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Applying Digital Ethology to Content Strategy


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A look at how digital marketers can break free from the traditional keyword research process and embrace your unique position as digital ethologists. Digital marketers, and SEOs in particular, are the keepers of an incredible amount of information about human behavior. You have the tools and knowledge to deconstruct motivations, actions, and patterns of behavior that drive the research and purchase process. When you start with questions and natural observation, you're better positioned to perform in search and social. More important, if you take the time to quantitatively collect and document this data, you can help inform almost every part of an organization, especially content strategy.

Published in: Marketing

Applying Digital Ethology to Content Strategy

  1. 1. Applying Digital Ethology to Content Strategy Rhea Drysdale November 16, 2015 | #MozTalk @Rhea
  2. 2. Let’s start with a deep existential question. #MozTalk @Rhea
  3. 3. Do you feel valued?
  4. 4. Let’s talk about how to drive value. 4 #MozTalk @Rhea
  5. 5. Search has grown beyond tactical manipulation of a rudimentary algorithm into personalized, predictive technology we carry with us to the bathroom. 5 #MozTalk @Rhea
  6. 6. Google is starting to understand human behavior on a level that even our partners don’t fully understand us. 6 #MozTalk @Rhea
  8. 8. And, what is search if not a subset of human behavior? 8 #MozTalk @Rhea
  10. 10. PSA: The recommendations in this presentation may go beyond your current pay grade, but understanding the behavior of our audience is critical to the success of our organization. Search belongs in the board room. 10 #MozTalk @Rhea
  11. 11. Before we move on, let’s take a quick detour. 11 #MozTalk @Rhea
  12. 12. What did you want to be when you grew up? #MozTalk @Rhea
  13. 13. 13 If you received a degree, what field was this in?
  14. 14. Most of us didn’t become our childhood dreams. 14 #MozTalk @Rhea
  15. 15. 15 I wanted to save and/or understand the world.
  16. 16. My path was set: 16 #MozTalk @Rhea
  17. 17. 17 #MozTalk @Rhea
  18. 18. Unfortunately… 18 #MozTalk @Rhea
  19. 19. 19 #MozTalk @Rhea
  20. 20. Except there are incredible adults who I discovered through the wonder of movies. 20 #MozTalk @Rhea
  21. 21. 21 #MozTalk @Rhea
  22. 22. The evolution of my professional life looked something like this… 22 #MozTalk @Rhea
  23. 23. Make a difference Reach and inspire others. Understand human behavior (and make money). 23 #MozTalk @Rhea
  24. 24. Did this. Burnt out by 14. 24 #MozTalk @Rhea
  25. 25. Also did a lot of theater and stagecraft, but it felt limiting. 25 #MozTalk @Rhea
  26. 26. Fortunately, SEO combined all of those passions. (especially primate behavior) 26
  27. 27. Getting back to primate behavior… 27 #MozTalk @Rhea
  28. 28. e·thol·o·gy: the scientific and objective study of animal behavior especially under natural conditions #MozTalk @Rhea
  29. 29. Search engines try to identify resources relevant to a user’s needs and present information that is most useful to the user. (They study human behavior under natural conditions.) 29 #MozTalk @Rhea
  30. 30. And we study search engines, studying human behavior. 30 #MozTalk @Rhea
  31. 31. We used to track keywords. 31
  32. 32. Now we’re only scratching the surface of SERP-level analysis, especially with the latest innovations in SERPs such as predictive search, Hummingbird, and most recently, Google’s AI algorithm addition, RankBrain. 32
  33. 33. RankBrain performs relationship analysis between queries. It’s an attempt to interpret language, need states, and deliver something useful to an individual user. It’s now also the 3rd most important ranking signal in Google’s algorithm. 33 #MozTalk @Rhea
  34. 34. “If we can read every English document on the web, and turn each sentence into a thought vector, you've got plenty of data for training a system that can reason like people do. Now, you might not want it to reason like people do, but at least we can see what they would think. What I think is going to happen over the next few years is this ability to turn sentences into thought vectors is going to rapidly change the level at which we can understand documents.” ~ Geoffrey Hinton, Google Distinguished Research (Cognitive Psychology and Computer Scientist) 34 #MozTalk @Rhea
  35. 35. Everyone wants to build 10x content, but why? 35 #MozTalk @Rhea
  36. 36. Is this just thinly veiled link building? 36 #MozTalk @Rhea
  37. 37. You add value when you become the authority. 37 #MozTalk @Rhea
  38. 38. Google likes authority. 38 #MozTalk @Rhea
  39. 39. Authoritative Rank “In general, innovative aspects of the subject matter described in this specification can be embodied in methods including the actions of receiving a search query from a searching user, in response to the search query matching a trigger query, receiving a first set of authoritative users, processing the first set of authoritative users to define a second set of authoritative users, and transmitting instructions to display data associated with authoritative users of the second set of authoritative users with search results responsive to the search query.”
