One of the most common misconceptions about SEO is that its sole purpose is to rank first for a set of keywords. This can cause a lot of strategic mistakes, as well as confusion, when you’re planning your marketing strategy. Before I give you some advice on how your strategy should probably look, though, let’s look at why this confusion exists in the first place. (Don’t worry, it won’t take long!)
SEO Then vs. SEO Now
In the earliest days of SEO, this was mostly true, and it meant that there were several “best practices” that nowadays would be considered spammy at best, misleading at worst. If you had a page that said “ice cream cones” 500 times, there’s a good chance that your page could rank for “ice cream cones,” even though the page itself was likely too repetitive to be useful. Back then, you might think of Google as a tool that answered the question “What is this page about?”
Nowadays, there are different rules and expectations for how SEO works. Keyword stuffing is (mostly) a thing of the past, and with the advancements that search engines like Google have produced in recent years, SEO is now about analyzing many factors: the content of the page, the markup on third-party pages, the way that other sites link to you, how good a page other people who have seen it think it was, and other factors that Google won’t officially tell you. All of these are used to determine if a page is going to make you happy. Now you might say that Google is a tool for providing you with the best answer for your need.
Think about the computer on the Starship Enterprise. I frequently refer to it as an idea of what Google may aspire to be. If you asked the computer for “the best ice cream cones in the galaxy,” would you prefer a response that said “ice cream cones” 500 times? Or a response that said, “The best ice cream cones in the galaxy come from a shop on a distant Vulcan planet. Vanilla is the most popular flavor. You are currently 20 minutes away at warp 6 speed.” Clearly, the second answer is the most useful! It’s not exactly a coincidence, either, that this is much closer to how you would expect a real person to respond to your question.
Source: MIKI Yoshihito, Creative Commons
Defining Search Intent
With all this in mind, it should follow that defining SEO as a way to “rank first” is no longer enough. Think about all of the millions of people making billions of searches every year: Is there one page on the internet that’s always going to be the best answer for every one of them? Of course not. If I search for “best shoes,” you can bet that what I’m looking for is going to be very different from someone who’s looking for, say, soccer cleats, or cowboy boots, or even just women’s shoes. The right answer for every searcher is going to be personalized and unique, and hopefully will have something very specific to do with them.
What we’re talking about now is called search intent. It means that when you — or someone else, like a potential patient — make a search, you have an idea of what it is that you’re looking for. As modern digital marketers, we have to take that into account when we decide how to activate our marketing strategy. It makes sense, right? If I search for “hearing aids,” you need to know if I mean “how do hearing aids work?” or “who should I buy my hearing aids from?” I know what my search intent is (because I typed it), but to a complete stranger, the facts are murkier because there’s less context.
Applying This to Your Marketing Strategy
OK, now we can start to talk about the actual strategy. First, remember how we began: SEO is not about ranking No. 1 all of the time for every keyword; it can’t be, because it won’t always be the best answer. Instead, you want to make your content, or your ad, or whatever it may be, the best answer for a very specific question. As we said before, this is hard to do for basic searches. Think about these ones: “hearing aids,” “tinnitus,” or “audiologist.” How do you know whether these are potential patients or just people looking to understand what the terms mean? Wouldn’t it be better if you could target searches like, “where can I buy hearing aids?” or “where can I get treatment for my ringing ears?” or “I’m looking for the best audiologist near me”?
The answer is yes. These questions provide a lot more information about the searcher’s intent: that they’re interested in services, that they’re looking for help with symptoms that they are currently experiencing, and that they’re looking for a service provider who is geographically nearby. Think about how much more precise those thoughts are, and you can begin to understand how much easier it is to provide “the best answer” for any of them.
Let’s step back for a second and see how we might do this in a related field, PPC, which is often considered a sister field to SEO. In PPC, you might build an ad about how you sell the best hearing aids in Anywhere, U.S.A. You would then target that ad specifically to keywords that include things like “hearing aids” but not “free,” because you don’t want to just give away your product. You could also target a specific ZIP code to help make sure that you aren’t advertising your sales outside of your normal range of business. That all makes sense, right?
You can use a similar perspective when conducting your SEO. Instead of making a page that simply defines what you do, you need to make sure you identify those ancillary qualifiers that are going to be on the mind of your ideal patient prospect. For example, say that you want to reach people near your office. Talk about your city: places of note that you’re located next to; how you’re involved with the local sports team; how no one in Anywhere, U.S.A., sells better hearing aids than you do; or writing an official response to a local issue.
