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Using an audience-first approach to improve SEO performance

With constant algorithm updates, SEO has undergone a massive evolution over the years. Now you can no longer resort to black hat and gray hat approaches that involve getting tons of links from low-quality sites to boost your page ranking.

According to Rory Hope, Head of Inbound Marketing at Semetrical, effective SEO today involves delivering quality content that’s hyper-relevant to what your audience or prospective audience wants to consume, read, and learn.

And the key to doing that is taking an audience-first approacsurbsh. That involves integrating your tried-and-tested keyword research methods with audience intelligence.

In an interview with Nathaniel Schooler for the podcast series The Secrets of Audience Intelligence, Rory explained in detail how audience-first SEO can improve your performance. He also provided some useful tips on how to formulate an SEO strategy that integrates keyword intelligence and audience intelligence.

Understanding audience-first SEO

Rory explained that audience-first SEO is a new approach and a way of integrating social media into your tried-and-tested approach to keyword research. It’s a process of understanding how people search on Google for your products or services or other relevant topics.

According to Rory, the SEO landscape has shifted towards this approach “because you really have to invest that time and resource into fully understanding the audiences behind the keywords that you’re identifying as being relevant to your business.”

The specifics of this approach involve “identifying keywords relevant to your business but making sure you’ve analysed the search results to see which types of websites and pages are appearing for that given keyword or keyword segments.”

It’s crucial that you focus on gathering data that can give you an indication of what your audience wants when searching for a particular keyword and exactly who they are.

“It’s really where you’ll start to add that extra layer of value and you can craft and optimise your content, not just for the keyword but for the audiences around that keyword.”

That’s why search engine data and keyword research alone are no longer enough for your SEO strategy as they don’t tell you enough about who your audience is. In fact, Rory cited a survey by Semetrical, which found that 63% of SEOs and digital marketers don’t believe that search engine keyword data gives them enough insights to fully understanding the interests or behaviors of their target audience.

The benefits of putting your audience first

As you’d expect, an audience-first SEO strategy has a multitude of benefits – from content ideation and backlink generation to influencer discovery – all because it gives you a better understanding of your target audience.

In other words, it solves a lot of pain points for the SEO community.

Take content development, for instance. The same Semetrical survey that Rory mentioned found that 53% of the SEO community surveyed faced difficulties generating content and digital campaigns on an ongoing basis.

According to Rory, this makes a lot of sense because more than 90% of those surveyed use keyword data for their strategy development. But only 16% would consider social media data from audience intelligence platforms.

“So they’re not getting that level of interest and behavioral data about their audiences…to devise those creative campaigns that generate good digital PR results,” he explained.

Audience intelligence from social media data helps you uncover valuable insights about your audience, what resonates with them and which topics they feel an affinity to. It also allows you to identify the influential entities that have a noted affinity to your target segments and niche communities.

And all of these factors are interconnected. When you identify the influential entities, publications, and thought leaders that matter to your target audience, you can also get real-time information on what topics they’re talking about.

That means you can create content and PR campaigns that’s in line with those conversations, content that people would want to share and link to. According to Rory, this will ultimately help your brand become more relevant as well as get more backlinks and coverage. It gives you more agility than your competitors because now you’re relying on real-time data instead of data from 2 years ago.

Integrating keyword intelligence and audience intelligence

Integrating your keyword intelligence data and your audience intelligence data is the key to an audience-first SEO strategy. This can help you address some of the major pain points in SEO.

“If you’re not on the pulse of what’s being talked about by the influencers of your audience that are relevant to a keyword you care about, then you’re not going to generate the backlinks,” Rory clarified.

He explained this using a keyword segment on “new homes.” The process goes a bit like this:

  • Take the top 15 influencer entities or websites that rank well on average for that particular keyword segment.
  • Load them into an audience intelligence solution like Audiense, which is what the Semetrical team uses.
  • Then transfer them across to a social listening platform like Pulsar to track what is being talked about on a day-to-day basis.
  • This will help you uncover some themes to focus on within the “new homes” keyword segment such as sustainability, politics, business and leadership, design and architecture, property investment, and insurance and risk.
  • You can then come up with ideas around – How COVID-19 will reshape property development investment, how Gen-Z might reshape real estate in the next 30 years, and so on.

“Those types of ideas that will then be teed up to these publications and have a much greater chance of being included and linked,” he explained.

These are excerpts from the interesting interview that Nat Schooler did with Rory Hope and which can be listened to in its full version here: