Google recently released a new update to search algorithms, which features improved AI with a greater ability to read and understand more content. Having a clear sense of how your customers search (and what they search for) can enable you to use SEO and empathy to connect in a way that meets their needs.
This BERT update, which impacts both Google’s software and hardware, provides greater clarity on two things that are essential for creating useful and effective content: What people are thinking about and how they’re living their lives. In a nutshell, it means Google’s search feature will enable users to find more useful information based on their queries, more quickly and easily:
“In fact, when it comes to ranking results, BERT will help Search better understand one in 10 searches in the U.S. in English, and we’ll bring this to more languages and locales over time.”
As a firm, we’ve been saying for a while that with improvements in artificial intelligence and voice-based search, Google will be able to read more of the internet and to understand more of it. To date, Google has been skimming the internet and looking for keywords in places a human would look to understand an article at a glance - in headlines, in the first paragraph, etc.
For that reason, we’ve always suggested having content that follows SEO best practices, but more importantly that puts the core needs, struggles, and desires of your customers first. To understand those needs, struggles, and desires, we must use empathy in conjunction with data, which helps us understand how customers are searching for our products and services in different scenarios.
Putting Our Customers First In Our Copy
While some of the focus of Google’s update is simply clarifying search intent in basic ways:
“Particularly for longer, more conversational queries, or searches where prepositions like “for” and “to” matter a lot to the meaning, Search will be able to understand the context of the words in your query. You can search in a way that feels natural for you.”
It’s also easy for there to be a mismatch between how you present your products and services, and what customers are actually searching for. A common mistake businesses make is to focus their copywriting on their own business goals and personal passions. Sometimes, we do this at the expense of connecting effectively with our customers and their problems, aspirations, and goals.
For example, looking at the websites for two farms in the New York area, the first example focuses on traits like how big the farm is, and how it is family-owned.
In this second example, this farm focuses on the desires of their customers (for delicious, nutritious, farm-fresh food, for people who want their purchase to make an impact) as well as on things that might be difficult for their customers (emphasis on ease of sign-up and pick-up, and ability to pause CSA subscription at any time.)
Design Tools for Understanding Our Customers
There are a few tools that we regularly use as marketers to help us understand our customers:
A great example of this in action can be seen in our work with Easterseals of DuPage & Fox Valley. With Easterseals, we asked parents of children with disabilities to explain what search terms they'd use in different scenarios, and one of the discoveries we made is that parents were searching for toddlers with [name of condition], rather than for services. This knowledge allowed us to write and implement new condition-focused landing pages—such landing pages for families seeking ADHD therapies or Down syndrome therapies—to reflect how parents were actually searching for services.
Strategies for “Listening” More Closely to Your Audience
So how do we improve our search terms to be better aligned with our customer’s needs? Here are two of our favorite tools for improving our “listening skills” in the digital sphere within a search context:
Here are some examples of businesses who responded to this trending inquiry in a paid advertising context, using offers to drive urgency to sign up:
Photo credit: Acorn TV
Photo credit: Barre3 Madison
Even though these examples are from a paid advertising context, good content, optimized for search queries can fulfill this need as well. Which brings us to….
Identifying Opportunities for Adaptation, Based on Empathy
Listening to your audience “in real time” means you can respond with empathy, provide relevant information, and adapt in ways that can immediately fill a need. In some cases, this may mean using language or emphasizing elements in your content that match how your audience is thinking and making choices.
It may also mean adapting what you offer and how you interact with your audience to fit their needs. That could mean holding events online, building ecommerce platforms, or finding ways to offer services remotely. Adaptation is key—and you won’t know how to adapt if you haven’t first “listened.”
Here are some ways organizations have adapted to the current reality of social distancing, while meeting people’s needs with empathy:
Learn more about our services on our website, and if you’re a nonprofit or faith organization, you can sign up for a free 30-minutes consultation to get help with marketing, Zoom, SEO and more. Nonprofit organizations can sign up here. Faith organizations can sign up here.
Have you taken a look at all of the pages on your website recently? How about the depths of your Twitter account? Chances are there’s a page lingering somewhere in the dark corners of a drop down menu that hasn’t been updated in a while. In this post, we’ll take a look at four different ways to assess the freshness of your content.
“Freshness” can refer to content on your website, blog, or in your email and social media channels. Why does freshness matter? It sends a signal both to your audiences and to search engines that you’re still there and that you care enough about them and your business to keep your content up to date.
There’s nothing worse than showing up at a restaurant only to realize that the hours on their website aren’t accurate, and that they’ve changed for the summer. Or to be working on a policy issue…that’s already passed through Congress.
Here are four ways that you can ensure that your content is fresh:
Look for Ghost Towns
Checking for Ghosts: When’s the last time you updated your Facebook page? How about your blog? The first step in the process is to see if you’ve posted anything in a while. Are you active, or is it a ghost town?
If you’re not sure what to talk about, think about the top pages on your website, and pull a fact, quote, or statistic from that page to share on your social media channels. Your blog is a great place to answer all of the questions that your clients are asking. Your email inbox might be a great source of blog post ideas.