See the similarity? You’re providing highly specific content that matches a highly specific search intent.
Targeting the Bottom of the Conversion Funnel
That’s part of the strategy; but how do you determine what kinds of searchers you want to reach (or how do you determine what kinds of search intent to develop content for)? Here, you have to be both creative and evaluative. Obviously, you’d like to get potential patients in the doors of your practice — so ask yourself what kinds of questions those people would have.
Source: Creative Commons
Marketers sometimes talk about “funnels” when they talk about a consumer’s path to purchase. We use this imagery because there are always a lot more people that are interested in a topic in general terms (the top of the funnel, or the widest part) than there are who are ready to convert right away (the bottom of the funnel). In audiology, a classic top-of-the-funnel search query might be “hearing aids.” Why? Because it’s so simple that you’re likely to have more people searching for it, and based on the limited information we have on search intent, it might be referring to a lot of very general, nonconverting questions; for instance, it might mean “who uses hearing aids,” “what’s in the news about hearing aids,” or even “what is a hearing aid,” none of which would be very promising in terms of patient conversion.
Incidentally — and this is important — a lot of the results you’ll see for a search as simple as “hearing aids” are going to be for websites that you frankly can’t compete with. Take a look at this example from my own search:
See what I mean? The results that show up are for huge, well-established brands and domains, medical journals, news sites, and the like. Not one of them is for an actual place to buy a hearing aid, much less one that’s nearby. To be clear, Google decided that the search intent of my query “hearing aids” was to find general, topical information on hearing aids, and not that I was in the market to buy.
This is why we focus on bottom-of-the-funnel search intent: the people further along in their search, who already know that they have a need, they have some idea of what product they want, and they’re now looking for where to get it. They want to find you — they just don’t know it yet. Search intent at the bottom of the funnel has a lot more useful information in it, because the searcher is providing information about their more specific needs.
Now’s a good time to practice. Take a look at these potential searches, and see if you can determine which ones are at the bottom of the funnel:
- history of hearing aids
- loud concert help
- cheap hearing aids costco anywhere usa
- hearing aids for sale near me
Of these, option #4 is your best best for a bottom-of-the-funnel search. At the very least, it’s the most likely. Can you see why?
- “History of hearing aids” implies a need for general information, not a readiness to buy.
- Someone who’s been at a loud concert recently may have ringing in their ears, but “loud concert help” could also be about someone who wants to know how to prepare themselves for a loud concert, or someone who has a loud event in their neighborhood and wants to do something about it.
- While “cheap hearing aids costco anywhere usa” definitely shows an intent to buy, there are red flags here, one being that they’re already interested in a competitor (Costco). Unless you’re Costco, you’re not what they’re looking for.
- Bingo. A search for “hearing aids for sale near me” clearly shows that the search intent is making a purchase. This is simply the most likely of these searches to be coming from a potential patient.
Tying This All Together
At the top of this blog, I mentioned that the role of SEO is no longer just to rank first for a particular set of keywords. Instead, it’s the practice of making your site the best possible resource for your potential patients. In order to do that, you need to identify your potential patients, know what they need, and cater your content to them. This is a win-win for you and searchers: After all, what difference does it make if you get the most traffic if it’s not coming from potential patients? Likewise, what good is it for a potential patient if they were to find your site and then not find what they need?
By identifying your potential patients’ needs and wants, and testing ways that they might be searching for solutions to those needs, you can develop a great SEO campaign for your practice. If you’re still focused on just ranking for keywords, you’re missing the big picture for your marketing. You’re also missing out on providing service to potential patients who are interested in converting.
Bonus: Don’t Forget Your CRO!
One last thing to keep in the back of your mind: Conversion Rate Optimization, usually called CRO, is quickly becoming one of the hottest talking points in SEO. While technically a separate field, the two work together very well. In general, you can think of CRO as testing, observing, and tweaking content based off of data you collect, in order to improve user experience and, ultimately, conversions. Think of it as the science of making your content even more useful. As you’ll recall, Google wants to provide the most relevant, useful answer to a searcher’s query, so performing CRO helps by identifying how potential patients want to use your content. The details of how this is done are for another conversation; but for now, just remember that you’re not done once you publish your excellent new blog piece. You’ll want to continually monitor, test, and update that content to make sure it continues to be useful. That’s stage two. That’s CRO. (And yes: Audigy has a CRO program specifically dedicated to these tasks!)
Still need a bit of help with your content and SEO strategy? No problem — it’s tricky. Contact an Audigy marketing manager or someone on the digital team with your questions. We’d love to help you with your strategy!