One-sided conversations neither inform nor educate, and whatever information is shared will likely be dismissed or quickly forgotten on the receiving end. In this respect, digital conversations are no different from face-to-face conversations.

One of the basic mistakes any content marketer can make is to not listen to the customer’s side of the story. In their online behaviors, browsing habits, and social cues lay a portrait of not only who they are, but also what they are trying to say.

Below are three steps in starting a digital conversation with your customer that will not only show them you are listening, but that you have the answers they need.

1) Listen to Your Customer

Monitoring the online activity of your customer is invaluable. Digital behaviors connote need. Such needs can be broken down into the keywords used by the customer in search. This is their language, and in understanding their language you can know how to respond.

Listening to your customer can be done in two ways: through your site architecture (and resulting keyword amplification) and through external site research that incorporates the browsing behaviors of your customer.

Site Architecture

First, organize your site in accordance with search. What does this have to do with listening to your customer? Your customer employs different methods of search in finding the solutions offered by your brand.

By listening and responding to these methods, your site will rank higher and therefore be easier for your customer to find. According to the e-Commerce Guide to Search Visibility and Content Marketing, it’s easiest to separate the content on your site into two categories: commercial intent keywords and editorial keywords.

Commercial intent keywords are intuitive and linked to the product or service offerings of your site. Ranking for different variations of these keywords helps to create a wide net that can catch relevant customer searches that aren’t an exact match.

Focus on keywords that are directly related to your product and home pages, then move on to long-tail keywords that have a high exact match search volume. People search with questions. Figure out what questions your customer will ask and build your site around those questions

Editorial keywords are related to your products or services, but not linked to any specific product or sale. Editorial content is considered more trustworthy given it is not linked to a specific product or service. For editorial content development, use keyword research to gain a basic understanding of the information your customers are seeking.

External site research

External research can be conducted in countless ways, utilizing tools that are free or at little cost. Below is a short list of popular tools utilized in researching digital behaviors:

  • Topsy: a priceless tool for tracking online social behaviors and keywords within social commentary.
  • Buzzsumo: If you want to find out what content is trending, use Buzzsumo. This tool is also helpful when it comes to finding influencers about any given topic.  
  • Hitwise: analyze online customer behavior at the granular level and use that data to construct mosaics that help the marketer construct a digital portrait of the customer, which is necessary for engagement.
  • Brightedge: an outstanding tool for keyword research (among other things). Use Google Adwords in conjunction with this tool to verify your results.

One of the best ways to learn how to answer the content needs of your customer is to look at those websites that are effectively doing the same thing, and analyzing their strategy. Evaluate their headlines, structure, and overall methods of organization and then modify said strategies for your own content calendar.

The biggest value in this is testing site structure with your audience and then allowing your content strategy to evolve as a result. In everything, continue to modify your content strategy and allow it to guide the evolution of your site structure, content creation, and promotion

2) Using Editorial Content to Fulfill the Need

What is the power of aforementioned editorial content? As Brian Halligan says, “Inbound marketing (the baseline definition of editorial content) focuses on earning, not buying, a person’s attention.” Relevant content that reaches a relevant audience is inherently trusted more than anything paid.

Consider these statistics:

  • 94% of the links search users click on are organic, not paid.
  • 68% of all organic clicks go to the top three search results.
  • 75% of search engine users never scroll past the first page of search results.
  • Websites with 51 to 100 pages generate 48% more traffic than websites with 1 to 50 pages.
  • B2B companies that blog only 1-2x/month generate 70% more leads than those who don’t blog.
  • Companies that increase blogging from 3-5x/month to 6-8x/month almost double their leads.
  • An average company will see a 45% growth in traffic when increasing total blog articles from 11-20 to 21-50.

Additionally:

  • B2B buyers are 57%-70% through their buying research before first contacting the seller.

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Providing helpful, relevant information that serves the customer directly influences the buying decision. With your content, focus on your customer, not your product. By doing the former you will positively influence the latter.

In creating content that serves, follow three main guidelines:

  1. Write as an Influencer: Brands are all part of specific industries, and all industries have specific issues that affect both B2B and B2C customers. Construct a diagram which outlines the issues your brand is trying to solve and write to those issues without the inclusions of your products or services. The trust customers give you, as the influencer, will translate into brand awareness and conversions.
  2. Consistency: Customers love stability. If your brand has an inconsistent message within its content your readers may develop a negative perception of the brand, product, or service.
  3. Don’t write to sell: Try not to include product or service information within your editorial content. Create content that serves the customer, not sells to the customer.

Remember, in having a digital conversation you must first listen, then respond. When it’s your turn to talk, you may only have one chance to do so; don’t waste it with fluff. Speak specifically to your target and create editorial content that serves them.

3) Promotion

The “publish and pray” strategy is akin to using a shotgun on a long-range target. It assumes that everyone will find your content and it will be useful to them because it’s so good there’s no way people won’t see it. This tactic is incorrect, if for no other reason than the amount of content that is produced everyday will drown it out. Without promotion, your content (and the research and money spent on it) may be completely wasted.

Social promotion through Pinterest, Facebook, LinkedIn and other sites can accentuate larger promotion campaigns but only in unison with an effective promotion strategy that targets the prescribed customer and meets them where they are already hanging out.

But social promotion isn’t enough. Your keyword analysis in Step 1 should tell you where your customers are spending their digital time. Because these blogs, industry publications, and media outlets are relevant to your audience, the editorial content created in service of your customer should, in some way, be relevant to these information hosts as well. If it is, reach out to them with your new content to join a larger digital conversation.

Creating editorial content that is targeted to your customer and then not promoting it is like thinking of what you want to say in a conversation but keeping it to yourself. Promotion is that moment when you actually speak, and in doing so, give the right answer to the right customer at the right time.

Everyone strives to be that person who listens carefully to the other side so that they can construct a thoughtful response. To be that person (or brand) in content marketing, one must first figure out who they are speaking with, what they are saying, and why they are saying it.

Once this is realized, the answers to their questions or solutions to their needs can be packaged in the content that is produced. Finally, through promotion, said content can be effectively placed in front of those people that need to read it.

The key point in this process is creating content that serves the customer. Brands exist to solve problems, so in your content, work to that end.  

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Originally published Sep 3, 2014 10:00:00 AM, updated February 01 2017