How I Do Keyword Homework

This year, I took on a really dynamic reimagining of our YS Blog. We weren’t seeing the results we wanted and I was tasked with figuring out a solution for it. Before I knew how to fix it, I needed to know what exactly I was fixing. So I started doing my homework.

At the end of 2-months, I had come up with a strategy to help our team stay up to date on the keyword’s that our customers search for online. This strategy informs the content we create and curate for the YS Blog, in our marketing materials, and the elements involved in our live events. Here’s a crude drawing of that strategy on a Coffee Hound napkin.

customer personas

After a little searching, I found that this is called a persona-based content strategy, which means that our content begins and ends with the customer in mind. Honestly, it’s a really simple concept and something I assumed we were already doing. But we weren’t getting the results we wanted, so jumped into each aspect of the strategy to see what we were missing.

I started with the customer. 

I spent a significant amount of time on market research, customer surveys, and the little CRM data we had. I tried to see what our customer base was already interacting with, where they were spending their time online, and what products/services of ours and our competitors they were talking about the most.

I also made special note of the questions they asked in independent forums and groups that operated outside of our digital properties. Our customer base speaks freely about us and our competitors in those spaces, and they turn to each other for recommendations. The questions that our customer base asks in these spaces are like huge flags to me. I pay attention to them to know how people describe our products and services, I listen to how they compare us with our competitors, and I look for any clues for what is missing in the market place. Is there a need for a product that hasn’t been created yet? If so, then there’s an incredible opportunity. 

My research revealed what I believed to be the biggest problem with our content:

We were answering questions that no one was asking.

The content we were creating was meant to answer very specific questions for our customers. The problem was that we made a lot of assumptions about those questions and our assumptions were wrong. To be fair, our customer base used to ask those questions. But they don’t anymore. The market has changed, their needs have adjusted, and now, in 2016, they are asking different questions than they were years before.

When all of these details clicked, I realized that our assumptions had to be informing other ideas about our customer base. So I moved into our customer personas.

I categorized customer data into new personas. 

As I was collecting information from our customer base, I started to group the data according to current trends that I was seeing. Those groupings eventually developed into customer personas, which are meant to help our team envision every facet of our customers so that we fully understand the forces at work in their lives that might influence their decisions.

Since we’re a national organization, I ended up with a rather lengthy list of customer personas. But each persona represented one type of customer with specific set of needs based off of life-situations, circumstances, and approaches to their daily work.

This is the point in the process where light-bulbs started to turn on.

As I started to define each persona, I realized that we had been limiting our vision to a singular point of transaction (i.e. – store purchase, event registration, etc.) rather than considering all the elements that might influence that transaction. If we can understand all of the things that influence a customer’s decision to complete a transaction, then we can create a healthier relationship with that customer that lives way beyond a single purchase. Those things influencing our customers’ decisions is what I wanted to focus on next.

I defined a new set of felt-needs. 

With the revelation that we had been limiting our content to answering so few questions from our customer base (and a lot of them were the wrong questions), I leaned into my new customer personas to figure out all the questions we had been missing. Those questions developed into a list of 127 felt-needs.

Each felt-need links up with a specific pain point in a customer persona. Those pain points turn into questions for our customers, and if we know the questions our customer’s are asking, then we know the keywords they’ll be searching for. So then, content we create to address the felt-needs will be content that matches those searches. But it’s not quite that easy.

Since we have so many customer personas, there are a considerable number of possible keyword variations that we need to pay attention to. We couldn’t just write the same piece of content using 10 different variations of the keyword and expect it to be a match for 10 different personas. Each persona has a different voice, a different set of circumstances, and a different set of influences that impact they way they talk about each felt-need. I needed to figure out a way for our blog to have content that reflections every customer  persona’s variation of each felt-need, which would be a better match for the variations of the keyword searches.

My answer: I leaned back into our customer base.

I utilized the voices of our core customers. 

I developed relationships with our core customers, finding at-least one voice to represent each of our customer personas, and they become a part of our core blogger team. Each core blogger writes content that addresses at least 1 or more of the 127 felt-needs that came out of my customer personas. The beauty of utilizing voices that represent different customer personas is that 10 of my core bloggers can write blog posts addressing the same felt-need, but they’ll do it in a voice that is unique to their persona. As a result, they end up writing to address the most valuable variations of each keyword that our customer base is searching for.

The persona-based content strategy isn’t perfect. But it will be. Since it’s cyclical, it pours back into itself, helping us continue to do the market research to keep up-dated customer personas and help us stay informed about new felt-needs and keyword variations.

If you don’t have a formal documentation of your customer personas, I dare you to copy this same persona-based content strategy. You just might find that you’re spinning your wheels, creating content to answer questions that nobody is asking.

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