Search Marketing: Insights on keyword research and customer personas
Daniel Burstein, MECLABS; Christina Brownlee, One Call Now; Jacob Baldwin, One Call Now
In this MarketingSherpa webinar, Jacob Baldwin, Search Engine Marketing Manager, and Christina Brownlee, Director of Marketing Communications, both of One Call Now, joined Daniel Burstein, Director of Editorial Content, MECLABS, for a discussion on how they used customer personas and keyword research to increase conversions by 81%.
One Call Now, a message notification service, delivers automated phone calls, text messages and emails to groups large and small. Its verticals include a wide range of groups, from congregations, schools, sport teams to emergency management and business continuity needs. From there, its business is further divided into sub-verticals, targeting individual customers' needs. Therefore, the need to create customer personas to more accurately present content to different types of people became essential.
Referencing "Star Trek," the team created four customer personas: humanistic, methodical, competitive and spontaneous, inspired by Dr. McCoy, Scotty, Spock and Kirk, respectively.
"What we needed to do was categorize people, not necessarily who they were demographically, but developing how they organize their sock drawers, is how we call it. What are the most important drivers for their decision making process? Are they humanistic, do they want to identify with someone, look at testimonials?" Brownlee explained.
Keyword research was also essential to the transformation of One Call Now's websites. Baldwin discussed how three-word unbranded keywords resulted in 199% more traffic than four-word keywords, yet four-word keywords generated a higher conversion rate.
In this webinar replay, you will also learn:
What caused One Call Now to redesign its website
The tactics and time commitment required to develop buyer personas
Keywords to leverage when verticals have different focus words
How One Call Now aligned its content with such a wide range of keywords
And much more
Baldwin will also be presenting at Lead Gen Summit 2013, in San Francisco, September 30 through October 3. His presentation, "Site Design that Appeals to Diversifying Markets Increases Conversion Rate 89%," will highlight the process behind One Call Now's radical redesign and more on how buyer personas fit into the overall marketing strategy.
Burstein: Hello, and welcome to another MarketingSherpa webinar. Today we are going to be talking about keywords. We are going to talk about customer personas. We are going to talk about content. Most importantly, we are going to talk about One Call Now. It's a great case study about a company that improved their search marketing and improved their overall result. Hopefully we'll have a little bit of fun with you today, so thanks for dialing in. We have joining us from Troy, Ohio, Jacob Baldwin and Christina Brownlee of One Call Now. Thanks for joining us, Jacob and Christina.
Baldwin: Thank you for having us.
Burstein: Christina is the director of horizontal marketing and creative services for One Call Now, which is a voice, text and email notification company. Over the last five years, she has helped drive the company's 20% to 30% year-over-year growth. Very nice, Christina. Jacob Baldwin is the search engine marketing manager for One Call Now, and one of his major projects was a radical redesign of the company's marketing site. We're going to take just a look at a little bit of what they did to redesign that site to help you with your own efforts today, specifically around search. This is certainly not just about me, it's not just about Jacob and Christina, it is about you. That's why we have #SherpaWebinar. It's your chance to ask your questions. Let us know what you want to know from Jacob and Christina. They are high-performing marketers, but they are your peers. Ask them the challenges they've faced with keyword research, with search, with anything.
We'll try to get as many answers in this time we have today. Also, share what has worked for you. We want to know what has worked; search marketing, content marketing, anything, share it on #SherpaWebinar. We're also going to be sharing a few related resources that well help. We have a great written case study with Jacob and Christina that goes into much more detail that we can go into today. We have other SEO research and local-search research. Go to #SherpaWebinar, you'll all those tweets throughout the webinar. We only have 30 minutes so let's get into it. Let's start with why. Why did you want to change, Jacob and Christina? What was going on with your homepage? Why a redesign?
Baldwin: There were actually several reasons, and as this screen is kind of showing right now. We had multiple calls-to-actions that were spread across different areas of the webpage. There was no clear conversion path. We had two different styles of navigation and two different areas of the webpage. From a more search perspective, we were not utilizing header tags as well as we should have. We primarily weren't really focusing on some of the more long-tail targeted keywords as were primarily focusing on some of the short, broad keywords.
