About Hannah Thorpe
Hannah Thorpe is Head of SEO at White.net, an integrated digital marketing agency. She works with clients to produce multi-platform campaigns through every stage from ideation through to completion.Hannah’s role covers everything from leading complex technical strategies, to creating innovative content campaigns and harnessing data to drive results.
In her Learn Inbound talk, Hannah will explore how brand is increasing in its importance in SEO. No longer is simply ticking boxes for technical integrity enough – to really get ahead you need to have built a reputable brand, with a strong presence in its niche and become consumers’ first choice. But how do you do this? Consumers build relationships with brands the same way they do people, so you need to use content to connect.
- Learn how to read your customers minds
- Produce content in the right format
- Understand how to get consumers to see your content
Hi, everyone. Okay, so I'm just gonna start and say you do not know how off-putting it is having your face in the center at the back, because it's like I'm staring at myself as I try and talk. It's a weird look, so that's why. Today I'm gonna talk really about how you use content to connect.
So, today we've had a whole range of talks, and I'd say one of the themes that has really come up is the fact that we want to be producing content as brands, and we want that content to resonate. So, whether that's through voice search or through a PR effort where you're targeting a wider audience, the point is that we're trying to find that point of connection with our potential customers.
To start with, I thought I'd tell you a little bit about me. So, as Barry said, I'm managing director at white.net. My experience started off as a technical SEO. And deep down, if I could have got away with only dealing with Excel and Screaming Frog for the rest of my career, I would have been so happy, or DeepCrawl, thank you, sponsors.
So, if I could have done that, I would have, but I kind of realized that in that whole pyramid of SEO, above technical, you've got to care about content. And I started to see that there were quite a few trends where we found the potentially technical and the best practice just wasn't enough, and we needed a way to really build our brands out further.
So, we work at white.net across SEO and paid media services with a whole range of brands, which means all of the learnings we get, we kind of really spread across different sectors. In order to help you kind of understand where I'm going with this, the first thing I'd like to ask you to do is to think about how you'd describe your friends, your families, or your colleagues. What sort of words would you use?
So, hopefully, if you like all of these people, you're gonna be thinking of words about people maybe being friendly, maybe they're kind, maybe they're helpful. That's all great. But then think about the words that you use to describe your favorite brands. You might have that hairdresser that you always go to or potentially that dry cleaner that always makes sure it's done bang on time.
Those brands that, kind of, are local to you, that you've built a connection with already, you're gonna find you start using the same words, and slowly you'll realize it kinda correlates. Actually, the way you describe your best friend is also how you describe your favorite clothes shop, whereas, when you describe maybe a bigger brand that you don't have a connection with, for me, that's something like Apple, I kind of would describe it as quite corporate, its technology. I wouldn't ever think to say that they're friendly.
And what this shows us is that, really, when it comes to branding and it comes to connecting with your customers, the personal connections are truly the important thing. There's references at the end of this, but there is a great book called "The Human Brand," and that really hammers this point home.
It's key to make sure that you are connecting on a warmth level as well as competency. So, you don't just want to deliver a service. But, as I said, what I do is actually SEO. So, how is building a brand and making, kind of, people feel warm and fuzzy part of SEO?
Because when you talk about that, it kind of sounds like reputation management. That's when our technical SEO team start to get suspicious, and they're like, "Hold up. Didn't sign up for this. I wanna make brands rank. I don't want to be doing PR."
So, if it sounds like reputation management, it's a bit like what Lexi was talking about, about making sure that your brand is appearing in the setup, making sure that you're kind of the expected result, not just happening to rank because you had a few good links.
Honestly, you then have a moment of realization in your career, and you discover you probably are a PR, and you just didn't know it. PR was something I never wanted to get into, and it's actually something we actively tell people we don't do as an agency, but we do online reputation management via SEO and content. If you say that quickly, it's just the word PR.
So, during me having my little breakdown about the fact I'd discovered I was a PR person, I decided to look up what SEO actually is. I think we've heard today that most people that work in SEO have kind of stumbled into it. Who here planned their career that they have now? Anyone? Okay. Who knew what SEO was when they started looking for a job in digital? Good.
So, on the way to my first SEO job interview, I remember I sat outside in the car park Googling, "What does SEO stand for?" Because I forgot, and I was like, "Shit. Definitely not gonna get the job if I can't remember those three words." And it's true. How many of us ever take a minute to think about what it is we actually do?
So, I went full-on beginner to Moz and went, "What is SEO?" You can simplify that definition down. So, it's improving rankings, it's driving traffic, and it's increasing awareness. So, anything within those scope, whatever tactics you need to do to get to that end result, we need to consider to be part of SEO.
