SEO continues to be a highly important online marketing tactic. Marketers must find a way to tackle this increasingly complex and challenging area head-on in order to rise in their search rankings, get more traffic to their websites, and improve lead conversion.

Follow this Off Page SEO Process

This area of SEO refers to the optimization of everything that happens online but off your website such as your blog articles that are posted, syndicated, and shared on your social channels.

On page SEO – the optimization of your website – is another topic that only affects 25% of the ranking on your search results. This is one of the reasons off page SEO is of particular importance to online marketers, especially those focused on organic results (not advertising).

Our best practice recommendations are based on authoritative sources as well as our own research and experience with the SEO we conduct on behalf of our clients as part of delivering on an online or inbound marketing strategy.

Step 1: Create your Customer Persona

Personas should be an integral part of any internet marketing program. In order to address these very specific customer profiles, a business has to think hard about what this person’s demographics, needs, habits, as well as search and social media behaviors are. Find more information on creating personas with our customer persona webinar and resource kit.

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Getting it right with your customer persona is a vital online marketing tactic on which to base your keywords for better search results.

Step 2: Find the Right Keywords

This is where searching for keywords that best fit your personas starts. Not only do you have to consider what terms they might be searching for, but also where they are in the buyer journey, as recommended by the widely used Moz platform, a top source for keyword research and inbound marketing analytics.

The process could look like this:

  1. For Chrome or Firefox users, install Keywords Everywhere extension to see search volume and price in Google searches (bottom of Search Engine Results Page – may need to be reloaded to appear)
  2. Create a keyword research spreadsheet with the following columns:
    1. Head term keyword
    2. Long tail keyword (>3)
    3. Relevance for your brand
    4. Monthly search volume
    5. Monthly rank
    6. Difficulty (<50)
    7. Notes
  3. Enter your head term keywords or buckets based on the persona (<3 terms)
  4. Search for long tail keywords using the tools listed below
  5. Delete these keyword strings (unless you are ambitious and willing to make extra efforts to reach them):
    1. Search volumes <10 per month or very high (thousands)
    2. Competition of High (choose Medium or Low)
    3. Difficulty higher than 0.5m (of 1) or 50 (of 100)

Now that you have a few dozen or hundred long tail keywords, you may want to repeat the process for various stages of the sales funnel in order to catch prospects throughout their buyer journeys.

The Five Stages of the Buyer Journey

To the classic AIDA every marketing student has learned, we add a fifth stage, that of Customer Care (CC), or what HubSpot calls Delight.

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1. Awareness of the Issue

At this first stage, the persona is aware of an issue, starts to casually ask around, and search broadly. This takes place at the top of the sales funnel with anonymous visitors coming to your site driven by keyword research or social browsing.

The kinds of keywords you need to find here are more general, perhaps preceded by “why”, “what is”, or “how to”. While you will never beat Wikipedia, it is possible to obtain good results with carefully selected long tail keywords.

According to Google/Millward Brown Digital, in B2B an average of twelve searches are performed at the top of the funnel and before solutions are sought through brands (with 46% of searchers now Millenials).

2. Interest in a Solution

At the middle of the funnel, your visitor converts to a lead (named visitor with email address) because they have shown interest in your informational resources on the general topic by registering for a download, as a blog or RSS subscriber, or becoming a social media follower and clicking through on your content.

3. Desire while Comparing and Researching Brands

The prospect is now conducting competitive research and looking into best-fit brands for their solution. Your brand will hopefully be among them (image shows top 20 B2B brands in the UK).

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Keywords for this stage may include “review”, “best”, “compare”, and similar terms. Some of the keyword suggestion tools, such as Übersuggest are excellent at extending your keyword buckets into strings (with a desirable monthly volume above 10).

By placing the selected list in a tool that shows a competitiveness of 50 or less (out of 100) or a rank below 30 (landing on the first three pages of a Google search, thus covering 70% of searches), you now have a long tail keyword that will get results reflected in your sales funnel metrics.

4. Action to Buy Your Branded Product

Here the prospect is at the bottom of the funnel or buyer journey and ready to make a purchase decision. They have turned from an MQL (Marketing-Qualified Lead) to an SQL (Sales-Qualified Lead). In the B2B or complex B2C world, they are highly qualified and ready for a sales or upper management contact.

This juncture is a critical and delicate place best facilitated through marketing and sales integration and regulated through a Sales Level Agreement (SLA). The extensive 2015 Inbound Marketing and Sales study downloadable below has shown that companies with such an arrangement are especially effective in their lead conversion to customers.

Keywords appropriate at this stage often contain your brand name or that of your competition. This is where competitive research tools such as SEMrush described below are particularly useful, though findings in their reports apply to all stages of the funnel.

5. Delight and Buying More

The Customer Care or Delight phase is your opportunity to keep this customer happy, service her above expectations, and up-sell for more comprehensive services or additional products. If you are looking for how to get more business online, customer retention is your most effective strategy, since your client base will continue to have needs and research new solutions you might be developing as their needs change.