Look in the Back of the Content Fridge
There's Something Scary in the Back of Your Content Fridge: Okay, so let’s say you are pretty on top of updating your website and social channels on a regular basis. What you might want to do is to go page-by-page through your top-level navigation, and check to make sure that the most visible pages on your site are accurate and up to date.
Pay particular attention to facts, such as dates, hours, addresses, and staff names and emails.
Google looks for a consistent name, address, phone number, and URL for physical locations featured in local search. So if your business or organization has a brick-and-mortar location, you might want to check those facts a second time to make sure that they are formatted identically.
Look in Google Analytics
Google Analytics has a wealth of information on your content. One report that we like to look at regularly is Behavior > Site Content > All Pages. This report will give you a nice look at the most popular pages on your website.
But if you click on the column labeled “Pageviews” it will also let you look at the least visited pages on your website. If one of your least visited page is pretty important, you may need to think about ways to make it easier to find on your site. (User experience designers call this “surfacing” content).
If it’s a blog post that hasn’t been viewed in a while…it might be time to share it again through your social networks. Looking at blog post metrics over a longer period of time, might yield some insights on topics that are more popular, or less popular.
You can also rewrite a post, taking a slightly different angle or approach, such as turning a fact-heavy article into an infographic. Repurposing content leftovers are a-ok in our book.
Speaking of which, if you want to look at content metrics in a single area (also called a directory or folder) of your website, here’s a handy trick: go to Behavior > Site Content > Content Drilldown and then click on the directory that you want to look at.
This makes it easy to look at the content metrics only for your “blog” or “about” section. In the below example, I see the directories for my homepage, and my blog.
Look in your Social Media Management Tool
Get Social with Your Metrics: It’s a good idea to look at your top posts. We recommend doing this on a monthly basis. We like to look at our top 5 posts sorted by reach, and then by engagement.
When looking at engagement (which is a catch-all term that describes likes, comments, shares, retweets, etc.) it's important to keep in mind that if a post reached few people and the engagement rate is very high, that bit of might not be as helpful to you as seeing the stats on a post that reached more people but had slightly less engagement.
Our top five social media posts often give us ideas for future social media posts or even blog posts topics.
Below, is an example from a report we pulled in Sprout Social for our client Clergy for a New Drug Policy.
Why aren't we talking about the bottom five? We often look at those posts too, but if there's a clear reason that a post may have gotten less reach (such as a Facebook boost not being approved, or spending less on a boost), that’s less interesting to us than seeing the posts that really resonated with our audience.
Keep it Fresh!
We hope this gives you some great ideas to keep things fresh! Let us know if you have questions about content freshness in a comment below.
For more tips on making your social media content work harder, check out some of the other posts in our social media audit series.
There's a quick and easy thing you can do to improve your content metrics, such as bounce rates and time on site. That's to filter SPAM out of your Google Analytics reports.
If you're looking at your Google Analytics Acquisition report and you see a bunch of suspicious looking referral sources, that include phrases like "free traffic", Russian characters (as in the lifehacker example below), or which end in .xyz, then it's important to filter SPAM out of your Google Analytics account.
This is what SPAM referral sources look like:
Why should you filter SPAM out of Google Analytics?
Expert digital marketers are able to look your Google Analytics Acquisition report to assess strengths and opportunities of your marketing program. It helps us assess:
If your referral traffic is artificially inflated because it has a bunch of SPAM in it, it won't give us an accurate picture of what's going on.
Other consequences of not filtering out SPAM include:
Creating a SPAM Filter
Setting up a Google SPAM filter should take ten minutes of time or less.
Step One: Open Your Acquisition > All Traffic > Referrals Report
This is what you need to do to get a list of the SPAM URLs in your report. Look for URLs in your referral report that end in "xyz", which contain Russian characters, or include the word "free" in them.
This Moz article on stopping SPAM bots lists some common SPAM referrers in it.
Step Two: In a New Tab in your Web Broswer, Open Your Admin Panel and Go to Views > Filters
Make sure you're looking at the "View" column, and clicking on "Filters". It's a little confusing because there is also an "All Filters" label under the "Account" column.
Step Three: On the Filters Screen, Click the "Add Filter" Button
If you don't see this button, you're not going crazy. You just don't have the right permissions to add a filter to your account. Talk to the owner of your Google Analytics account about granting you permissions to add filters to your account.
Step Four: Set up the SPAM Filer
The graphic below shows what your SPAM filter should look like. Make sure to click on the "Custom" tab. In the "Filter Pattern" filed you can include multiple URLs separate by a pipe ( | ). When typing in the URLs into the filter, leave off the "http://"
Google Analytics only allows you to enter so many characters into the "Filter Pattern" field, so after entering about ten URLs, you may need to set up a second SPAM filter.
Finally, Check Your Referral Report Once a Month
Finally, it's important to check your Referral report for SPAM on a monthly or quarterly basis, to make sure that the SPAM referral sources are not creeping back into your reports.