Let me tell you a story…
Imagine a place: Middle East
You see ocher landscapes in the distance, few palm trees around an oasis and a hill with a castle on top of it.
Idyllic, isn’t it? No, it is not idyllic. Why?
Give to that images a context: the Crusades.
During Middle Age human beings were not really like in the Arthurian tales (to tell the truth, neither Lancelot was a real gentleman). Violence was much more present than it is today in every day life, and Faith was ruling everything.
Faith was spread with imaginaries (think to the gargoyles) and stories.
And stories were always real for the listeners.
Let’s now return to that castle.
A group of men is in a big room, standing up in front of a man, the commander of the Assassins sect. They are scared, because terrifying things have been told about the cruelty of the Assassins, the most feared Muslim sect of that time.
“Don’t be scared, men“, said the old commander, “Smoke and feel fine and with hope, because you have been selected between hundreds for beginning a new better life”.
And here it comes the hashish, from where the Assassins name.
The men smoked hashish and fell into a deep sleep without dreams.
While sleeping, they were transported to a splendid place, a villa with fountains, food and women. The men woke up, found themselves in Paradise and spent the entire day enjoying what they would never think to live.
When the night came, they were moved back to the castle, in the same room they fall asleep in the morning. They woke up and everything they experienced seems as it was just a dream.
“No, it was not a dream”, said the commander of the Assassins, “You were really living in the Paradise. I know it, because I lived the same experience too. Now you know that you don’t have to fear anything, and death is just a passage to a better life. Become Assassins, and fight in the name of God. Do that and obey with the faith knowledge gives you. You’ll return to Paradise one day”.
Few day after the Christian troops arrived close to the castle. The King and the Assassin commander met at the hill’s feet and talked.
“My troops are the strongest of the world, Muslim! We have won tens of battles and we have the best weapons since Caesar… and we are thousands”, said the King.
“I have only a couple of hundreds of Assassins, Christian. But they obey to every order I may give”, said the commander of the Assassins. After he snapped his fingers.
At that sound an Assassins jumped from the highest tower without a shout and died.
The Christian King watched that and then looked into the eye of Assassin, and understood he would not have ever win against those men.
Because those men experienced the Paradise and Paradise was real, because there was a deep identification between the story told created by the Assassins sect (the Brand) and the most hidden desires of those men (the Audience). That identification brought to Loyalty and Evangelism of the Assassins values.
If you think to it, that was Marketing. And that should be Internet Marketing now.
Marketing now is all about telling stories to an Audience. And isn’t this what even Google says all the time, from its guidelines to its videos?
We must be really dumb not understanding it.
It is not a question of White vs. Black Hat SEO, it is a question of not doing Dumb Hat Marketing, which leads to do something like this:
- Massive duplication for not original content
- Followed affiliate links
- Exasperated Widget Bait
and asking why site’s traffic can drop like this:
Oh… I hear you saying, “I’m fine, I do Content Marketing, I do guest blogging”.
Is this your guest blogging?
Mmm… what about you? Are you sure your infographics are really listed between the best ones?
Ah!… don’t smile you. I know you believe your provider “created” a great link profile for your site. Are you really sure?
Guest blogging is not Internet Marketing. Neither infographics nor “building links” are Internet Marketing. They are just tactics.
Internet Marketing is the conversation between the Brand and its Audience.
ATTENTION!! I AM GOING TO SHARE A SECRET WITH YOU!!
Instead of paying for interrupting our Audience (or for links), we should create content our Audience will agree to pay for, and offer it for free.
Only doing this we will create a continuous conversation with our Audience.
ATTENTION!! I AM GOING TO SHARE A SECRET WITH YOU (2)!!
The best brands out there are doing that already, and if you are not doing it already, you are dangerously out of the game.
Do you know why Brands now are becoming Publishers? Because offering our Audience what it wants contextually to its Internet Experience, making of our Brand a trusted reference in our niche, is the right thing to do now, and it always was so, since the Crusades and before them.
Making of us and of our brand the thoughtful leader in our niche is a win-win strategy, because “a thought leader is an individual or a firm that significantly profits from recognized as such”, as defined in this article on Forbes.
But we cannot become thought leaders without a strategy, can we?
Step 1: Audience Targeting
The Personas composing our Audience
Right now the most effective way to target an Audience is through Social Analysis.
I have described how I use Followerwonk for accomplish this, so I suggest you to dig into it later reading my post on State of Search.
But apart from using Followerwonk, and whenever it will be universally available (hopefully also not just for English speaking users), you should consider also Facebook Graph Search as an audience-targeting tool, because it can really offer the opportunity to segment and see the real faces of our targeted personas.
if you want to dig more into targeting personas, check this deck from Mike King.
Audience Language Analysis
Once Eugene Schwarz said: “There is your audience. There is the language. There are the words that they use.”
This aspect is crucial in every Internet Marketing strategy, because a Brand should ideally speak the same language of its audience in order to be accepted and trusted: its psychology 101.
The language analysis is a facet of the personas targeting, hence we should create the audience thesaurus, which we will use when creating content and doing the keywords search and forecast, with the same tools we are using for depicting our targeted personas:
- Social Mention;
- Facebook (analyzing the language of the Pages our Audience likes);
- Using existing “slang” dictionaries as Urban Dictionary and All Slang;
- Digging into the amazing forums of Word Reference.
