It’s interesting how everyday assignments can sometimes challenge core conventional wisdom. I was speaking with a new client recently about very broad digital marketing opportunities. This client had extended our meeting invitation to a consultant who had been retained to manage search engine marketing specifically. I began the conversation by starting down a familiar path: discussing business goals, key performance indicators (KPIs), requisite content and offers..
The consultant spoke up, noting that a lot of the keyword decisions had been made, and the client had agreed which terms needed to be supported with content and calls-to-action. It was an unexpected comment, and it took me a moment to formulate an opinion and regain my stride.
I’ve been thinking about the ideal way to pursue search opportunities ever since that conversation. Granted, this consultant was engaged strictly with the instruction to identify search engine channel opportunities. That aside, I was still left with the question: “Which comes first, the keyword or the content?”
The Case For the Keyword
Understanding a user’s needs and expectations is certainly a prerequisite to delivering against those expectations. The obvious benefit to advertising across search engine results pages is the ability to deliver messaging in response to verbatim, self-expressed intent. The user identifies the information he/she is after, and search engine advertisers vie for that user’s attention, click and subsequent engagement. The linear flow of that model starts with the keywords selected by the marketer for purchase and/or optimization.
Beginning with the keyword also forces the marketer to pre-qualify areas where the brand can compete. Through assessing keyword demand and competition (via free or paid tools), marketers can very precisely chart the strategy before embarking on a program. A rich website experience is meaningless without visitors to engage with the content; assuming search is a key traffic referral source, it’s important to make practical keyword choices.
The Case For The Content
Pursuing opportunities in search without considering how search can help solve fundamental business challenges is a huge miss. I believe that a “search strategy” can be built to support any “brand strategy.” I believe in that so much that I’ll often punt on UX and content recommendations until the core of the approach has been defined, only stepping in at the end to help round out the plan. That’s a somewhat controversial position to take; many experts are of the opinion that search insight should be a leading driver throughout.
But the long tail of search presents opportunity for everyone to succeed. I’m fond of saying that search is unique in that, in capable hands, success is not only possible, it’s probable. Through analytics-driven refinement, search can be adjusted until it produces a positive ROI. That can be accomplished either through careful keyword pruning or bid adjustments (or both).
Which is why, to me, the content and surrounding experience is infinitely more important than specific keyword phrases. Our jobs should be focused on leveraging search channel opportunities that will deliver the organizational objectives. If those organizational objectives are best met with a specific content-driven experience, then that should be the approach. Making content decisions based on keyword popularity alone seems misguided.
A friend shared with me once the best analogy to the viewpoint I’m describing. He noted that, from a marketer’s perspective, keyword terms are really magnets that attract users to the subsequent on-site experience. They function as the initial attractor, but it’s the content that invites engagement and conversion.
Surely there are many perspectives on this, so let me throw it back to you. Which comes first, the keyword or the content?