What Do SEOs Know?

IIf you could tell the web 2.0/read-write/blogging/crowd-sourcing crowd one thing about search marketing, what would it be?

In a recent talk, given to bloggers, by Google Engineer Matt Cutts, Matt posed the question:

"What Do SEOs know that bloggers might not know?"

Matt goes on to talk about the merits of keyword research in terms of topic selection, and how understanding this concept can bring you a great deal of traffic. In summary, if you find out what keywords people search on, then add these to your page, you stand a good change of having those searchers land on your page. As SEOs know, there's more to it than that, but that's the quick version :)

Let's look a bit deeper into keywords.

Search Is A Reverse Broadcast System

I think Danny Sullivan first described search as a "reverse broadcast system". It's a great way to describe the value of search, and how to approach search in terms of marketing.

I liken search engines to being a 'reverse broadcast network.' People pay tons to be on television because you can get your message out in front of millions of people: broadcasting. With search engines, millions of people are telling you *their* messages: what they want to buy, purchase or get information about. You don't broadcast to them; instead, it's the reverse, they broadcast to you. There's very little if anything as a marketing or information medium that I can think of that compares to this. It's golden and still today amazingly unrecognized

In search marketing, you prosper when you let your visitors determine your content. They broadcast their intent to you, by phrasing a search query, so you should listen to that intent, and respond by providing appropriate content. Google does the match-making.

For example, if you learn that 5,400 people a month search for "antivirus software comparison", you could research and create this information, thus matching that demand with your supply of information.

How do we determine visitor intent?

The Search Phrase As A Means To Measure User Intent

If you're not an SEO and encountering this blog for the first time, you now now the most important thing about search marketing, and that is you need to match the content of your site to the intent of the search visitor. In a blog post recently, Seth Godin talked about the problem with advertising:

"(The internet) has created a surplus of attention. Ads go unsold. People are spending hours on YouTube or Twitter or Facebook or other sites and not spending their attention on ads, because the ads are either absent or not worth watching"

Seth was talking about the differences between old media advertising and new media advertising, but this is a problem related primarily to to a mismatch of user intent. The intent of users on Facebook is primarily social. Search, however, provides a more specific - and ultimately more lucrative - eco-system for the online marketer.

The intent of the visitor may be determined by analyzing the search phrase itself.

Three Types Of Search Queries

The study "Query Type Classifcation For Web Documents" (PDF) identifies three types of search query and how to quantify them:

  • Informational
  • Navigational
  • Transactional

An informational search is when people want to find out about something. i.e. What is the capital of Finland?. A navigational query is when users want to find a certain site i.e. Dell Computers A transactional query is when users want to aquire, although not necessary buy, something. For example, "where can I get guitar schematics"

There is a fair degree of guesswork involved in determining user intent. The keyword itself may provide clues. For example, "buy LCD monitor overnight delivery" tells you a great deal about user intent. "LCD monitor", less so.

When evaluating keyword terms, and deciding what content to provide, it pays to examine the keyword query in terms of query type. For example, the query "Buy LCD monitor overnight delivery" is clearly transactional. A visitor would expect to see an e-commerce page that facilitates a purchase, as opposed to a Wikipedia entry explaining the history of LCD monitors.

Generally speaking, transactional queries are good to target if you monetraize by providing something, either a good or service based upon a transaction or call-to-action. Navigational queries are good to target if you provide "where to" information - like a directory or a list of links - or you provide information closely aligned to a web destination. Informational queries are self-explanatory.

Of course, there are exceptions to these rules, and numerous points of cross-over i.e. a query might be informational, navigational and transactional.

The takeaway point is it is to seek to understand the main visitor intent. It will effect what information you present and how you present it. A page based around achieving a transaction will look very different to a page that provides information. If you're ranking well for a transactional query, but you only provide information, you'll lose an opportunity to engage visitors.

On-Page Keyword Integration

Once you've figured out user intent, and chosen your keyword phrases, you then need to integrate these terms into your content. A page should reflect and confirm the intent of the searcher. If the searcher is expecting to undertake a transaction, then the page should be organised in a way to facilitate the transaction.

Amazon provides a good example:

The "Buy Now" function is never far away from the users mouse click. The title is clear and prominent. Informational aspects are relegated to the bottom of the page.

You should provide confirmation the visitor has arrived in the right place. A good way to do this is to feature the search phrase high up on the page, preferably as a headline. This serves two purposes - it tells the search engine what the page is about, and confirms to your visitor that what they searched for and what they got are the same thing. If the visitor has to wade through too much information in order before getting a signal of confirmation, they're more likely to click back.

PPC marketing strategy also supports this theory. Common PPC practice is to include the keyword in the ad title, which can lead to higher click-thru rates than if you leave the keyword out. It stands to reason that a searcher expects to see the same keyword term they searched on echoed back at them.

The Long Tail

Did you know that 20-25% of search phases at Google are unique? 1/4 of all keyword searches have never been searched before! This is why it is important to include related phrases and synonyms on your page. The addition of related phrases and concepts allows you to pick up additional search visitor traffic from obscure combinations of keyword phrases.