Brownlee: The second piece of it is is that our market had shifted. We were originally serving education, schools, sports teams, and as we started moving into the business realm and dealing with business continuity versus canceling practice due to weather, it became really important for us to have an elevated brand image. We really needed to make sure that we came across as serious in the space versus happy, approachable, kind of casual. So, we changed our imagery and was also changed our entire color palette and updated our logo.
Burstein: And, if you can hear Christina talk, she's thinking very strategically. What you're looking at right now is some research from MarketingSherpa about the top challenges and the top objectives in SEO. We are going to talk about increasing website traffic, increasing leads in, and developing a strategy today. Developing a strategy, that's something that I really want you to think about because, as you can see, only 27% of marketers said that was an objective for them. Developing an SEO strategy, and Christina, that was really critical to what you did here, right?
Brownlee: Absolutely, it was paramount and Jacob did an excellent job of doing that for us.
Burstein: Let's get into one of our questions from our audience. Suzanne, a marketing manager, wants to know, "What are the tactics and time commitment required to develop buyer personas?"
Baldwin: This is kind of a tricky question because what it takes to develop a buyer persona really is determined on the level of understanding you are able to achieve about the audiences that you serve. It's all about identifying the different roles of the decision makers for people in those organizations, and our structure here at One Call Now is we have our marketing communications team, and we also have vertical marketing managers whose job it is to intimately know their audiences. What makes them tick? Who are the decision makers and what are the pain points that they are experiencing? Then, we as the marketing communications department will work with our vertical marketing managers to then identify the key issues and pain points to really drive home when we create marketing pieces and personas for each of these roles.
Burstein: Let's take a look at those personas. You took a really interesting approach here. When I think of personas, I think it's like Holly Homemaker who is 40 years old, or Billy the IT manager who is really worried about X or Y and might want to purchase this product. You took a totally different approach with your personas. Do you want to tell us what you did and why you did it?
Brownlee: Sure, what our service does is, it works for pretty much everybody. It's not like trying to sell aluminum siding to somebody to somebody who lives in a brick house. Everybody needs to communicate, everybody belongs to groups, and so what we needed to do was we needed to categorize people. Not necessarily by who they were demographically, but by developing how they organize their sock drawers. That's how we call it.
What are the most important drivers for their decision-making process is are they humanistic? Do they want to identify with something? Do they want to look at testimonials and feel like they're part of something that other people are doing? Do they need to feel like they belong? Are they methodical? Do they need to have a lot documentation? Do they need to feel good about it because they have a significant amount of data from which to make their decision? Each one of the different personas. you can categorize any number of people, any number of roles within these four spaces.
Burstein: We are going to break down those personas in just a minute and show those personas in action, but first I want to thank our sponsor of today's webinar, AtTask, who makes this webinar free for you. AtTask is the only provider of cloud-based enterprise work management solutions for marketing teams. This provides a single, central place to better manage and control the chaos of all marketing work which improves visibility and productivity by eliminating wasted time, dealing with fragmented silo tools and processes. With AtTask, marketing teams, managers and executives receive visibility into work and campaign planning, prioritization resourcing and sequencing to help everyone work more efficiently toward achieving the organization's goals. AtTask has a broad range of Global 500 and other top-marketing customers such as Nike, REI, Red Bull, Cisco, Adobe and The House of Blues. To learn more, visit attask.com/marketing and join the conversation on Twitter using the #attaskmktg.
Also, you can meet Jacob. See him live in San Francisco at Lead Gen Summit. We're going to be there in just over a month. Jacob is going to be presenting more about his case study. He is also kind enough to do a roundtable about content marketing. That website, MECLABS.com/LastChance. I hope to see you in San Francisco. Come up to me and say hi if you are there.
So, let's get into this. You had your personas and then you looked at the verticals that you are approaching. We are going to dive a little deeper, but when we're looking at these verticals, I notice some of these are nonprofits, and we had a question here on #SherpaWebinar from Julia Roache, and she wanted to know, "Are there any special guidelines for nonprofit content developers?" And I just wondered, Jacob and Christina, did you approach nonprofits and for-profit businesses any differently?
