For some time, I decided to give up on SEO. Tired of worrying about keyword search volume and competition, I would focus on searcher intent, not the search engines themselves. It often seems that trying to write for a moving target like an ever-evolving search algorithm is really counterproductive. Sure, there are people out there making a lot of money trying to "crack the code" and get "instant results." But, true sustained success doesn't work that way.
What I would come to find is that you still need SEO. But your potential audience’s questions must always come first. SEO should be a tool to capture your audience, not be what drives your overall content. Instead, it makes the most sense to find what your audience is searching for and how they are searching for it. It's not just about finding the trending topics and keyword phrases. There's a lot more to it than that.
Once you know your audience’s burning questions, it’s simple as answering them. But, it’s sometimes difficult figuring out exactly what those questions to answer actually are. So, how do you find these questions?
Can Chasing Long Tail Keyword Phrases Help You Discover the Right Questions to Ask?
Many SEO services claim to help you chase the "long-tail" keyword phrases that deliver valuable search traffic. Some of these services are quite reputable and they do fantastic research in finding golden opportunities to take advantage of in search. But you’ll be happy to learn you can actually save a bit of money; you can do a lot of this work on your own with just a bit of critical thinking.
Think about the questions that your audience have asked you or might ask you. Those are the questions you base your writing around. Then, if you do find something trending, there's no hurt in writing about it. But, try to spin it in a way where that information will still be useful down the road. That’s what’s known as evergreen content - information that will be good for years down the road. Then, after you’ve done the writing, then work on finding keyword phrases that will get it found and integrate them naturally throughout your content.
There are many different perspectives on how to create content in an organized and systematic way. Particularly in business blogging, the most predominant method is understanding "buyer personas." By this method, popularized by marketing giant Hubspot, a business would go through an entire process of researching where these fictional characters are on the "buyer's journey" and what they are asking search engines at various points on that journey. The common interests and habits of these people are often also considered as supplemental content to lure in people not even realizing they're being led to a landing page to a sell a product that's actually unrelated. While I’ve never been terribly fond of creating hundreds or even thousands of landing pages, understanding the buyer's journey is actually a good idea.
But, wait… What if I’m not a business and I’m not selling anything? It turns out that everyone out there is a buyer of some sort, even if they’re just seeking information. So, what is the buyer’s journey?
How Can Understanding the Buyer’s Journey Help Me Ask the Right Questions with My Content?
The buyer's journey consists of three stages: identifying a problem, researching solutions for that problem, and making a decision on purchasing or otherwise acquiring that solution. Obviously, depending on which of those three stages a potential reader or client may be in that journey, different questions are asked.
Many companies come to a better understanding of their audiences through market research. But you don’t need to hire market research experts to do this. You don’t need to worry about marketing funnels or lead capturing - except maybe for email subscribers. For purposes of web writing, you’re not really looking to build landing pages or anything. You should be most interested about the topics themselves, and why people ask certain questions about them.
The psychology has always been more fascinating to me than the attempt to create a perfect "persona" that defines your target audience. You're not writing for personas, after all. You're writing for real life people. Yes, well-researched personas can lead to a lot of successful content being created. But you don't need a big marketing company and a huge staff to be successful in knowing what your audience wants. You just have to put yourself in your audience’s shoes. Imagine what questions they may be asking, and seek out how to create the most valuable answers for them.
Answering people's questions successfully and thoughtfully positions your as a thought leader on a given topic. Not every piece of content has to be a sales pitch, after all. You should always focus on the best answers you can give, then soft-sell a solution if you have one.
But, What If I Don’t Have the Answers to My Audience’s Burning Questions?
If you can't answer the questions, it's possible there are other expert sources out there that can. This is where curating content comes in handy. Whether the answers come from your competitors or non-competitors it doesn’t matter. The trick is to combine information and ideas that answer questions into a resource that people will find.
Basically, the best way to do it begins with simply typing a question into a search engine. If it's not clearly answered without some work, you can do the legwork, and create content that brings answers to searchers quickly. The search engines smile on well-researched content that clearly shows effort to answer questions. People will remember that you were the one who answered their questions, not where you got the information from, even if a source was actually a competitor!
Creating personas for your audience is cool and may help you better understand where your audience is coming from. But the real trick to knowing the right questions to answer is to naturally provide timely and useful answers for everyday questions. You may find that while your "hits" may not be as high as some marketing gurus may promise you, your interaction and organic traffic will be a lot better than you might expect.
Quit obsessing over SEO. Just answer your audience’s questions. Once you know what those are, you’ll find your content being a lot more valuable and successful. Stay on top of answering your audience’s questions the best that you can, and eventually you’ll profit!
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