  40. 40. You should already be investing in authoritative content that anticipates and answers the needs of your audience. 40 #MozTalk @Rhea
  41. 41. Google is. 41 #MozTalk @Rhea
  42. 42. Your competitors probably are. 42 #MozTalk @Rhea
  43. 43. Authoritative content doesn’t have to be big, but it does need to match the intent of your audience during all phases of a “consumer journey:” Awareness > Consideration > Decision > Retention 43 #MozTalk @Rhea
  44. 44. You understand the mechanics of search, but have an advantage over search engines because you can also bridge the gap between motivation and action with a user (for now). 44 #MozTalk @Rhea
  45. 45. We only have so time before machine learning catches up (limited currently by the amount of technology needed to power it). 45 #MozTalk @Rhea
  46. 46. In the meantime, how can we drive value with limited data? 46 #MozTalk @Rhea
  47. 47. We start with query types and persona. 47 #MozTalk @Rhea
  48. 48. What are common search query types? 48 #MozTalk @Rhea
  49. 49. 1. Navigational 49 Because…
  50. 50. 2. Informational 50 #MozTalk @Rhea
  51. 51. What’s the intent of this query? 51 #MozTalk @Rhea
  52. 52. The majority of you probably don’t know, but Google does… 52 #MozTalk @Rhea
  53. 53. 2. Informational 53 Because…
  54. 54. 3. Transactional 54 Because…
  55. 55. But that’s not the “why” that we should be interested in as content strategists, digital marketers, business owners, etc. 55 #MozTalk @Rhea
  56. 56. Search and social won’t tell us why someone wants to purchase something and making assumptions will only take us so far. 56 #MozTalk @Rhea
  57. 57. The real why looks like amazing content opportunities to connect with your audience, but you won’t find this treasure trove of data in autocomplete, keyword research tools, competitive analysis, or your own analytics. 57 #MozTalk @Rhea
  58. 58. If you asked me why I need a toddler trampoline, I would have a complex thought process about the research and purchase process: • Educated, working mom trying to plan for family’s needs • Expecting a new baby and worried about their interactions, so I want to give him high-energy play space • Worried about high-energy interactions with the dog • Worried about filling the winter months with physical activity • Concerned about normal sensory seeking behavior • Researching sensory diets 58 #MozTalk @Rhea
  59. 59. CREATE AMAZING CONTENT ON: • Introducing your toddler to your new baby • How-to on dog and toddler interactions • List of winter activities for toddlers (ideally, each year and season, e.g. 2-yr-old activities for spring) • Sensory diet defined and how to make one for your child 59 #MozTalk @Rhea
  60. 60. When in doubt, type your subject into Pinterest to find poorly written and illustrated, but wonderfully helpful content. 60 #MozTalk @Rhea
  61. 61. 61
  62. 62. But how do we get this information? 62 #MozTalk @Rhea
  63. 63. If we have great content we can do segment analysis, but even if we have the data to track an individual on our site, we’re limited to 90 days worth of data. 63 #MozTalk @Rhea
  64. 64. The answer is found in ethology. 64
  65. 65. Observational data collection considerations: Biggest concern is the observer’s presence on the observed subject. We also have to determine how and what we will measure (event sampling or time sampling). 65 #MozTalk @Rhea
  66. 66. When should we turn to observation?  When the nature of the research question to be answered is focused on answering a how- or what-type question  When the topic is relatively unexplored and little is known to explain the behavior of people in a particular setting  When understanding the meaning of a setting in a detailed way is valuable  When it is important to study a phenomenon in its natural setting  When self-report data (asking people what they do) is likely to be different from actual behavior (what people actually do) 66 #MozTalk @Rhea
  67. 67. If I asked you how you would find an exterminator, what would you say? 67 #MozTalk @Rhea
  68. 68. Guess what? You’re probably… 68 #MozTalk @Rhea
  69. 69. WRONG!!!!! 69 #MozTalk @Rhea
  70. 70. You would actually search for: “scratching in my walls” “giant black bug, is it poisonous?” “what kind of ant is this?” “little red bites on my son’s arms” 70 #MozTalk @Rhea
  71. 71. I know this because, “omfg what is that sound in my attic?” (It was bats. It will cost $3,500 for removal at least. They have a mating season and can’t be disturbed then.) 71 #MozTalk @Rhea
  72. 72. We need to observe our subjects. 72 #MozTalk @Rhea
  73. 73. Use fieldnotes Record date, time, subject, environment, etc. Then collect two-sided documentation: Observations Comments (Time or event-based) Your inferences/questions 73 #MozTalk @Rhea
  74. 74. Since people aren’t as easy to track as animals… 74 #MozTalk @Rhea
  75. 75. We have to talk to people. 75 #MozTalk @Rhea
  76. 76. Who can we talk to? • Talk to customer service • Talk to the sales team • Conduct surveys • Hold focus groups • Interview your subjects 76 #MozTalk @Rhea
