Maria White promotes the value of user-centricity to SEOs in 2023 and helps you to understand how to target your strategy to please the right users in the right way.
Maria says: “You should continue to focus your SEO strategy on users. This is said from the perspective of working in-house for one of the largest fashion brands in the world.
If you work in a similar niche, no matter the size of the brand, you should focus your SEO strategy so it’s user-centric and not overspecialise or hone in on just one element within the SEO strategy.”
If you’re looking to identify the right users, how do you go about identifying where they are within their shopping journey?
“You could discover this via a virtual machine and lots of research; you could use several sources of rich research to determine who your customers are so that you can better attract them. You can also use analysis from brands - performing big analyses on where your customers lie based on engagement and several sources of data.
In terms of SEO, you should look at Google Analytics, data from physical stores, the conversion ratio of people who walk into a store, and the characteristics of those people. You can look at several sources to be able to determine the type of customer that likes to buy a product.
Look at the data you get from Google Analytics and paid teams. You can also include the data you get from physical stores. This is a great way to find out who your customer is and work out how they consume content and from which platforms.”
What software can you use to identify where they consume content at the start of their journey?
“When you’ve found out who your consumer is, it’s not easy to use Google Analytics to find out where they come from. If you’re a large enterprise brand you can use an agency like Kantar that focuses on research and tells you the types of audiences that tend to consume a type of content from a given platform.
For example, you might find that it’s TikTok or Instagram, WeChat in China, or perhaps Mercado Libre in Mexico. If you’re able to find out where your content is consumed for entertainment then you can get an idea of where prospective customers are likely to start a shopping journey. If you discover they consume most of their content on Instagram, there’s a good chance they’ll start their shopping journey on Instagram.”
Regarding Instagram, what are you trying to influence that impacts your SEO? Are you hoping to increase brand awareness via Instagram in the hope they then search for a product on Google?
“This is very interesting. Paid teams can focus their efforts on attracting relevant consumers from their current location. They would start the campaigns in various places, including Instagram, TikTok, Google Ads, etc. You could then see the engagement with the ads and perhaps how some people don’t convert when they engage with the ads.
Sometimes there’s a correlation with direct searches when you launch a campaign - it could be a strong digital PR campaign that involves national press or a very aggressive paid media campaign. There might also be evidence to suggest a correlation between consumers engaging with ads but not converting and going back to Google. They might then search for the brand separately and convert. In this case, it would be like the ad has worked as a source of influence for the consumer to then return to the transaction in Google.”
So you’re using SEO as a retargeting channel?
“In a way, but more in terms of how brand SEO works closely with paid media, PR, and engineering. My team sits right in the middle of all of those monsters. For paid media, we do use SEO as a retargeting strategy.
Another thing that worked very interestingly was creating campaigns for a Mexican audience in Mexican Spanish, which isn’t the same as local Spanish. Localisation is important. Consider Portuguese and Brazilian. When checking the translations for the Mexican audience, you’d think about tweaking and optimising here and there. When we ran these experiments in Mexico with Mexican Spanish and optimised different aspects, we noticed a hugely significant impact on direct. It’s interesting. As a campaign succeeds on paid media there can also be a spike in direct searches.”
Is it about identifying the keywords that are a little bit different in Mexican Spanish or is it about the whole phraseology being more targeted on the whole web page?
“It’s not just about localisation and translation. You can run an experiment where you use popular search terms on the ads, being super careful not to use keyword stuff. When you use popular search terms and phrases in the context of paid media, there can be a significant spike in direct searches as well. That’s where SEO works with paid media for a large brand.
You should focus on significantly improving the user experience. Last year, in June/July 2021 there were some significant changes in Google. There were changes in consumer behaviour too, where people started to go back to work in the aftermath of the pandemic. This had a big impact on consumerism as people were spending less time on-screen and buying. Traffic and rankings were healthy, but revenue was down a bit. Also, we had a platform migration that affected rankings and organic. This year, one of the biggest things you could focus on is Core Web Vitals. Work with the engineering team to monitor changes that you can test on the SERP for a group. You can then monitor the Core Web Vitals when you deploy changes in that group of pages. You can then deploy them across the entire website and the whole brand.
As you might notice, we went from SEO working with paid media to SEO working with engineering and PR. Don’t overspecialise and keep focusing your SEO strategy on the ways your consumers like to read, consume, and engage with content. Provide a good experience rather than going for keywords.”
Regarding conventional areas of SEO, like ranking generic keyword phrases in Google search, is that not important for you anymore?
“It is. Let’s say someone is looking for a specific type of boots and walks into a store but thinks, ‘I’m not going to spend $100 right now.’ They go back home and start looking around for that pair of boots and enter ‘women’s boots Nike’. They’d either get results from a third-party retailer or the Nike website itself. If there was an issue, or the product was out of stock on the Nike website, one of Nike’s concessions could rank and the seller could go to them instead. When you work for a big brand you’ll be close to number one for every single keyword among branded and non-branded terms.”
Is it not just about getting the sale, then, but getting the sale in the right place?
“Yes. You could fluctuate from position one to three and that could mean that another one of your websites is ranking first for some reason. Maybe your competitors show first at a given moment. What are you doing about this?
Strategy is looking at this. Looking at how the numbers are different for specific products, or perhaps removing one brand and a specific model and making it available on just one website. Maybe that’s what we’re moving toward rather than just having the same product available everywhere.”
Does an SEO need to be aware of the overall business, profit margins, and different products and where they’d prefer to make the sale from?
“That is reflected in budgets. Obviously, if you make more money on one brand you’re going to have more and more budget than you would be spending on other brands.
Something very interesting that we learnt this year was that when a product is out of stock and someone searches for it, your concessions can easily go up to number one. Then the client could go there and buy it, which is still revenue because it’s a concession. We sell products via concessions like Harrods, John Lewis, etc. Rankings are important when a concession brand is similar to the brand you’re working for. Rankings are important, but you need to make sure you’re not losing ranking against concessions or your own brands.”
What shouldn’t SEOs be doing in 2023? What’s seductive in terms of time, but ultimately counterproductive?
“Overspecialisation, and just focusing on one topic. We’ve all been guilty of that in the past. If we’ve nailed one topic when we want to write about it, talk about it, carry on, and suddenly it’s been a year and we’ve only focused on one thing because that’s the one we want to dominate in.
Overspecialistion is not good. If there is a young new SEO reading this - in the early years you should focus on one channel first and build it up from there. As you gain experience you can become more of an all-rounder. Focus on being a digital PR and not a content strategist or technical SEO because that won’t be sustainable. If you start as a digital PR, you’ll progress to content strategy and then technical SEO and so on.
As you advance in your career and you’re in a job where you move from department to department, you’ll need to be able to explain the effects of everyone’s work in SEO. You’ll finally be able to specialise when the time is right. If you tried to do this from the outset, it wouldn’t be sustainable, nor good for your mental health. Be cognizant of the classic saying: Jack of all trades, master of none.”
Maria White is the Head of SEO at Kurt Geiger and you can find her @Maria_Amelie on Twitter.
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