And one thing we know for sure is that traditional ranking signals are becoming much less significant. There are so many changes with all of the search engines updating so frequently that it's not just as simple as put a meta title in and add a few links. Instead, we have to tackle machine learning. Search engines are getting so, so much smarter.
And then we have to think about engagement metrics. So, does your bounce rate impact your organic position? What about average time on site? And you can get stuck into this data, and some of the studies are great, others less so. But what we do know for sure is that it's more than we ever truly thought in SEO.
You then factor in voice search and everything that Purna spoke about earlier, and you realize that there's so much more. And you could be going forever if you try to write a list of everything to do to rank, but what's for sure is that all of these things are contributing towards what it is that users want.
So, if you're providing what users are looking for and what your potential customers are looking for, then you're pretty much guaranteed to have a decent performance. What we do know for sure, though, is that the kind of static surveys that we used to do on ranking factors just aren't enough anymore. There's that added little factor now that we need to consider.
For those of you that attended BrightonSEO, I think, a year ago now, there were some great talks from Tom Capper, Malcolm Slade that really got into the depth behind the studies that show that brand is a ranking signal. And I firmly believe that brand has become an important signal to us.
So, not only do you want to appear in a result, you want users to go, "I know that brand," when you appear on a generic search, and you also want them to search for you in association with that product. Because if they do that, it shows that they would want to go to you, and I think that has an impact on your rankings overall.
So, it's time to think smarter and level up beyond just basic SEO. In order to do that, we need to think about three different things. So, the first is knowing what it is that people actually want to see, how is it they want to connect with you, not just what do you wanna be saying to them.
We then need to work out ways to produce that content. Now, for smaller agencies, like, we're a team of 10, producing it, we're always looking for the latest innovation and the easiest way to produce content in volume, because, of course, clients want content quick, and they want it displayed beautifully.
And then the final thing is to engage all of your other skills to make sure that people can find that content, whether that's using digital PR tactics, phoning journalists, anything like that, or whether it's actually putting the right structured data markup on your content to ensure that you win those featured snippets. There's a whole host of ways to make sure that people are finding that content that you've produced.
So, we're gonna start with knowing what it is that people want. So, what I like to do is think about it in the funnel. So, this is a really simplified version, but you need to understand every point for your users. To do that, you need to know what it is that they want at each point, pretty basic stuff. So, how do you actually do that?
The first thing, and I think the thing that gets forgotten, is just ask your customers. Put surveys on your site. Actually do focus groups. Put in the effort to speak to the people. One of the things that we do that works the best, when we sign a new client, we do...it's marketing rank, but we call it a brand immersion day.
And what we mean is we come and talk to everyone, and the best data you get is actually the customer service team. The people that talk to the clients day in, day out, and they hear the customers phoning up and complaining, they can tell you everything that people want in each stage of the funnel.
But, obviously, people aren't always super honest when you interview them, and you might not get all the data you need. So, we'd recommend using some form of session recording. My personal preference is Hotjar, but Mouseflow's great, and if you've got more budget, then Decibel Insight is awesome.
See where people do that frustrated mouse swirl. That's so important, seeing the buttons people try and click on but they don't click on. You'll find that if you've not produced content for every bit of the funnel, and they're in a higher part, and they're on a product page, you'll see them scroll up and down very quickly, but they're not engaging. And that's because they're like, "Where's all the information I can read. I don't just want a Buy Now button."
And then, for me, the most valuable way of knowing what it is that your customers want is to kind of eavesdrop on them. Imagine if you could record what your customers are talking about and really understand what it is they do when they're kind of alone.
So, one way to do this is to think about where your audience hangs out online. So, for this campaign, we were looking at kind of motivational pieces, and we wanted to do a theme on kind of that Monday morning motivation. Our audience was slightly older moms, so we looked at Mumsnet first.
You can use a great combination of different advanced query operators on your website in Google, and you can search through those forums. So, mumsnet.com/talk is their forum bit. Users tend to be more honest in forums, because it's anonymous, and it also means they ask less stupid questions. So, you really get more insight from things people wouldn't phone up and ask a brand.
So, then you can just put in the words you wanna see that come in those forums. You get a nice list, dead easy to scrape off it and give yourself an Excel document. The scraper I like to use is called Data Miner. It's a Chrome extension, and it just formats it really nicely. It also has built-in, kind of, they call them recipes, but they work on social media.
So, I'm crap at coding, and I don't enjoy it. So, I'd never build my own scraper or set up my own rules, but Data Miner shares public recipes. Which means, say, if you wanna export everything from this hashtag, and you wanna get all of the tweets and all of the URLs and find out which ones are images, all you have to do is click the Chrome extension for the type of export you want, and it gives you something that looks like this. This then translates very quickly into a CSV, and you find you end up with this huge database to play with.