  77. 77. Getting back to query types. Are we missing one? 77 #MozTalk @Rhea
  78. 78. 4. Question Queries 78 Because…
  79. 79. How do we optimize for questions? The same way we optimize for anything else. 79 #MozTalk @Rhea
  80. 80. Getting back to your purpose in life. How do you drive value? 80 #MozTalk @Rhea
  81. 81. The data you collect can help inform… 81 #MozTalk @Rhea
  82. 82. Leadership decisions #MozTalk @Rhea
  83. 83. The Setup Leadership wanted to rank better for long-tail terms, so the in-house team setup duplicated pages of the existing ecommerce pages with a different experience and more content. This dynamic solution generated millions and millions of pages. #MozTalk @Rhea
  84. 84. The Setup Leadership also based navigation in personal experience versus data. #MozTalk @Rhea Client
  85. 85. Findings - Primary navigation accounted for only 10.1% of all homepage clicks - We found 36 navigational areas received 0% of all clicks - Also discovered sub-nav below the fold buried two clicks deep with 14% of clicks - Primary navigation was a jumble of types, brands, and products #MozTalk @Rhea
  86. 86. Findings - Tens of millions of duplicated “SEO” URLs weren’t being indexed - Only 4.8 million indexed URLs - Only 144 backlinks to 32 URLs - We only wanted to reclaim 5 of those backlinks - Decided to keep 175 URLs - Decided to redirect 17,578 URLs - Got rid of everything else - Within the first 30 days of the change, we saw an 11.25% increase in priority keyword rankings in the top 10 on Google - Small anticipated revenue decrease, but without execution of any of the planned optimization of existing URLs - Increase in Domain Authority #MozTalk @Rhea
  87. 87. Points of differentiation #MozTalk @Rhea
  88. 88. “The two companies were indistinguishable in their process and ability to help.” 88 #MozTalk @Rhea
  89. 89. POD unclear in a highly regulated industry, but social listening and search analysis on forums uncovered an answer that had eluded them for decades including in-depth market research by third parties. Woohoo! 89 #MozTalk @Rhea
  90. 90. “…we liked the supervisor” “…the supervisor was good, but the one before was more accessible, organized, and knowledgeable, so I’d look at the other companies.” “…they have the best support team.” 90 #MozTalk @Rhea
  91. 91. Great. Create content about the supervisors! 91
  92. 92. Brand positioning #MozTalk @Rhea
  93. 93. Company based entire content strategy and external communication around a term that’s dying. Through competitive and industry analysis, social listening, and autocomplete/suggested search we found the right descriptive terminology for them. 93
  94. 94. Marketing strategy #MozTalk @Rhea
  95. 95. Failure is also a significant source of information if your audience simply doesn’t respond to your campaigns. #MozTalk @Rhea
  96. 96. Client A 3% success rate Over 8 months 96 Client B 16% success rate Over 2 months
  97. 97. Who won? Neither, because search couldn’t make up for reputation problems with client A and industry disrupters with bigger marketing campaigns with Client B. These efforts helped provide data on where and how marketing dollars were best spent. #MozTalk @Rhea
  98. 98. Content strategy #MozTalk @Rhea
  99. 99. Remember those pests in your attic? 99 #MozTalk @Rhea
  100. 100. Library we created and optimized now accounts for: 62% of all ranking keywords 81% of all ranking keyword search volume 43% of all ranking page 1 keywords 64% of all ranking page 1 keyword search volume #MozTalk @Rhea
  101. 101. The Results 101 #MozTalk @Rhea
  102. 102. Information architecture #MozTalk @Rhea
  103. 103. Client’s heavily regulated industry based solely on one keyword and slight variations. 103 #MozTalk @Rhea
  104. 104. This keyword generated a Google Definition before organic results in the SERPs. (There’s confusion about the service and Google understood this when the client did not.) 104 #MozTalk @Rhea
  105. 105. Keyword research showed a significant amount of questions and SERP analysis showed Google frequently displaying Answer Boxes with competitors featured above the client’s 1st place organic listing. 105 #MozTalk @Rhea
  106. 106. Content written for regulatory purposes, not audiences. 106 #MozTalk @Rhea
  107. 107. Developed new primary navigation with supporting content to address the needs of the audience and help achieve business objectives. 107 #MozTalk @Rhea
  108. 108. Search technology is evolving to better understand and anticipate human behavior. We’re no longer just webmasters, content creators, or SEO hats. #MozTalk @Rhea
  109. 109. Search holds the key to what organizations need to succeed. We are the keepers of how humans want (or don’t want) to find and interact with our organizations. 109 #MozTalk @Rhea
  110. 110. 110 #MozTalk @Rhea
  111. 111. Tools Used - – outreach management - – query trends - – backlink analysis - – competitive analysis - – SERP analysis - (In-Page Analytics) - – enterprise SEO platform #MozTalk @Rhea