Brownlee: You have to approach each one differently from the perspective of they have different needs that are being met. Larger businesses sometimes have deeper pockets than nonprofits, so the way that we would position our keyword buys or whatever would be perhaps focused on their bottom line for nonprofits in that space, but not generally speaking.
Burstein: That's helpful. Let's talk about some of those keywords, because you start at the vertical level, and then you broke it down to sub-vertical level. We can see here education is not just one thing. Education is many different things. That brings up a question from Stacy, an account manager in marketing, "What keywords do you leverage when verticals have different focus words?" So, how did you approach your keywords in terms of your verticals?
Baldwin: Primarily we have a set of keywords that describes the functionality of our service, automated calling system, automated notification, etc., etc. The general gist of a lot of our keyword optimization efforts revolve around these very kind of high-level terms, but when we get into the sub-vertical level, there are certain keywords by the very virtue of the language inside of said keyword phrase that lend themselves to specific markets. For instance, a parent notification keyword would be more fitting for an education market, more specifically K-12 or private schools, more so than say a Fortune 500 business because, well, it just doesn't fit.
Burstein: So then you had those sub-verticals and then we see there are personas for each of those sub-verticals, and then this ties in great with a question we have here from Christian, then you produce different content for those different types of personas. Christian wants to know, "Should modalities be considered with personas, and if so, how might this impact search?" And, that seems to be exactly what you did. You tried to present content to different type personas in so related to how they wanted to learn. Is that correct?
Baldwin: That's exactly right. Whenever we consider the different personas, we thought about what types of content would be more appealing to each individual persona. For instance, our competitive persona, the Kirk, he knows what he wants. He's like a bull, he wants to get it now and he wants to get it done. Marketing fluff doesn't really mean anything to him, so we offer him the shortest path possible to get to the solution that he wants. Where as, for instance, your Dr. Bones is more humanistic, touchy/feely, so we provide him with testimonials and things of this such to kind of work that need that he or she is experiencing. Absolutely, modifying the different types of content so they're more appealing to specific personas in each vertical was a major focus.
Burstein: Julie wants to know, "Do you have different landing pages for each of these personas?" So do they each have a specific landing page, or is it more how you presented the content on the pages?
Brownlee: This is one of the big balancing acts that we had was that we wanted to make sure that we included everything, so the methodicals, they do deep dives. We wanted to make sure that we had for the spontaneous people, we wanted to make sure that we had calls-to-action and they were obvious and they were right there, so if they wanted to make a decision now, they could. Then you want to make sure that graphically you're appealing to the humanistic. They want to connect with whatever they're seeing. They want to have access to a testimonial or something new that you're doing that they're going to connect with. If you look at the way that our website is set up now, it appeals to each one of those personas, but the people who are methodical and really want to do the deep dives, there are plenty of links for them to go deeper and deeper and deeper. You don't have to go down the rabbit hole, but if you want to, it's there for you.
Burstein: Excellent. So, we see an example of that here for one of these personas. The highlight on the "buy now" button, you want to tell us a little bit about that?
Baldwin: We were kind of experiencing, kind of observing that some of the conversion activity in our sports market was beginning to flatten out a little bit. We decided to do was to bring the actual final conversion, the actual purchase of our product, closer to the front of the funnel. That's exactly what we did the buy now button and actually we found that we were able to somewhat restore the line back into the trend line with the placement of that button there.
Burstein: We have another question here from Matt, he’s a manager, as we look at another persona and how you target it. "Should I concentrate selling on my customer personas' needs or their wants?" We had a bit of a philosophical discussion before this webinar about that. Jacob and Christina, what do you think?
Brownlee: Yeah, we certainly did, didn't we? You know what they say, perception is reality. People's wants almost, if you are able to build those sort of on a micro level, they become the macro solution. So, if you have something, and they say, "Oh, I want this. I want this." If you're able to bring them in based on their wants, then you can show them and expand their view to show them what their needs are and perhaps solve problems from by going in the back door.
