SEO is for the Customers, Not the Search Engines

It’s almost strange to think about but the concept of SEO has existed for more than two decades. Many of us still remember the days before Google became the premier search engine, back when Yahoo! still had a chance and Ask Jeeves was still a viable and hilarious alternative. However, the world has changed a lot since then. Search engines aren’t just convenient, they’re an inherent part of the modern way of life. Don’t know how to do something, we “google” it. Mysterious medical symptom? Google it. Lost the manual to an appliance? Google it. The list goes on.

The fact of the matter is that looking up something on a search engine is now reflexive taking it from a general interaction to something very personal. Our search histories are more revealing than a personal diary. They show our every little curious thought, everything we’ve wondered how to do or where to go or wanted to find out more about. And yet somehow big companies still think about SEO as being about them and the search engine itself.

What companies want from SEO

It’s easy to get SEO priorities tangled because of the perspective every company works from. Ultimately, your goal as a business is to bring in more customers which means showing up on more search results as immediately in the searcher’s view as possible. Because people mostly select one of the first five options on the first page, it’s no surprise that businesses compete viciously for ‘page rank’. This determines whether or not your business gets the honor of a first-page listing and how high on the page your pages appear. The idea is that the more eyes on a listing, the more clicks it will get but this isn’t necessarily true. Paying for high-demand keywords and optimizing your content to contain popular phrases could be a complete waste of time if you don’t understand your real goal: showing up on search results where you’re wanted.

This is the difference between a lead and a conversion and the gap can be huge. While it’s true that you can’t get clicks and conversions if you don’t show up on the screen, not a single one of those views will become a customer if you’re not showing up on the right searches. The more specifically you can appeal to customers who, right at that moment, want what you have to offer the more likely you’ll be to actually turn a view into a click and then a conversion.


Let’s say you develop custom mobile apps. Tons of research is done every day on app development, but only a fraction are going to be customers interested in paying an outside agency to make a new app from scratch. The keywords you may feel are the most obvious for your business are often too general or too niche to truly target your audience.

Clicks from fellow custom developers are only useful if you’re looking to build a reputation in the industry. Clicks from people who want quick and dirty template apps are only useful if you have a plan to convince them otherwise. And clicks from people who already have apps are only useful if they are interested in paying for a new developer to make improvements. This means that while your keywords may bring views and readers, you need a lot more than a generalized mobile development keyword set to actually win conversions.

SEO is for the customer

It’s easy to get caught up in all the advanced analysis and quantifying tools that are currently available, but remember that the number one purpose of SEO is to do the reverse of reading the customer’s mind. You want to know what the customer will be thinking (and typing) when what they really want is what you have to offer. The more obvious examples include things like “Plumbing service near me” or “Where to find a good plumber in [location]” but with theory of mind sophisticated SEO technique, you can find more customers at the near-buying point or even catch them earlier in the funnel when they’re just starting to research the problems you solve.

In fact, that’s what all the analysis should really be used for, identifying the thoughts customers have right before they choose a product or service. When it comes to winning new customers and building readers into conversions, your targeting almost always comes in the form of questions and answers. Once you know the questions customers are asking at the key decision-making points, SEO becomes easy, as simple as answering those questions with inbound marketing and essentially helpful keyword embedding. Of course, SEO is often easier to understand with examples so this time let’s say your company is “Joe’s Electrician Pros” and you want to write optimized inbound marketing content for potential customers. Here’s what a customer-centric SEO keyword list would look like for just one customer journey:

Electrician customer-centric keywords

  • “Why do lights flicker?”
  • “How to reset a breaker box”
  • “Is a flickering light dangerous?”
  • “How to fix a flickering light”
  • “How to update an old light fixture”
  • “How much does it cost to hire an electrician?”
  • “Professional electrician in Dublin”
  • “Dublin electrician repair today”

What the customer is thinking

Why is SEO so important in the first place? Because search engines are even better than foot traffic for bringing in new customers every day. People who search for words that occur frequently in your website will be offered your business among others to choose from and the better matched you are to what they searched for (and the more popular your site is) the more likely you will within the first few most-clicked options. Don’t just gloss over, stop and think about this. You get more views based on how similar your content words are to customer searches, but it doesn’t have to be they keywords everyone else in your industry is fighting over. Keep in mind that the ‘big ticket’ keywords that cost more to buy and are more popular on the stats also tend to be at the center of industry venn-diagrams.

Take the app development example. ‘mobile app development’ and even ‘custom app’ are huge categories that could attract a lot of traffic. But targeting phrases like ‘unique app’ or even more specifically, questions like “How can I make my mobile app stand out?” are much more likely to win you custom app development customers. As long as you know what the customer is thinking before they completely ‘narrow down’ their search, you can win business that your competitors are missing out on because they are focused on keywords that get big numbers, but not big results. In fact, you can even help well-targeted leads figure out what they want by being familiar with the decision journey they are on.

What the customer searches for

What your customers search for will be based on your industry, the services you provide, and even the specific people you tend to cater to. As a company, you know your customer base better than anyone else and all those useful marketing analysis tools are there to give you an even clearer picture of who you serve. The hottest keywords aren’t just values to be used, they’re pieces of thoughts. Remember that people search for everything at the smallest curious motivation, and the results of these searches often evolve into decisions. Think back to our example. The first predictable keywords are triggers and concepts like “Why are my lights flickering?”.

Think of it as playing jeopardy. If your service is the answer, what are the questions? People always want to know more, and some particular questions need to be answered before a decision can be made. They need to know how much something costs, how long it will take, if they can do it themselves or if they need a professional, and they often are curious about the details of how things work and why. You, as the professional, can provide this information through blogs, videos, and well-built FAQs.

All the inbound marketing you can SEO

Now that you know what your customers are thinking, SEO becomes a snap. Sure, you still have to think about your best keywords when writing, but well-targeted content about what your customers want to know is essentially already pre-targeted and will contain all the right keywords. Just remember when creating content to always do so with the customer’s perspective and buyer journey in mind, starting with the reason they need your goods or services in the first place. The good news is that this opens up your inbound marketing campaigns to a huge variety of content as almost anything that relates to the customer’s experience of your industry is relevant. You can even throw in some interesting content about industry inner-workings to engage your more curious leads.

SEO was meant from the start to be a helpful feature to guide users to what they need and has been continuously improved to that end. Therefore the best SEO tactics will usually also be the most helpful to your customers. Offer them useful information and advice through both your inbound marketing content and the blurbs scattered throughout your website and watch your traffic patterns change. For more business SEO tips and tricks, contact us today!

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