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SaaS Marketing Tips | Search Is About People, Not Engines

You have to understand why and how your customer uses search if you want to be successful at search marketing. Unfortunately, ninety-nine percent of what you read about search are tips on how to work the system, attract the engines and increase rankings. Alot of it is good information, but it doesn’t provide solid direction to your marketing programs, because without your customer a search engine is simply a mindless algorithmic tool. You will often see this shortcoming with PPC firms that focus exclusively on trial and error to develop your programs, the proverbial throwing of the spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. Experimentation is fundamental in exploring and optimizing alternate search strategies, but without a firm grounding in customer buying needs and behavior, this approach is simply garbage in, garbage out. The SaaS marketing tips below are designed to help you turn your thinking about search inside-out by considering the experience from customers’ perspective.

SaaS Marketing Tip: Honor Customer Intent
One of the most interesting descriptions of search fundamentals can be found in Jon Battelle’s book, Search. In it he describes the sum total of keywords and click streams captured on the Internet as the “Database of Intentions.” I really like this word: intent, and I recommend to every search marketer to stop thinking about keywords and start thinking about intent. Or, more specifically to think of keywords as a shorthand for intent. How do you use search? How do you select keywords? If you think about it,you’ll quickly see that the process goes something like this: I have a problem that I need information to resolve. To get that information, I need to clarify my intent in my own mind and distill it down to the simplest possible set of keywords, otherwise I don’t get the results I want. Your potential customers may sit down in front of a search engine with a wide range of problems and associated intentions: exploring entertainment options, looking for a job, or finding your product. If you don’t honor their intent and provide help with the specific problem they are trying to solve, then your ad is no better than a billboard. Sometimes they may very well be looking for exactly the product you offer, these are the highest value intentions(keywords) to capture, and identifying them should be your first order of business, i.e., your first set of keywords should always be those that prospects type into a search engine when they are specifically looking for your product category. To identify them, at a minimum you have to think like your customer and at a maximum do some market research. Throwing spaghetti is weak. Beyond this set of keywords, you cannot offer your product in your search ad. You must offer alternative content that is useful to solving the searchers problem at hand, but establishes a relationship that you can nurture to a future purchase.

SaaS Marketing Tip: Every Website Page is a Landing Page
In software, we like to create these things called use cases. A use case describes how a user will use a system to accomplish a specific task. Most people design their websites for the use case of someone arriving at their home page with the intent of learning about their product, and then navigating around to learn all they need to know before making a purchase decision. However, if you’re even remotely successful at SEO you will quickly find that many of your visitors are arriving at keyword optimized internal pages after finding them in their search results. Taken to its natural limit, this use case turns traditional website design upside down. In this scenario, your website is no longer a nicely categorized, top-to-bottom hierarchy of information, but a bottom-up collection of landing pages that must satisfy a wide variety of intentions, or your visitors will bounce. Reconciling these two use cases can be a real challenge. If your SEO firm is not top notch, chances are that your keyword rich, optimized pages are doing a great job of achieving visibility on Google, but doing a lousy job of satisfying your visitors’ intentions. Stop thinking information architecture and keyword density. Start thinking intentions. Every visitor comes with an intent, perhaps multiple intents. And, every page should satisfy one. If you take this approach, SEO is built in from the start, and you won’t need a consultant to optimize your site after the fact.

Example: LinkedIn
Lot’s of people search the Internet for business contacts, past, present and future. They might be researching the background of a job candidate, looking for sales prospects or simply networking. However, they might also be searching for personal reasons. Take all these potential intentions and multiply it by seven billion names and you get a feel for the challenge a company like LinkedIn has reeling in prospects. Clearly SEO is the only way to go, because PPC would be cost prohibitive. So, let’s take a look at my own vanity search and see how LinkedIn fares for folks that for whatever reason might be looking for Joel York.

Fourth is pretty good in terms of mechanical ranking (although not quite as good as Chaotic Flow ;)) But, what about intent? LinkedIn needs to separate the business intent from the personal intent. A quick read of the search result text qualifies out anything other than business: title, company, largest professional network, etc. Now, let’s say the user clicks through. Then what?  It is a pretty good assumption that anyone typing a specific person’s name into Google intends to learn more about that person, get in contact with that person, and perhaps find other people as well. I’ve highlighted primary content and call to action, and this is exactly what LinkedIn offers up. Great! That’s what the user wants. But, LinkedIn wants the user to sign up for LinkedIn. To accomplish this, the solution to the problem is made contingent upon registration. If you click on any of the highlighted calls to action, you will be presented with the registration page above.

Lastly, consider how subtlely the LinkedIn brand is presented.  And, notice the complete absence of anything resembling traditional marketing messages extolling the benefits of LinkedIn.  The benefits are implicit in the intent, LinkedIn simply has to help the user find a solution to the problem in question.  Brand associations are completely experiential.  You help me solve my problem, therefore I like your brand.  A+ LinkedIn.

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