Burstein: As we dive deeper into some of these different personas, I think some people seem impressed by the amount of content that you're producing here. I know for some marketers it's hard enough just to present one piece of content one way, so give us a sense of that range of content. We have a question here Josh, "They seem to be targeting a wide range of keywords. How does their content align with such a wide range of keywords?"
Baldwin: I think that was probably a product of serving a wide variety of markets. Whenever this whole initiative came about, we did and still do service six vertical markets. A lot of the terms that are used to describe a service such as ours are kind of all-encompassing and very much top-level, very functional-based. Each of those target markets do lend themselves to having market specific messaging and keyword additions for each individual audience that we're serving. I think that's probably a product of that, is just targeting a wide array of audiences.
Burstein: We're going to get into how Jacob and Christina found those keywords in just a moment. Let's talk about the content a little more. We have a question, "What are some of the ways you explore how to locate your audience using data from your site and blog?" That's a question from Johnny, a digital media manager. I think something he's talking about here is how to find inbound links, who's linking to you. And, for your content creation strategy along with your link building strategy, Christina, you focused on partnering?
Brownlee: We do, actually. We have a director of partner alliances, but our vertical marketing managers were the originators of that, and by reaching out to different partnering groups and making sure that we're aligning with their needs, then we actually, that allows us to have more feet on the street. They're doing the legwork from it, so we actually have banners that go onto some of our client's websites, and those provide link backs to us. We don't actively go out and do link building campaigns.
Burstein: We have a question here from Joshua, "This may be too deep and too technical that we don't want to dive into it, but at a very high level, are you using dynamic content pegged to each persona, and how are you driving this? CRM system connected to a CMS?" Is there any magic behind the scenes or are these basic landing pages that people are just finding through search?
Baldwin: Well, he may have peered into the crystal ball a little bit there, but at this point in time, we identify the audience that we're going after, the role of the decision maker, and then we then tailor the content towards that from the beginning. Moving forward, dynamic content is definitely something that we're looking at, but we've got to walk before we can run.
Burstein: Absolutely. One way to run, and anytime we're talking about search or anything marketing, it always comes to dirty, filthy lucre; it always comes down to money. We've got a question here from Julia, director of marketing, "Is there a minimum threshold of monthly spend where the campaign should not even begin until it meets that level?"
So Jacob and Christina, I'm not going to put you on the spot and ask you about your specific budgets, but we have some MarketingSherpa research about the general breakdown of SEO budgets. Can you give us a sense of how you invest it in SEO, and how you invest it search in general?
Baldwin: For the most part, looking at the graph on the screen, we don't necessarily combine our department spend with the budget allocated for salaries. Whenever we talk about department spend, it's purely what are our people spending and what are they spending it on? I kind of broke it out here a little bit, and it looks kind of like this. About 73% of our search spend is actually spent on paid search campaigns. 17% spent on software, and then we've got the other 10% divided between consultation and agency services and then other, thought leadership and things like that.
Burstein: Let's get into keywords now, obviously a hot topic now when we're talking about search. We had a question from Chris, a senior technical writer, about best practices about keywords, and which keywords to use. Jacob, you had a specific hypothesis about keyword length and then found out some surprising information. Can you tell us more about that?
Baldwin: I kind of had a thought, and I built a hypothesis around it that, it made sense to me at the time and maybe it still does, I just need to do some more tests or research, but the longer a search term, the higher the likeliness, or the higher the conversion rate will be for that given keyword. The longer-tailed search term is, in my mind, more targeted, and therefore should be closer to the bottom of the funnel and more susceptible to actually completing a conversion action.
I decided to take this hypothesis and go into our analytics tool and put it to the test. What I actually found out is I tested the number of conversions and the conversion rates of two-word search queries, three-word, four-word, five-word, six-word, all the way up until eight words. I actually found some surprising results that the three-word search query, here's the disclaimer, three-word unbranded search query.
