5 Ways to Move Your SEO Programs to Target the Top of the Buying Funnel

For years, SEO professionals have been tackling the bottom of the sales funnel.

We’ll give lip service to branding and content marketing targeted at consumers higher in the funnel – those just starting the buyer’s journey.

But it’s much easier to target those closest to a purchase.

SEOs have traditionally emphasized last-click attribution.

We’ve ignored the rest of the funnel and taken credit after swooping in and making the sale. We’ve done this because it’s always worked.

SEO has been able to swoop in with our super-power – user intent – and secure the sale.

Times They Are A-Changin’

Let’s look at ecommerce for a second.

When consumers are looking for products, traditional search engines no longer lead the pack.

According to the recent Kleiner-Perkins Internet Trends Report, 49 percent of product searches begin with Amazon. This compared with only 36 percent percent of product searches beginning at Google (or sometimes Bing).

And Amazon is gaining ground. If you sell products and aren’t optimizing for Amazon, you are leaving money on the table.

Marketing Automation Is Killing the Bottom of the Funnel

According to a study by the Content Marketing Institute, 35 percent of B2C companies are employing marketing automation. In the B2B space, marketing software usage is at 55 percent.

Companies have discovered that drip marketing works, especially when it’s done right.

The result of the boom in marketing automation is the bottom of the sales funnel is crowded with effective consumer conversion techniques.

If you are trying to make a sale by targeting the bottom of the funnel with SEO – especially for expensive or considered purchases – you’ve most likely seen your conversion rates take a hit in the last couple of years.

The reason is that businesses have gotten much better at hitting folks at the top of the funnel and pushing them through to the sale. Once a consumer is in a funnel, it’s not easy to steal them at the last minute to get the sale from SEO.

Challenges Moving SEO Efforts to the Top of the Buyer Funnel

Shifting your SEO strategy to hit the top of the funnel is difficult. For most clients and CEOs, moving beyond last-click attribution is a frustrating pivot.

If you are hitting the top of the funnel, you’ve got to move away from just look at the last click.

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If you don’t, your efforts are going to look like a failure.

Moving your efforts to the top of the funnel means that getting results will take much longer for many verticals. This can frustrate both agency clients and in-house teams. If the folks that pay the bills don’t understand the strategy shift, the odds of getting fired are high.

There’s a lot more work to do at the top of the funnel.

How to Pivot Your SEO Efforts to the Top of the Funnel

Below I’ve provided five tips on how to move your strategy to a top-of-funnel focused SEO program. You’ll see that there is a lot to do to be effective.

And there’s usually some trial and error – which combined with the extended time to see results can be a difficult combination.

Despite the challenges, SEO efforts must move up the funnel if the efforts are going to remain effective and sustainable.

When the efforts move up the funnel, they become much more valuable over time.

There will always be some low-hanging fruit at the bottom of the funnel that will convert from SEO efforts.

In most verticals, that low-hanging fruit will become more scarce as retargeting, marketing automation, and other techniques (both known and unknown) pilfer the leads away from the bottom of the funnel traditional SEO.

1. Move Away from a Last-Click Mentality

If you are still measuring your success based upon the last click before the sale, you’re doing it wrong. SEOs must embrace attribution modeling.

If you are working to generate leads, lead scoring and weighted attribution are essential tools in your SEO bag of tricks.

When you move to the top of the funnel, you have to know what happens down the line. You need to understand the entire buyer’s journey, not just the end.

That means changing the way you look at your campaigns. It means having patience as the buyer goes through the funnel. It

You’ll have to increase the volume of people you drive to the site from SEO because some of those folks are going to drop out before they hit the bottom of the funnel.

This shouldn’t be too hard, as there are a lot more people at the top of the funnel. Your overall conversion metrics may suffer, but in the end, if you do it right, your volume should increase.

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2. Expand Your Keyword List to Broader Terms

This is scary for many SEO professionals.

It’s harder to rank for broader terms. It takes more time.

In the past, when one-click analytics was the norm, I advised against going after broader terms. They didn’t convert as well as more targeted terms where the user intent was to buy or become a lead right then.

But it’s time for us to put our big-boy pants on and go after the big terms. The terms that start the conversation.

3. Figure out the Questions & Answer Them

The best way to hit the top of the funnel is to answer the questions your prospects may have.

Using tools like Google Trends or Buzzsumo, you can identify many questions being asked about your particular product or service.

Work to become the position 0 as the answer to those questions.

4. Link Build Using Influencers

Increasingly, searchers are looking to influencers to discover and validate purchase decisions. Influencers aren’t necessarily Instagram models with hundreds of thousands of followers.

An influencer might be a vocal participant in a specific industry. They could be the subject matter expert around a topic. Or they could just be a well-connected mom who let’s all her friends know about the best products and services.

Regardless of who your influencers are, they can give you great, relevant links.

They can also help you understand the questions and concerns of your potential customers as they enter into the buyer’s journey. Don’t ignore their wisdom, and ask them for their links.

5. Change Your Goals

SEO pros must embrace measurement beyond the sale or lead.

Increasingly at our agency, we’ve been setting our goals in terms of contacts in a marketing automation drip campaign or opt-in email newsletter.

By changing the initial goals of the campaign, you can then use a weighted attribution model to truly determine the ROI of your SEO.

At the end of the day, if you do it right, your ROI will be much greater if you are focusing on the top of the funnel, while still keeping an eye out for low hanging fruit at the bottom.

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Featured Image created by author, July 2018

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