Step 2: Defining a Content Strategy
Once we have perfectly defined our Audience, we can start defining a Content Strategy for our Brand based over that Audience.
First of all we must understand what the Audience likes – this is something we should have started discovering already during the Audience Targeting – and how it searches those topics, possibly using Google Suggest.
Then we should do a competitive content analysis, which may give us insights about what content channels are really working, what are not used yet or are used under their potentialities.
A good way of doing a competitive content analysis is collecting all the sites, from which our targeted Audience have shared and linked content, in an Excel files and analyze those sites with SEO Tools for Excel and the SEOGadget Links API extension for Excel.
Then we will do a rhetoric analysis of the formats, which obtained the best results socially and or on a link side.
The Content Strategy step should be able to tell us:
- What are the topics, the iconography, the “myths” and “roles models” around which turns the culture of our audience;
- What kind of content our audience prefers the most;
- What sites our audience considers as its preferred sources of knowledge and inspiration.
Once we have that knowledge base, we can allow ourself to celebrate for a moment.
Step 3 – Combining Strategy and Reality
At this point we are still at the level of hypothesis. Assumptions that have strong evidence in real data, but still must be translated into concrete actions.
It is in this moment that we must forget once and for all the Kali syndrome, which still is so extended in many companies, agencies or even single freelance consultants.
No, we cannot do everything: content, SEO, Social, and Analytics.
The Fantastic Four
Instead, we should always aspire to have a team of four strategists, supported by their respective specialists:
- Content Strategist;
- SEO Strategist;
- Social Media Strategist;
- IA Strategist
First of all, we need to not confuse Content Strategist with Copywriter.
The Content Strategist is the one who must determine the mental and operational framework, within which developing and producing the contents of a brand, and he has the responsibility to define and implement these actions:
- Brand Assessment
- Content Inventory
- Content Audit
- Editorial Content
- Templates Creation
- Setting of Standards
- Content Management Design
Curious to know more about the role of the Content Strategist? A great place from where to start is this deck by Jonathon Colman.
The SEO Strategist is the one in charge of the SEO efficiency of the site. It is his responsibility to oversee that the programming of the site is technically search engine friendly, while its front end is both optimized for the correct keyword targeting but for the best user experience too.
The SEO Strategist, then, is also the one who must design the site and its other online properties so they can take full advantage from all the opportunities offered by organic search, like:
- Knowledge graph;
- Structured Data;
- Vertical Searches;
- Local Search;
- Google+ and SEOcial
Finally, it’s his duty, in coordination with the Content Strategist and thanks to the data collected via Analytics and with the help of Social, to design the offsite promotion for the most effective results in terms of organic traffic generation and brand visibility (links are a consequence, not a reason).
A good resource for understanding better the functions of an SEO Strategist can be found in this post on SEOBook.
Social Media Strategist
The SM Strategist will design the Voice of the Brand not only in the Social Networks, but also internally to the site.
He is the Spokeperson of the Brand, the one setting the rules of engagement with the Audience, so transform it from simple Users to active Community members.
He will, then, specify how to deliver the Content we have created accordingly to the rhetorical rules of every single Social Network the Brand will engage its audience.
Jen Lopez from SEOmoz can teach you a lot about Social Media Strategy, starting from this deck.
The Information Architecture Strategist is the person, who will define how technically the site will be developed, so to be the most agile, performing and scalable.
His duty is to design the best system that can translate the needs emerged from the initial strategic phase in terms of content in a technological system that does not limit but, on the contrary, enhances the content itself.
All these figures, as it is easy to understand, work side by side, the one influencing the other:
- SEO and Content for the keyword optimization of the site;
- SEO, Content and Social for the promotion of the site
- SEO and Social for the Relationship Marketing and SEOcial;
- SEO and IA for the optimal crawlability of the site, structured data and authorship
- Content and IA for the design of the CMS
- And so on…
This old deck is still incredibly actual in defining the characteristics of the IA Strategist
Step 4: Scaling and Improving
Strategy, as everything in Internet Marketing, is not a one-time event.
Strategy, instead, should always be present and guiding the tactics. And it should be able to revise, question and correct itself.
The most effective way for scaling and improving our strategy is using Agile Marketing.
We have created our strategy starting from the Audience, and it is analyzing the Audience reactions and feedbacks that we can polish it, correct the bugs and uncover new opportunities.
Do you want to see a real life example of successful Internet Marketing based on Audience targeting? Watch this video by AirBNB
Gianluca, this is one of the best posts I’ve read. Seems you explain WAT IS SEO in one comprehensive article.
Great post. This is a fresh perspective on Digital Marketing.
I agree with everything you say, however do you feel that “classic SEO” techniques and looking to build links are not part of a SEOs job any more?
Ranking a small businesses website well can be done quite easily just building a few high PR links, citiations, good quality niche directory links, and optimising headings, titles, alt text, etc.
In terms of large organisations all that you mentioned needs to be considered 100%. But for small companies competing in small niches I don’t believe such a thorough approach is needed.
It is still true that a simple link building campaign can rank local businesses. Using a more detailed approach may be too expensive for most businesses.
Good post Gianluca. Cheers! I’ll be sure to follow your other posts from now on.