Search marketing — and the entire digital landscape — has evolved tremendously over the past 20 years. As a result, the core strategy of modern marketing teams has shifted away from old, intrusive tactics and towards value-based marketing.
Marketers have come to realize that pushing their sales messaging on customers isn’t as effective as attracting them through meaningful and helpful interactions. The most successful teams are refocusing their efforts on delivering value to their customers at each stage of the buyer’s journey.
- Top of the Funnel: Awareness: At the top of the funnel, you’re trying to generate awareness of your brand — at this point, your prospects aren’t seeking to buy anything quite yet. The goal of your top-of-funnel content isn’t to sell them on your solution or product – just concern yourself with education. Providing helpful information positions your brand as a trusted authority.
- Middle of the Funnel: Consideration: The middle of the funnel is arguably the most influential part of the buyer’s journey. It’s where they assess the competitive landscape and develop an affinity for one solution over another. The goal for mid-funnel content is targeted and educational. It educates potential customers on your competitive differentiators in order to nurture them to the bottom of the funnel.
- Bottom of the Funnel: Decision: At the bottom of the funnel, the customer is ready to make a decision. The goal at this stage is to close the sale. Here the prospect becomes a customer. At the bottom of the funnel, branded keywords are important.
This shift means that modern marketing teams have to adapt by investing in content. And as brands grow their content marketing teams and double down on content creation, the SEO is becoming a more essential, strategic, and proactive player.
To win in the world of content marketing, content and SEO teams have to be aligned. After all, without content, there is no SEO, and without SEO, content doesn’t get found.
Strategic alignment from the outset between SEO and content is key to ensure content is optimized throughout the buyer’s journey.
At each stage, it’s essential to leverage the appropriate SEO and content strategies together to deliver maximum value and convert prospects.
Top of the Funnel: Awareness
Goal: Brand awareness
Tactic: Educational content targeting question-based queries
At the top of the funnel, you’re trying to generate awareness of your brand — at this point, your prospects aren’t seeking to buy anything quite yet. Rather, they have likely realized a problem or opportunity and are doing their due diligence by researching and collecting data.
The goal of your top-of-funnel content isn’t to sell them on your solution or product – just concern yourself with education. Providing helpful information positions your brand as a trusted authority.
Consumers are 131 percent more likely to buy from a brand immediately after they consume educational content, and the effect lasts, according to research from Conductor (disclosure: I work for Conductor).
Customers have more trust and affinity toward brands that provide valuable content.
At the awareness phase, users may search for, “How to remove a stain?” The intent of isn’t to buy a stain remover, but to discover solutions.
The exact resource you’ll offer depends on your audience and their needs, but the ideal types of content best delivered at the top of the funnel include:
- How-to guides.
- Other long-form content.
The goal is to optimize this content around the types of question-based queries that customers ask during this phase to rank in the SERPs. This is where content and SEO converge.
Keywords must be integrated into the page structure (URL structure, meta description, etc.) of content and align with search intent to rank well.
One of the most valuable SERP results today for both brands and customers is Google’s Answer Box.
The Answer Box (also known as “position zero” thanks to its placement) is a featured snippet that appears at the top of SERPs. It includes the text Google thinks answers the question, the title of the webpage that contains the content, and its URL.
Answer boxes have been around for some time, but are becoming more prominent as Google is better able to match search intent with content.
Answer boxes not only leapfrog content to the top of the results but also puts your brand front-and-center as an authority on the topic.
There are no definitive guidelines for securing position zero, and the content can come from any result on the first page. It’s related to a combination of search intent, the content’s structure, and markup.
However, we know that focusing on long-tail keywords and, as always, providing inherent value is key.
Middle of the Funnel: Consideration
Goal: Nurture and build brand affinity
Tactic: Solutions to use-cases, third party validation
As a customer moves past awareness, they enter the middle of the funnel, where they’re seeking content to evaluate the different solution providers or tools available.
The middle of the funnel is arguably the most influential part of the buyer’s journey. It’s where they assess the competitive landscape and develop an affinity for one solution over another.
The goal for mid-funnel content is targeted and educational. It educates potential customers on your competitive differentiators in order to nurture them to the bottom of the funnel.
The types of content and keywords you target at this phase shift considerably from the awareness phase.
The search query changes from “How to remove a stain?” to “Best stain removers.”
Queries like this are indicators that the buyer has moved mid-funnel and is seeking specific solutions. Rather than educating the broader market, you are speaking to a potential buyer who is expressing interest.
The content that works well here includes:
- Case studies.
- Data sheets.
- Buyer’s guides.
But delivering value to customers during this stage isn’t just about your own content — you should also highlight third-party publications and sites, as they validate your position in the market.
Even more, securing external links from trusted sites improves your domain authority and SERP rankings at all stages of the buyer’s journey.
Bottom of the Funnel: Decision
Goal: Close the sale
Tactic: Branded keywords, sales enablement
At the bottom of the funnel, the customer is ready to make a decision. The goal at this stage is to close the sale.
Here the prospect becomes a customer.
At the bottom of the funnel, branded keywords are important.
Branded keywords express direct intent for your solution. You want to ensure you are maximizing your online visibility in those search results to safeguard from competitors infringing on your branded traffic.
The content most relevant for prospects at this stage are:
- Other specific product information.
You want to create content that your buyer can share internally to move the purchase conversation forward and engage the relevant stakeholders.
In a B2B business, much of the bottom-funnel content is about enabling the sales team to close the deal. The aim is to convince folks to pull the trigger, to answer any outstanding questions, and to feel empowered to make the decision.
The average lead-to-deal conversion rate from a website is 1.55 percent, according to a research by Implisit. With such low conversion rates, it’s essential marketing teams align their content and SEO strategies to maximize their performance.
It isn’t only about creating valuable content but also optimizing that content to get found online by the right prospect at the right time in the buyer’s journey.
Marketers who only optimize their content for keywords will falter because it doesn’t deliver true value. While marketers that don’t consider SEO will falter because their content will go undiscovered.
SEO and content work together to lead your prospect all the way through the funnel toward becoming a customer — and discover that you’re the solution they’ve been looking for.