This customer service stage is a perfect opportunity to delight with relevant offerings, resources, and ways to address new needs. Also, 82% of businesses agree that customer retention is cheaper than having to acquire a new one due to churn.

At this stage, relevant keyword buckets have to do with extended services, product upgrades, and new offers relevant to the more advanced user, the customer you wish to delight and keep.

Step 3: Use the Best SEO Tools

All too many tools are focused on SEM (Search Engine Marketing, which is online advertising) a.k.a. PPC (Pay-per-Click). Some of them, however, are particularly useful in the organic search arena, which is the focus of inbound marketing and sales.

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For marketers not (yet) using HubSpot, these are the tools to use:

  • SEMrush is an excellent tool for both PPC and organic that provides keyword reports on your and competitive domains (at a fee).
  • Google Trends is another place to look, though the key focus of Google is to sell ads (e.g. use of their PPC platforms).
  • Moz Open Site Explorer (OSE): very in-depth and professional, needs a Moz Pro subscription
  • Moz has numerous other great tools, one of the most useful for organic search beingMoz Keyword Difficulty
  • Übersuggest: this is one of the coolest free tools that gives countless keyword suggestions with volume and cost, handy if used in combination with a tool that assesses difficulty (see above).
  • Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools): sign in from your Google (Analytics) account, comprehensive for volume
  • Canirank is a very powerful tool that computes a proprietary “Ranking Probability” percentage. The free trial is unfortunately pretty useless and inadequate for convincing a trial user.
  • For Chrome users, install the Keywords Everywhere extension to see search volume (and PPC price) in Google searches. You can find this at the bottom of your Search Engine Results Page (SERP) under Related Searches (see illustration below). Sometimes you need to reload the page to see this.

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For the more fortunate HubSpot subscribers, even the Basic level platform provides an easy-to-use, though somewhat limited keyword research tool as well as keyword optimization for content – easy to use, quick and effective for campaigns, email workflows, and other online marketing tactics (see below for more on HubSpot SEO tools).

Of course there are other factors than keywords that affect your search results. For a comprehensive and short overview, Moz has done great ranking factor research over the years. You will see that inbound links are another highly important area of SEO, one that is driven by such tactics as guest blogging, social media, internet directory and local listings, and online PR.

Step 4: Analyze, Test and Repeat

The above is one of the HubSpot mantras that, while appearing trivial, is powerful in its application. Detailed metrics beyond data that you can understand and act on will allow you to keep bettering results and build on what is working while sidelining what is not.

The HubSpot suite of marketing and sales tools is built for this online kaizen process of continuous improvement. Results for the longest-standing Versio2 customer have demonstrated how metrics and ROI continue to rise over time as shown in this case study that includes activities and metrics.

Consider that most long tail keywords (three terms or more) lose their power for your brand over time, because search behavior is evolving as your offering adapts to customer needs requiring new and useful keywords. Search engine algorithms are also evolving with some updates creating major change. All of this necessitates a keyword review every six to twelve months.

Four Keyword Research Tools in HubSpot

For HubSpot marketing automation software subscribers, some of the ways of obtaining fresh and suitable keywords is as follows in brief.

  1. Use the Keyword Suggestion tool and add new keywords (with the metrics you want).
  2. Research the competition, authoritative blogs, and related platforms for keywords using the Social Monitoring tool. Find keywords they use and add relevant ones.
  3. Review your inbound traffic with the Sources tool filtered for Organic Traffic, though this has become close to non-functional since Google has made its keyword search terms inaccessible. 
  4. Review your current keywords in the Keywords tool by looking at volume, rank and difficulty periodically (more than you can see in Google Analytics) since these metrics change constantly.

When looking for off page SEO services, simply find a good inbound marketing agency and look no further. While this area is an important one, it’s only one of the building blocks of the inbound marketing and sales methodology, which touches not just one, but all areas of the online customer journey and lead conversion process.

Off Page SEO Take-Aways

Don’t we love a tasty take-out? Okay, so this is what you can take with you and munch on during your lunch break as a simplified off page SEO checklist:

  • Base your work on personas
  • Use a combination of the best tools 
  • Adapt keywords to the buyer journey
  • Forget the low-hanging fruit, it’s all been eaten, so…
  • Don’t get discouraged, you are in good company and will…
  • Succeed by constantly adapting and learning

What has been your experience with keyword research? How important has it been in your internet marketing program? We welcome your comments and want you to download the attached resource for further reading. Please share this article if you have found it useful.

Written by
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Stephan Burckhardt

This marketing vet is based in Greater Vancouver, Canada. He has worked in B2B marketing in Silicon Valley and Europe, was CEO of a large agency serving B2B startups, trans-nationals, and everything in between. Focus: technology, healthcare, professional services.
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