crucial. Big brands and agencies spend hundreds and sometimes thousands of hours refining and testing a few sentences for TV, radio, and print but all too often ignore web content. Make 2013 the year that the head of the content creation team gets the same type of scrutiny (and pay) that you devote to key executives. Greg Boser, President of BlueGlass Interactive said it quite succinctly during BlueGlassX in Tampa last year: The key resource a company needs to succeed with online marketing is a Chief Content Officer.

4. Fix Your Site Speed.  

Want to see a jaw-dropping graph in analytics?

– Create a custom segment for visitors with transaction=0.

– Select the standard advanced segment for visitors with a transaction.

– In the left rail, select Content > Site Speed > Page Timing.
The average visitor who converts is seeing the page load in about 60% of the time of the non-converters.

site speed analytics

Want another jaw-dropper? Look at the average speed for U.S. versus non-U.S. users. You may or may not care about your international visitors, but don’t assume the issue is entirely bandwidth. Dig deeper into your analytics and figure out what countries are driving traffic and what you can do to improve the experience for international visitors.

5. Embrace Authorship Over Excuses.

Rel=Author is one of the most important evolutions in search in the past few years. Used correctly (real people, not personas), establishing authorship can get you better rankings, more real estate on the results page, and higher CTR. 2013 needs to be the year you decide that the tremendous advantages of using Rel=Author are more important than the political concerns about content ownership and individual versus brand.

6. Be An Analytics Guru.

If your site has significant organic traffic, there is a good chance you don’t really understand who is visiting your site and why. What are your top 50 organic landing pages? What has changed since last year? Where are your visitors coming from? What do they want?

Spend at least a couple hours a week and really understand your site in analytics. When you find a problem, really dig in until you understand it. What looks like a speed problem may really be a high percentage of mobile users, or perhaps it is browser-specific. What looks like significantly slower response for IE users may actually be because 40% of your traffic is coming from the developing world and IE dominates many places in Asia, Africa, and the Far East.

7. Don’t Forget the “Marketing” in “Content Marketing.”

Don’t invest hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars researching and writing great content, then rely on social seeding and a few hours of networking on Facebook and Twitter to make your content magically “go viral” and reach millions of people. If that is your distribution strategy, you will almost always be disappointed.

The marketing side of the content marketing equation includes leveraging your site, your email list, your partners, your social networks, and all of your paid channels. Promote your great content to make sure it reaches your audience. If you are doing it right, the content should be created from the beginning with a publishing partner in mind, and that partner should also leverage their email and social channels to reach as wide an audience as possible.

8. Think Segmentation First.

Everyone who visits your site is looking for something, even if it isn’t what you want to sell them. Build your site for your audience and they will reward you with engagement and loyalty and maybe even become your evangelist; build it for yourself, and your audience will likely bounce.

Segmentation is a just a fancy word for figuring out the possible reasons someone is visiting your page (search intent), then providing clear information that matches user intent. Tony Hsieh, founder and CEO of Zappos talks about “delivering WOW through service,” but before you get a chance to do that. you need to WOW the user experience. That means giving people what they want.

9.  Make links for people, not search engines.

For more than a decade we have been “building” links for SEO.  First it was directories and guest book signature, then forums, article directories, blogs, etc. Eventually we moved to link bait, writing Top Ten lists and creating Infographics, then promoting them via social media to snare users’ attention long enough for them to drop a link to our page. Only a few companies built content for their target audience.

Stop creating content that is intended to earn links that are designed to boost SEO as an ARTIFACT of the content. Focus on creating and MARKETING content that drives traffic and builds brand awareness and audience. Search rankings are now earned from an engaged audience sharing your content, not random users linking to you from the blogosphere. If the link doesn’t drive relevant traffic, it is probably not worth much for SEO.

I know this sounds a lot like the official party line from Google, but 2011 was the year they started walking the talk they have espoused for years; more and more Google ranking signals are usage-based.

One of the most powerful signals available is clickstream data, which is basically the sequence of URLs a user retrieves.  Clickstream data is available through the SERP page, Chrome, Google Toolbar, traffic routed (via peering) through Google controlled infrastructure, pages running Google Analytics and Google Adsense, Google+, and a variety of other Google services.

Taken together, Google has a clear snapshot of most of the activity that happens online. They also have hundreds of Ph.Ds. and more processing power than any other company on the planet focused on using this data to determine relevancy.

You cannot astroturf relevancy anymore. Stop chasing Page Rank and SEO rankings and start chasing your audience.

10.  Make content for people, not search engines.

For years Google has been telling us “Content Is King” and “just worry about great content, don’t worry about search engines.” As marketers, we smiled knowingly and went about getting our clients to rank. The gap between what Google said and what actually worked was enormous, and you didn’t have to look far to find companies getting rich by ignoring Google’s advice. For more than a decade, SEO practitioners focused what worked at that moment:

– First we needed to create keyword rich content on the page.

– Next we needed to create interesting, relevant content on the page.

– Next we needed to create high-quality content on the page that used the right semantic keyword.

That was then. Now we need to create content that engages users and projects the correct message about our brand. Stop worrying about manipulating search results and focus on optimizing for your customer experience.


If you can follow these resolutions for 2013, you will see your audience grow, your rankings improve, and your profits soar…and you won’t have to live in terror that the next Google update will destroy your business.

jonah stein itstheroi

 

Jonah Stein

5 Comments

  1. David Shapiro January 16th, 2013

    One of the meatiest posts I’ve read all year!

    I just did that conversion segmentation, and oddly the page load time is slightly worse for converting visitors. Pretty strange.

    Great post.

  2. Andrew Lolk January 16th, 2013

    Hey David,

    The Analytics load time tends to be inaccurate if you don’t have enough data volume. I don’t have the right answer for what qualifies as “enough data”, but it’s a pattern I’ve noticed.

    Good post, Jonah.. I especially liked #3 about pushing content up to the management level. Management has often been there the longest, are included in setting the tone/culture on a daily level and should of course be some of the ones dictating the company’s voice online.

    It depends on the organization though. Some industries are maybe better equipped with having a certain demographic produce the content in order to be on the same level as the audience.

  3. David Klein January 16th, 2013

    “Make 2013 the year that the head of the content creation team gets the same type of scrutiny (and pay) that you devote to key executives.”

    Well put. I wholeheartedly endorse the paying of qualified content creators and invite any CEO who reads this to take it to heart.

  4. Victor Pan January 30th, 2013

    What can I say… guilty on all counts and am working on all of these points (except for mobile)…

  5. Diego Ramos January 31st, 2013

    This is a crash course for starters and reminders for seasoned talent. All in there..in a nutshell.

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