In the world of (not provided), quite a few of us spend our time fretting over keywords. We scour the web for tools, processes, and blog posts that can give us our bearings in uncharted territory. We innovate - which is a good thing - but we complain while doing it. It's an interesting dynamic. There is, however, a keyword research tool that we forget far too often and never use to its full potential. That tool is your customer service team.
Hummingbird ushered in what we knew was coming: an era focused entirely on the user. After all, this is the goal of any search engine, and not just Google. They want to serve up relevant results to users and a good user experience can make all the difference in the entire internet ecosystem. Our responsibility as marketers is to embrace this change.
Now, more than ever, user intent is going to be considered a prime part of your overall online marketing strategy, and there are unsung heroes in your company who can help you get a better handle on meeting those critical needs of the people behind the keyboards.
The Customer Service Team
It's a rare thing to realize the potential your customer service team has to help your SEO strategy, but when it comes down to it, these part-time counselors/problem solvers/baby sitters/negotiators/mediators/cheerleaders have the best possible view of user intent because they are immersed in it every day.
They know the questions your visitors ask.
They know what they value and what they couldn't care less about.
They know what makes them angry or inspires them to action.
They also know whether or not your marketing is working.
The endless amounts of feedback your analytics program manages to grab pieces of, they get up close and personal with.
Best of all, they give those numbers you see additional context.
Tapping into your customer service team as a source of information for keywords (or really any marketing feedback) is easy, but rarely fully explored. You don't need a whole team either - anyone who interacts with a customer counts.
How To Get The Goods
If you're not sure where to begin, the first thing is to think about anyone in your organization who is customer facing, at any level. In a grand sense, all of these people are customer service team members. They get direct feedback that can help you craft better content, smarter campaigns, and more responsive social strategies.
Start by getting to know these people and listening to what they have to say about their interactions on the front lines. Ask questions - and not just "yes" or "no" ones. Practice being a good interviewer and investigator by asking open-ended ones. Get them talking, as they have a lot of knowledge to share.
If you can, do a focus group or a survey or even just an informal brainstorming session to go over key things that can give you insight into user intent, by asking questions like:
- What concerns do you get most?
- What are the most commonly asked questions?
- What sort of language do people use when talking about X or Y?
- What in X or Y do people feel most strongly about?
People have a tendency to be honest, and sometimes brutally so, to anyone in customer service who will listen. You can make your SEO more effective by paying attention to the complaints, the praise, and the questions and developing a strategy to suit them.
Use. This. Information. But do so when it makes sense - don't change things just to change things, or adapt something to suit just one user.
Remember that some of the greatest innovations have been born out of not listening to what everyone else is saying - and in the same breath, other revolutionary ideas have blossomed out of listening.
You need to look for patterns, test, discover what the underlying problems are, come up with solutions, implement them and use your best judgement - that doesn't go away - but even just the chance to listen and receive this kind of information can be eye-opening for any marketer. It can help you say "yes" or "no" to the status quo.
Next, encourage information sharing throughout departments. There's no reason why customer service shouldn't be talking to marketing or SEO. If your organization has a way to track or organize feedback gathered from direct customer interactions, find a way to access and use that information productively.
Don't worry if you're in a small business - a short meeting on a regular basis and a Google spreadsheet viewable by everyone can do wonders. You may discover a trend that is unique to you, or maybe reaffirm a theory you had about something in your industry. Either way, this feedback is invaluable.
Finally, always be listening. SEOs usually focus a lot on data, but it's important to look at some of the more qualitative information that's surrounding your campaign, rather than just strict analytics. When you check into social media for the site that you're optimizing, be observant of the interactions happening on those channels between customer service and customer. What words are they using? What questions are they asking? What do they seem to be most concerned about?
Moderating blog comments? Pay attention to what the conversation is there. Setting up Google Alerts? Note not only content, but also sentiment.
Brainstorm questions that may stem from questions already being asked. Also pay attention to your internal site search - it's great for diving deeper into what drives user activity on your site and that little search bar may be one of the most valuable members of your customer service team.
Once you have all of this information, put it to good use! It can help with everything from user experience design and marketing copy to graphics and content development - and of course, keyword research. But you have to be listening - and talking to the right people - to get that. Yes, actually talk.
Share insight, have a few laughs, get their direct feedback, and say "thank you" to your customer service team - they're special, valuable, and often under-appreciated - but they make our jobs possible, and it's a good reminder to keep that in perspective. We need to remember that we're human and that the best way to serve users and search engines is to be just that.
So, be human and talk with those who talk and listen for a living the next time you're stuck stressing over keywords
Mandy Boyle is the SEO Team Lead at Net Driven. She is also a published freelance writer and co-founder of NEPA BlogCon. She enjoys theater, not taking herself seriously, and adventurous eating.