Our company name is One Call Now, so that would make complete sense if I was including branded keywords, but I wasn't. Three-word unbranded search queries generated about 199% more traffic than the four-word search queries, and the four-word search queries actually had a higher conversion rate. So three-word search queries had more conversions, but the four-word search query had a higher conversion rate. Much higher than the five, six, seven or eight-word search queries. So that completely made my hypothesis, for all intent and purposes for this discussion, null and void until I can find a different angle to attack it.
Burstein: Let's take a look at how you select keywords. Michelle, a manager of promotions and e-commerce, wants to know how much time is spent researching keywords. Vincent, an MD, wants to know, easy question, "How do you determine the right keywords for your business in a very competitive international environment?" Let's get to this process, how did you start?
Baldwin: From the beginning, we actually hired a digital marketing consultant who then provided us with a very exhaustive list of keywords. This list of keywords had search volume, it had a level of competition if we wanted to purchase that keyword via pay-per-click or paid search campaign, how much we could expect to pay for each click for that keyword. So essentially, what we did is worked with the vertical marketing managers to identify the markets and sub-verticals, or the verticals and sub-verticals that we were going to be looking at, and then finding a balance between competition, search volume, and how much we would expect to pay for each click in a paid search campaign, and then selecting keywords like that.
That's essentially how we selected the keywords and how the site structure came about. We were able to create content silos in which all of our web text content could live, and then we can inter-link each of those to create what I like to call a super page. I don't know if that's a technical term or not, but it's essentially like a big mass of content that is highly targeted towards a specific audience about a specific subject. That's what we were able to achieve by grouping our keywords in the same vein of how our vertical markets were structured.
Burstein: One thing we talked about in terms of how you monitor this performance, and that's what I love about having a real marketer on the phone and not just a consultant. Not just talking about best practices here, Jacob's going to talk about what he's really doing. I said, "How did you monitor these?" He said, "Look, I don't have the time to monitor each and every keyword and look at remarketing and optimize our site for conversion." What is your focus on monitoring the keywords, Jacob?
Baldwin: If I notice that there is a significant increase in traffic, or if there is a significant decrease, then we have another tool that we like to use that I can then go in and see how on a broad, 30-day level what are the traffic that our keywords are driving, how is the rank fluctuating, things like that. More so than not, I like to focus on the long term, because an organic optimization is not something that's going to occur overnight. There's got to be content created, there's got to be internal links built and external built. There's got to be people learning about terms because English language is an evolving language.
So, if we want to establish a market for a specific keyword that we're trying to define, then that's going to take time. The best way to do that is just by looking at organic search traffic on an aggregate level rather than slicing and dicing your data and splitting hairs down to what happened yesterday and what are we doing today. That's really what I like to focus on.
Burstein: Speaking of evolving, another thing that's evolving are Google algorithms, and we have a question here from April, an SEO manager, “What online tools do you use? What changes have you detected in search algorithms post Panda, Penguin update?” I won't ask you for any specific brand names, but talking about the post Panda, Penguin updates, here's an example of one of your top ranks. If you're watching at home, all of the links above it, those are paid search. You might not be able to see the shaded box, but this is a top rank and it is a video. So, how does that relate to the Google updates?
Baldwin: The video is a result, I think it’s universal results, so we've optimized the title of this video and the description of the video and the webpage that it's on. We've optimized the URL, we've got appropriate keyword densities, and we've got proper use of header tags on that actual page and as well as the meta description, you can see there, to get that video to rank there. It's primarily, what I have to say about universal analytics.
Burstein: Let's look at meta description and a few keyword elements. We don't have time to go through each one of them, but meta descriptions are important in the changes you made, using strong tags to highlight keywords in the body copy, page titles, making sure the page titles were correct. I want to get here to I think an element that many people don't use, image alt tags. You want to tell me about how you used image alt tags?
Baldwin: Image alt tags are actually designed to help visually impaired people browse the internet. What I find a lot of people don't quite know is that you can actually optimize these so they show up in Google Image results as well, and this kind of parlays back into that universal results discussion we were having earlier. If you optimize your image alt tags to have important, value adding, benefit laden statements as well as the functional text that goes along to providing the function that alt tags are truly are supposed to have can go a long way as well.
