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Stop Studying SEO, Start Studying Your Target Audience

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Stephen Watts
Stephen Watts
Stop Studying SEO, Start Studying Your Target Audience

There comes a point when an in-house SEO needs to stop paying such close attention to the marketing talking heads and focus more attention instead on the content being consumed by his or her target audience.

That’s certainly not to say you shouldn’t be reading this article and others on Search Engine Journal! But, there is often more value in understanding what content is important within specific spaces than learning more about the general way to do things.

Try mixing up your content diet and you’ll be amazed at the results.

  • Skip the marketing podcasts for a month. Focus instead on the podcasts your target audience is listening to.
  • Skip an SEO conference this year. Instead, attend an industry conference that your target audience might be interested in attending.
  • Take your top five non-brand SEO terms, throw them into Amazon book search, and read the books that your audience is reading.

It can take years to truly understand the nuances, POVs, influencers, and subject matter of segments within industries.

This is one reason agencies sometimes struggle to serve a variety of businesses. They simply lack the necessary deep subject matter expertise.

It would be unreasonable to expect strategists at an agency to have the sort of deep understanding that comes only after many years of participating in an industry.

After a marketer has mastered how SEO works, their next step should be diving deep into the subject matter around which they are marketing.

How to Use the Content Your Target Audience Consumes

When you read the books your audience reads, every chapter is a potential blog topic.

When you listen to the podcasts they listen to, every episode title can be a great source of inspiration.

Here are a few ways you can begin to use the content your target audience is consuming for SEO.

1. Conference Sessions & Tracks

Find the top two or three conferences that your target audience (the people you hope to attract to your website using SEO) might attend.

For me, a good example is HDI Conference & Expo. Looking at one of the tracks that seem relevant, I see these sessions:

  • Session 102: Dashboards 101
  • Session 202: Using Customer Service Data for Continuous Improvement
  • Session 209: Metrics 101
  • Session 302: How Southwest Airlines Used Metrics to Reach a Higher Plane (Case Study)
  • Session 402: Outcome-Based Reporting for Processes and Projects: Remembering the Why
  • Session 502: Improving Service with Right Sized Metrics
  • Session 602: Working and Tracking Time in Real-Time
  • Session 702: Service Desk Metrics Go DevOps
  • Session 802: The Calm After the Storm: Taking a Disciplined Approach to Growth and Change

Now, I certainly don’t suggest plagiarizing from conference speakers. However, you can certainly riff on the subject matter, which is of interest to their audience.

Nearly every session title – with a bit of tweaking – can serve as the inspiration for a blog post or two. If a conference session inspires your blog post, do the right thing and credit your inspiration!

2. Podcasts

Similar to conference sessions, podcasts that your target audience might listen to are a great source of knowledge.

Be ready to jot down keywords and blog topic ideas while you listen.

Simply looking at the list of titles and show notes can even provide great inspiration.

For instance, in my industry, The Cloudcast is a great podcast to listen to stay informed. Without out even listening though – just by looking at the list of past podcast titles on The Cloudcast – you can see great topics for blogs such as:

  • The Critical Skills for AI and ML
  • Understanding Google Cloud Databases
  • Adding AI into Software Platforms
  • Modeling & Management Enterprise Applications

Again, in all cases absolutely do not plagiarize. Instead, consume the content, read more, learn more, and come up with your own take on the same subject matter.

Use the podcast as inspiration, and give credit for your inspiration.

3. Amazon Books search

Even in the digital age, books still rule among influencers and thought leaders. Whatever books are trending in your target’s industry – whatever books your target audience reads – should be books you read to find topics for content creation.

When authors (who are often also speakers) spend their time and effort promoting particular ideas in the form of words and phrases, why not take advantage? Create web content that attracts the audience those authors have primed.

Read the books your audience is reading. Create content around the topical themes you discover in these books.

4. University Classes

It may not be practical to actually take the university classes that your target audience might take, but you can certainly find class schedules, class titles, and syllabi to hone in on the major topical areas that your audience is studying – or perhaps ought to have studied.

In other cases, perhaps you can take courses.

At the very least, you can read the textbooks and study the material that your target audience has studied.

5. Surveys

Proprietary survey data – in which your website is the original publisher of the data – can be an incredibly powerful tool for attracting an audience, links, and publicity.

But you don’t need to be the originator of the data to take advantage.

Find the annual surveys in the industry you are targeting – the “State of X” sort of surveys – and create your own content based on the survey data. Always reference the original source, but use their data to create great SEO content.

Every well-designed survey question should be useful as the subject of at least one or two blog posts explaining the question, defining words in the question and answers, and analysis of the results.

Summary

Being an expert at SEO only takes you so far – at some point, you’ve got to become an expert on the content you are optimizing and the humans you are optimizing for.

Once you begin this transition, and begin leveling-up in your knowledge of the arena you are marketing in, you’ll begin to see new content opportunities in your space that you had completely missed in a process that, in many ways, is similar to the Hermeneutic Circle described in Heidegger’s “The Origin of the Work of Art“.

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Stephen Watts

Stephen Watts

B2B SEO & Web Strategy at BMC Software

Stephen Watts is the head of SEO for BMC Software. Stephen holds a degree in Philosophy from Auburn University and ... [Read full bio]

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