And why it matters for marketing and SEO.
I first started freelancing in 2003. I spent a lot of time writing blog posts and other content for small business owners via Odesk (now UpWork). Search Engine Optimization (SEO) was fairly new back then, the term is believed to have originated in 1997.
Search Engine Optimization Then
All the internet gurus were advising businesses on how to “rank on Google” and how to do it quickly. Back then, the algorithm was much more mathematical. It was easy to “trick” the search engines and get your content on the first page of Google.
As a result, I was often asked by my clients to hit a specific keyword density (number of times the keyword is used). Clients back then told me it didn’t matter what I wrote, as long as the keyword density was at the level they wanted.
It was just not in my nature to write nonsense or to write stuff that wasn’t accurate; I did the research anyhow, but it paid very little. I soon stopped taking projects from these types of clients.
Because of these types of website owners, there was a plethora of content on the internet that was nonsense. Some articles even had sentences that just didn’t make sense. It was all because website owners cared more about ranking and drawing traffic than they did about providing valuable content.
Business owners were being told they had to rank on Google to get traffic. So their goal was publishing as much content as possible on their website so they could draw traffic and boost their site ranking. It sounds crazy now, but it was common practice then.
Search Engine Optimization Now
But SEO has come a very long way since those days. There have been multiple upgrades to the Google search algorithm. Google and other search engines have progressed. Most are much more capable of analyzing content based on more than just repetition of words.
In fact, there are now over 200 factors that go into whether or not any piece of content ranks on Google’s first page. A few of these factors include internal and external links, site speed, bounce rate, site structure, metadata, and many others.
Search engines now are also capable of recognizing natural language and conversational tone, visual and infographics, and video content. The algorithm can even distinguish valuable content from poor content or “thin” content. All of these changes have made it much harder to simply game the system.
The future of SEO is all about user experience.
Of course, you can use paid ads to rank in those top spots on Google. But paid ads can be costly and not everyone has the budget for this technique, especially as a new business. Today, the best way to rank organically on Google’s SERP (search engine results page) is to provide the best possible user experience with your content.
There are some mechanical factors that go into providing a good experience such as site speed, optimization for mobile users, eliminating broken links, reducing errors, and others. It can be difficult to understand all 200 factors that go into your content ranking. Unfortunately, there’s never a guarantee of ranking unless you have the budget for paid ads.
But there are tools you can use to address some of the ranking factors such as Google Search Console and mobile optimization views offered by many web page builders. The future of SEO is all about providing the best user experience.
You can provide the best user experience with your content, if you understand your customers and what they are looking for when they perform a Google search.
The Buyers’ Journey
There are three main stages all buyers go through:
When you write your content, think about what stage of the buyers’ journey your reader is in when doing their Google search. What is their intent or purpose in searching? What do they need? Can you provide information that will help them move to the next stage of the journey? If your post satisfies your user, you stand a much better chance of ranking organically on Google’s first SERP.
At this stage, the buyer has recently become aware of a need they have or a problem. Your content should focus on the pain points of the problem and on making potential customers aware of your product or service as a solution.
Searchers at this stage are looking for how to get more information about their problem or need.
Content that satisfies the user at this stage in the buyers’ journey will typically be more educational in nature. Examples of content that satisfies the user at this point are whitepapers, webinars, reviews (to see what solved the problem for others,) e-books, and checklists.
Buyers at this stage are beginning to recognize their problem and are interested in more information about how to solve it. Your content should increase awareness of available options, including your services. It should also help them determine how relevant the issue is for them and provide information they need to continue the journey.
Very few people jump to a solution for a problem without exploring alternatives. The awareness stage alerts potential customers to the fact that they have a need or problem and that there are multiple solutions or options.
At the evaluation stage, the buyer is trying to determine which option is the best solution for their problem.
Content to satisfy the user at this stage of the buyers’ journey should help them understand what features or other things they need to consider to make a decision.
The best content to satisfy the user at this stage is content that compares and contrasts different solutions or gives in-depth information about one solution. In-depth content on features common across the options is helpful at this stage.
Examples of content that helps move a user to the next stage of the journey (decision or purchase) are buyers’ guides, case studies, demonstrations, and other content that shows them how the product or service will solve their problem.
Users who have moved to the decision stage of the buyers’ journey are ready to buy or commit. They’ve evaluated their options and have narrowed it down typically to one or two potential solutions. They’re going to buy or commit to a solution.
To satisfy your user at this stage, your content should reinforce your solution as the best option.
Content that satisfies the user at this stage will be live training, launch events, or user guides. The content you provide should show them exactly what it will be like to implement your solution.
The changes to SEO are great news for business owners who are committed to providing value for their readers and potential customers. If you focus on writing content that helps your user make informed decisions about a solution to their problem, you’ll satisfy your user and win “points” with Google’s ranking system.
Of course, there are those other approximately two hundred factors that go into ranking with Google, so there are no guarantees.
But the more you focus on providing value and the more educated you become on how to satisfy your users at each stage of the buyers’ journey, the easier it will be to rank with Google and attract your ideal customer/reader.
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Meg Stewart has been freelancing for nearly two decades. She’s a multi-passionate skill hoarder and the intersection of freelance writing, technology, and teaching is her sweet spot. Freelance Filter was founded to help writers get paid and help solopreneurs do business better. Meg and her family, (along with two dogs, two cats, and two leopard geckos), live in Northeast Ohio.