Combine that with scrapes of things like Mumsnet from the Google setups, and you suddenly know every single topic that people are talking about. Now, you have to put in the legwork. You have to manually analyze this. Obviously, you can do some real base stuff, but you're ending up with a really nice database of all of the questions before your audience asks them.
So, one of the most famous examples is, when you think about a TV, do people actually search, like, "What type of screen is this?" or do they search, "How do I fix my old TV?" You'll find that they'll ask a brand, and they'll say to that brand, "What's the difference between these two types of screen?" But they'll ask their friends on a forum, "How do I fix this first?" because they wouldn't even think to go to a brand website for that answer.
But those are also areas which are usually really under-optimized, and no brands are competing on them. So, you'll find quick wins. You'll also find, because of the long form question nature of the queries, they're the things that people are asking in voice search, they're also the things that you're getting featured snippets and knowledge graph results on.
So, it's a massive win in terms of SEO, but it has come from a purely content method to get there. So, the next thing you need to do is work out how to produce that content and what to give people in order to get it across to them.
So, I think you need to split it into three factors. The first is to understand the time to consume. So, when are people looking for this? And if it's a voice search, you don't need to make an infographic, because the likelihood is they want a read-back answer available online. You also need to think about device. Like, where is it loading? Are they reading it on the Tube?
If your product's commuter-based, and they're gonna be on the Tube, you get a signal every Tube stop, so it needs to download quick enough for a Tube to move on. If you can't do that, then it's not worth doing it for that time of day and that type of content. I think that's a really good test. Look at your staging sites when you're trying to travel to work and see if you can get the content up and ready, because people aren't gonna keep hitting Refresh at every Tube stop in London.
And then also understand the location. So, is your search query location-based? Or does it matter where they are when they're reading it? Does it matter what it relates to? If you're looking for ways to make that content better, there are two great tools that we use internally, so both are free. One is called theatlas.com. You can basically ping any data into it, and it generates you some really nice charts. You can recolor, make it look really pretty, and it's really quick.
Now, if you're planning on doing outreach, or you're planning on doing any form of PR with your content, quite often you find that publications will make their own data. Well, they'll take your data, and they'll make their own visuals, or they'll do something with it.
So, you don't wanna pay a designer and invest all of that time into making something they're gonna remake anyway to suit their brand. This is a really quick way of giving them some nice displays that they could use, but also giving them the raw data, too.
The other one is just mapchart.net. It's great if you've got data by region. We use this to produce quick content about search volumes in different places, works really well for kind of presenting to a client anyway even if it's not for external content.
And then the final thing when you're producing content is to think about featured snippets, so make sure your versions work for featured snippets. Everyone else, I think, has spoken about this today, but read stats, guide about featured snippets. It's amazing, and it gives you everything you need to know about how to really optimize for them and make sure your content appear.
It's that whole optimizing for position zero, and SEOs originally used to hate it, because we felt there was a lot of talk that made it feel like Google was just picking these things at random, but actually it is just about the quality of your technical SEO behind the content. That's so key, so this is where it all ties back in, and you can really get your tech team involved in producing something content-based.
And the final part is to really help people see your content. So, it's not just enough anymore to be making the right content. As Lexi said, it's not gonna fly on its own. You need to make sure it gets out there. In order to do this, I think the first thing to think about is using your technical SEO knowledge.
If you're putting your content that you want to connect, like your FAQs, kind of longer style pieces of content, actually up on to your website, is your website being crawled frequently enough? You can use Mike's tip and actually boost your crawl rate if you're launching content regularly that you've not done before, and you wanna get people more involved in your site and get Google seeing the site more often.
Think about your placement on the site. So, what you don't wanna do is just pop it up on a category of a blog post that never appears. Get it on the homepage if you can. Really give it the best go. It's such a disappointment as someone doing SEO and content when you create an amazing piece, and it could've worked really well, and it just doesn't get the right push, because a client can't put it on their homepage or they can't advertise it.
If that's the case, then quite often good ideas just get lost, and it sucks, because then the data's rubbish for you to come up with a campaign in future. So, give everything the best go you can with your technical SEO first.
The next thing is to make sure you integrate it with paid channels. The worst thing you can do is look at SEO and content in isolation. So, could you put it on the display network? But could you also use kind of programmatic marketing to advertise that?
So, if you've taken a piece, if you've used inspiration from a Mumsnet forum, why not then use some display marketing to pop that piece of content on to the same Mumsnet forum? You already know that the right audience is there asking the question, because it inspired you to write the piece of content. So, at least then you can promote through.
And, okay, it's not gonna directly convert, but if what you're doing here is building brand awareness, and you're trying to become that recognized brand for that search term, then this is a great way to do it. And then obviously tie in the traditional paid social methods, too.