Burstein: We also look at URL structure, I'm sorry, H1 tags here, something else you did. But I want to ask you about URL structure.
Baldwin: The structure of a URL or all intent and purposes, the file directory that you're website is housed in, that's all a URL is. This does two things, number one, it gives the user a sense of orientation. Where am I in the website, where did I go, and where can I go from here? What is this website about? It kind of creates context.
Number two, it's one of the most important signals for search engine robots as to what this web page is about. If this webpage is about automated messaging, and that's in the URL, then that is a really strong signal that is sent to the robots, and not just robots, too. The end users and the users on our website that, this website, if I'm trying to learn about automated messaging, if I'm trying to display a result for automated messaging, there's a good possibility that this website really is about automated messaging.
Burstein: We have a question here from Julia, “Do you go by any best practices for keyword density for the page?”
Baldwin: That's kind of funny because it seems like everybody has their own idea of what best practices are. Anybody can open up a blog and title it "Marketing Best Practices" and then someone is going to read that blog and think that they've got the inside information. Really what it comes down to is what works for you and your efforts, and if you're getting results then there it is. You've got to make sure that you're keeping everything white hat and above the table as far as what's acceptable, what are acceptable standards for optimizing your site, in the robot's eyes, too.
Burstein: We have about one minute left, but let's talk about the results. Julia wanted to know, “What are some metrics you use to measure the success of your SEO strategy?” Tell us about some of the results, and as you can see on this slide, there's a lot more to this case study then just the organic search. Unfortunately, we only have 30 minutes today, we wanted to hone in on the organic search, but Jacob's going to talk about more at Lead Gen Summit. So, how do you measure the success of your SEO efforts, Jacob?
Baldwin: We had baseline performance levels and I think the performance level that everybody thinks about for a website is traffic. How much traffic am I driving? How much traffic am I attracting, as some people like to say? On top of that, there is something that is much more, I don't want to say much more important, but is equally as important as how much traffic you're driving is what kind of conversion activity are you driving on your website? If you're attracting all this traffic that's coming through the doors because you're optimizing for keywords, but nobody knows what to do once they get there, then that traffic is not really, you can't monetize it anyway. So figuring out how to optimize your website for conversions is one of the most important metrics that I can think of right now.
On top of that, knowing where your traffic is coming from. If your efforts in organic search optimization are paying off, or if your refinement of your paid search campaign is paying off, then those are both certainly things to take note of, because that provides you attribution, where should I invest my time? Where am I getting the best results? At the end of the day, it's a question about revenue. How much revenue was my program driving last year, and how much revenue am I driving this year, pre-change and post-change?
Burstein: Jacob will be talking more about conversion optimization at Lead Gen Summit as well, but with just one minute left, Jacob and Christina, what are the top takeaways you would give your fellow marketers to hit the ground with in the next day, in the next week to help improve their own search efforts?
Brownlee: Make sure that you have good content. Understand who your personas are, understand who you're marketing to. If you have a good understanding and a good handle those things then make sure that your SEO endeavors are aligned.
Baldwin: Absolutely, I've definitely got to agree with the good content part. I know every, you hear it all the time but I can't stress the importance enough. Having great content is truly, truly valuable. On top of that, understanding that perfection is impossible. It's like in Maslow's hierarchy [of needs], you're never going to reach actualization. Your site is never going to be fully optimized, so just kind of coming to terms with that and knowing that there is always going to be something else to do is really kind of an important realization to have. Driving the online conversion, just like this says, is critical in lead attribution. If you lose the ability to attribute what efforts are driving what results, then you lose the ability to forecast and to spend your budge wisely in the future.
Finally, it comes down to the user experience. We're not optimizing websites for search engine robots, we're not optimizing websites for these spiders that are going all around the web site. We're optimizing the web site for the end user, and if the end user is happy, then they are going to tell people about it and then that is just going to resonate within the community and it's going to spread organically like that as well.
Burstein: I like that, Jacob. Perfection is impossible. Again, that's a benefit of not just having some consultants on there telling you best practices. These are real marketers in the trenches every day. Today you learned about what they prioritize; now it's up to you to decide what you have to prioritize.
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