Most people begin the buying process with research. Frequently, the company that provides the best information gets the business. This is the fundamental concept behind how search engines like Google, Yahoo and MSN work. Search engines rank web pages based on their relevancy to the term or phrase that the searcher entered. Since most research, even business-to-business, begins with a query at a search engine, it pays to appear on the first page of search results.
This can be done two ways; through search engine marketing (SEM), which is paid placement on the search results page, or search engine optimization (SEO) which is when a page appears near the top of the non-paid, or “organic” results. The most effective strategy is to have your web pages appear in both places. Because search engines categorize web pages based on relevancy to the searcher, an effective strategy for search engine optimization (SEO) is content marketing. A good search strategy does more than just pull in potential prospects; it also provides valuable, timely information that helps real people solve real problems.
Segment to Understand Need
What information are customers and prospects likely to be looking for? Think about your audience, the situation they are in and the behavior that will result. Now, what information they will be looking for? If you haven’t segmented your audience, take some time to think this through from a situational standpoint.
Evaluate the Information You Have Available
Provide information about how your industry, your brand and your products can improve customers’ lives. Look at your expertise, history, processes, methodologies–all of these have potential for valuable information. And remember, good product information is critical, but many consumers need supporting information before they make a decision. A company that sells residential solar panels can provide easy-to-understand information on the types of solar panels available for residential installation, why solar is better than wind energy, checklists for evaluating suppliers, etc. And don’t forget the back story. Many people are interested in the inner workings of your research lab or your design process.
Categorize Keywords and Concepts
Now that you’ve identified what information a person may be looking for, make a list of two- to three-word search concepts. For our solar company example these might be “residential solar panels,” and “alternative energy for homes.” Keep it to two or three word phrases, as single words are virtually impossible to rank high for. These are your keywords. Once you have these keywords, broaden the list by using a tool like Quintura or SEO Book’s keyword tool to see what related terms have been used at search engines. Add these to the list and group them into related terms. Then, edit again.
This is a repetitive process. Ultimately, you need to land on a manageable number of terms. Now what is “manageable?” That depends on your budget and the size of your development team. Each group of related terms needs a page or section of its own in order to even have a hope of ranking well with search engines, so if you have a limited budget or limited time, begin with a smaller number of terms. Also, this allows you to track your results and tweak a smaller number of pages during the learning process.
Develop Relevant Content
Now that you’ve identified keywords, match your content to these key term and phrases. Use white papers, historical information and research information to develop pages and articles of interest to your customer. Have the content written to be interesting to users, yet keyword rich to appeal to search engine spiders. Where appropriate, include links within your articles that refer readers to other sources of information. There’s a wealth of information from educational (.edu) and government (.gov) sites. By linking out to other sources of authoritative information you provide added value and improved relevance to your site visitors. Make sure any articles you post feature a way for readers to easily bookmark the page in social bookmarking sites like delicious, digg or reddit. Search engines love social bookmarking sites as they provide a non-biased way to know what is popular with users.
Develop a Distribution Strategy
After posting your content to your web site think about how to extend it out. In addition to relevant, keyword-rich content, search engines like to see links back to your site. This is a vote of confidence and tells search engines that your content is relevant to users. If you have unique content like research results or industry expertise, consider sharing it with authoritative sites. Do not, however, share general information or content that is already prevalent on the web. A few web searches can help you understand what’s out there already.
Think Beyond the Web Site
Now that you have it, use it again with minimal additional investment, content can be distributed via a number of other channels.
Make sure the content is meaningful. No one reads newsletters full of corporate fluff. Newsletter articles should provide value to the reader.
Consider developing a company blog that keeps key customers updated on important industry and company information. Again, think about what the reader would be interested in. Blogs are also a good way to establish your company as an industry thought leader.
While this is a relatively new channel it may be worth establishing a group and/or page for your company at popular social networking sites like Facebook, My Space and/or Linked In. Each of these communities has its own characteristics which may or may not be appropriate for your company. Any social media presence should be carefully considered as part of an integrated on line strategy.
Step Seven: Start Small and Start Now
Whether you have an existing website or need to set one up, take the time to work through a sound information strategy and it will pay off. Begin thinking about how you want to be perceived on the web and start gathering the content you need. Engage the services of an information marketing specialist to help bring it all together. You might be pleasantly surprised at how quickly you can get up and running.