So, once you've done all of that, you'll find it's pretty hard to measure, and internally and externally getting sign-off on things like this is super tough. Because measuring brand awareness can be a bit of a kind of finger in the air, "I think it's 50." And, obviously, you end up with, kind of, your internal teams competing quite often. You might find that the PRs go, "That bit of brand awareness was me," and your SEOs saying the other bit was them.
It's really difficult to quantify and actually work out the causes. So, for us, we split the signs of connection into two groups. We call them vanity metrics and business metrics. So, your vanity metrics are gonna be the things that actually probably get the people that don't really understand SEO or aren't as deeply involved in marketing excited.
For that, it's the first position ranking for your key term. If you're a sofa company, and you rank first for the word "sofas," and you've done it through brand awareness pieces, good for you. It's unlikely, but those kind of first positions are obviously the ones that externally and sea-level people think are great.
Think about the number of brand ambassadors you get. So, have you managed to generate a bigger share or a bigger reach? And then think about individual shares and likes. So, we use a model that's called the valence, arousal, dominance model.
When you produce a piece of content, you need to think about what emotion it's gonna cause the person to have. So, if you can cause an in-control emotion, say something like like or that's mildly funny, you'll end up getting a like, or you get, like, a favorite, and it's a really quick interaction. People aren't gonna spend more than a couple of seconds interacting on social.
If your social can do something that causes an extreme reaction, so an out-of-control emotion, so love, or hate, or it's hilarious, or it's shocking, then people will invest more time into how they interact. So, if you wanna get conversation and get people commenting, then that's how you do it.
You look at something like Donald Trump's tweets, because quite often they shock people, people comment back. They don't just click a button. They put the time into responding. So, when we look to these social vanity metrics, we think it's important to split it into social applause, social amplification, and social conversation.
By splitting it into those three sections, you can kind of market and measure across channel. And then to think about business metrics, for those of you that spend time in the data, this is so much more important, and these are the things that are really gonna help you quantify the value in the long term.
So, the first thing is to check your search for your brand name plus product search volume. You can do it through Search Console, you can do it through Keyword Planner, obviously, but we like to measure this, because it kind of shows that people are associating your brand with that product all of a sudden.
So, on this kind of blurred out query version, the top one is just our client's brand name, and then you see it's brand name sofa, and then brand name sofas, brand name furniture. That's great for them, because finally people are understanding what it is they do, and they're associating it very closely with the brand name.
As we see brand name and sofa go up in volume, they've become the expected brand. And that means to not see them on the first page of results, of the results for the word "sofa," would be a bad user experience, because people expect it. Therefore that kind of overweighs a lot of the other ranking factors.
And then to think about CTR versus your average position. So, what we like to see is your CTR going up even if your average position isn't. That shows that your brand awareness is great. It shows that people have looked down those results and gone, "Quick, where's that brand that I knew?" And then they've seen it further down and clicked on it anyway.
And then we think that that really boosts, because it shows to Google that that was the brand people were looking for. They knew they wanted specifically that company, not any of the maybe better-optimized sites there above.
And then, from that, the final one, of course, is to think about your ROI. As I said, it's hard to measure. If you've got fancy attribution, you'll do really well understanding your brand awareness value. And if you don't, it's really just about tracking the activities you've done and when you've seen shifts in some of those vanity metrics, the impact it's had.
So, to tie in to kind of what I want you to take home with you and what you can implement, it's important to know that SEO isn't dead, but it is still developing. So, traditional SEO...oh, loads of pictures. Traditional SEO doesn't work anymore. It's not about meta tags and keywords, but what you can do is you can optimize by subject, you can nail your relevancy, and then that is how you do technical SEO and content SEO going forward.
The other thing to think about is you can scrape all of the things that your customers want to know. So, we know that content helps build a brand, because it's how people can connect with you. So, scrape, scrape, and continue scraping until you know everything that your customers are typing in online.
And then integrate your channels to promote that content. So, you know what people wanna talk about and put it out across every channel so you become that trusted brand who are giving people the answers and already know what their customers are thinking. And then look beyond just your vanity PR metrics.
So, great if you get a site with a high DA linking to you. That doesn't necessarily mean that you're gonna get more brand awareness if it's not the right relevancy from that site. So, don't focus on things like that. Stop tracking DAs and citation flows, and instead think about the impact that has on your brand's reputation. And measure your brand and product search, because it's a great one for showing people the impact that you've had with your brand awareness campaigns.
So, that's all my details. I'm on Twitter if you wanna talk to me and ask me questions, @hannahjthorpe, or you can drop me an email or grab me afterwards for a chat. I'll post the slides, because there's a whole screen of all of the links to things that will help you learn to do this better and have loads more information in it. Thank you.