The term "The Long Tail" was coined by Chris Andersen, and applied to online retailers, such as Amazon:

"A frequency distribution with a long tail has been studied by statisticians since at least 1946.[2] The distribution and inventory costs of these businesses allow them to realize significant profit out of selling small volumes of hard-to-find items to many customers, instead of only selling large volumes of a reduced number of popular items. The group comprised of a large number of "non-hit" items is called the Long Tail."

The Long Tail also applies to search. Whilst millions of people search for "used cars", a few hundred search for "used cars east texas". If you sell used cars in east Texas, then it makes sense to target these specific, long tail terms. What these terms may lack in sheer traffic numbers, they make up for in broadcasting specific intent.

Match that intent with your service provision, and you're laughing.

How To Put It All Together

  • Visitor search streams determine your content. Use the SEOBook Keyword Research Tool to find keyword terms relating to your business/topic. You can approximate the highest value terms using SEM Rush
  • Having assembled a keyword list, find related keywords and synonyms of those terms. You can use the SEOBook Keyword Research Tool. Or Google's Keyword Tool
  • Split the obvious terms into transactional, navigational, and informational. This will dictate how you prioritize the content on the page. i.e. a transactional query needs a clear call to action featured prominently
  • Create pages. Place the keyword term in a proment place on the page, preferably in a heading. This will help confirm to the visitor they have arrived at the right palce
  • Watch visitor traffic and interaction. If you're seeing high frequency - or strong conversions - for obscure terms, consider writing a page dedicated to this term.
  • Rinse and repat

So long as your site is being crawled by Google, and you've got a few inbound links, traffic will soon flow to your door. What you do with all that new found traffic is up to you :)

For an indepth look at keyword strategies, check out Aaron's tutorial in the members area.

Published: September 3, 2009 by A Reader in seo tips


September 3, 2009 - 3:43am

Peter, this is excellent advice. Most bloggers would benefit from "starting with the end in mind" when it comes to getting traffic.

Find what people are searching for by doing keyword research. Then write articles that give them that information. Express it clearly. Voila -- no more complaining about not getting traffic to their blog.

steve holmes
September 3, 2009 - 10:07am

In this sense SEO is one of the purest marketing disciplines around.
Take the CIM's definition of marketing:

'The management process responsible for identifying , anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably'

Basically marketing is about finding out what customers want first, and then creating a product/service that exactly meets those requirements. In offline marketing companies spend millions of pounds on market research to identify those needs. What makes SEO so cost effective and targeted is that we are able to find out (for free) exactly what people are looking for and then very quickly react to it.

Suffice to say my background is in offline marketing, and i find it very interesting how much of the marketing theory I learnt can now be applied to Search Engine Optimisation. In fact, I think it's only a matter of time before online marketing gets its own set of models that can be taught in the classroom to a new generation of web savvy marketers.

September 3, 2009 - 11:17am

My older partner worked at an ad agency for ~ 20 years before doing SEO stuff. He too frequently parallels offline marketing stuff with online. And the Full Sail University is providing access to our site for their students...so some college students are already sorta cracking the books on that front.

September 3, 2009 - 4:58pm

Reverse Broadcast and user intent.

This post pulls it together well. My background is in print journalism and I'm constantly pulling analogies from online & offline together – ya gotta.

Incidentally, one of the friendliest guys in SEO, Jonah Stein, has a great ppt from a speaking event he did that deals with user intent, conversion etc. It's work a look.

Find a link to that presentation here:


September 3, 2009 - 6:03pm

Totally agree! Jonah is a great guy who does solid SEO work.

james neo
September 4, 2009 - 9:32am

Its really the first task of SEO to know what user is searching for then design and develop the page keeping the user queries in mind and how easily s/he can approach their targeted the search type query then one can get the regular targeted traffic. Thanks Aaron...

We Are Web
September 4, 2009 - 9:50am

I like the idea of splitting search classifications into three types. Well pointed out that for transactional type a strong call to action is key, important that traffic generated from search engines is used to achieve conversions.

Great post, thanks.

September 4, 2009 - 6:58pm

First off, great post as always - good keyword information and a nice video with information straight from the horses mouth.

Secondly, I'd like to discuss the first sentence in Peter's post.

"IIf you could tell the web 2.0/read-write/blogging/crowd-sourcing crowd one thing about search marketing, what would it be? " (Love the double capital "I's" btw).

I'd tell this crowd that search marketing is marketing. I've run into too many bloggers that know enough to make "fire" (so to speak), but don't know what to do with it, how it works, or why you want it. They end up burning the crap out of themselves.

Learn the fundamentals of SEO and internet marketing - and learn them well - but don't get too heavy handed with them (keyword crazy, thinking every little coding detail matters, submitting to every directory possible, etc.).

It's been my experience that good internet marketing is just that - intelligent marketing. Learn the fundamentals of marketing and study people. Learn to understand how they think, what they want, what drives them, and ultimately how they search. If you can do this, then the tools of SEO and internet/search marketing become powerful. Otherwise it's easy to:

1) Get nowhere
2) Damage your site, reputation or something else
3) fall backwards into success that is short lived because you don't know how you got it - that's not very sustainable for business.

On a bit of a different subject, it seems to me that truly being a marketer and understanding business, people, products, etc. from this standpoint is what helps set apart great search marketers/seo'ers apart from good or average ones. Thoughts on that statement? I've been working on hashing out my thinking in this area for awhile now.

Add new comment

(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.