By Adam Audette, SVP of SEO, Merkle
In the era of machine learning, intelligent assistants, and artificial intelligence, the customer journey is often an afterthought. Sure, we’re accelerating in our ability to leverage data to create ever more personalized advertising, and we’re making strides developing algorithms to target individual people, not just audience segments. But are we forgetting that human beings (you and I) are at the heart of all this technology?
The customer journey has never been more important, if we are to capitalize on the promise of personalized advertising. But how? To answer that, let’s step back in time to a simpler age.
Once upon a time the Internet was small. It consisted of simple web pages and directories to find them. Then came search engines, and Google, and the proliferation of large and complex websites; followed by advancements in ad technology, like programmatic, machine learning, addressable people-based marketing platforms, and intelligent assistants. And while these advancements in targeting and data insights now provide us with previously unimaginable insights and opportunity, we’re usually nowhere closer to creating better experiences for our customers. That is, unless we begin leveraging big data to inform more than outbound marketing channels.
The customer journey sits uniquely at the heart of content strategy. Paid media does not create the customer journey (although it can influence it). SEO does not create the customer journey, although it too can influence it. The customer journey is, to simplify, uniquely created by the content experiences that digital teams design and create. This is where new opportunities lie, because the content experience should be informed by the same rich data insights that drive outbound marketing campaigns. But, therein lies the rub.
The content of the future will need to be both personalized and evergreen. In most cases, the same content should appear to everyone (think major media). Yet in many cases, there should also be specific personalized elements to enhance and enrich the digital experience, and these should only be seen or heard by the person being targeted. Personalized elements are likely to create higher engagement, resulting in better performing marketing channels.
Content strategy (and SEO) sits at the nexus of these areas. Forming the inbound marketing “floor” to outbound paid media, it can both augment and reinforce paid campaigns, while offering content to the customer at top- and mid-funnel stages. As such, it plays a critical role in discovery and new customer acquisition. This helps marketers target known and unknown individuals at every level of the funnel, across every stage of the customer life cycle. Thought of this way, SEO and content strategy are the strategic partners to outbound marketing’s personalized targeting of the future. Brands and agencies that can match these interdependent channels can more fully capture the customer life cycle.
Content that is created using rich audience insights and includes personalized elements will result in higher engagement and sharing. These metrics will then feed back into the machine learning algorithms that rank pages in search engines like Google and social sites like Facebook, thus increasing the visibility and traffic from these sources to inbound channels.
Marketers today should be thinking about how to make their inbound marketing campaigns enhance outbound marketing spend. This is both a content strategy and an SEO opportunity. As the rise of intelligent assistants and AI continues, the proliferation of the customer journey across device types and behaviors means an ever-expanding opportunity to be there, be useful and be relevant for your customers. Digital marketers can do that by:
- Leveraging large data sets of individual users to target them across platforms
- Leveraging the same data hubs to gain richer insights into audience affinities and behaviors, as well as related topics and interests, to inform evergreen content strategy and personalized experiences
- Dynamically creating personalized content elements, combined with evergreen content, to drive visibility into highly correlated content themes
- Tracking search behavior back in aggregate to the data hub and marrying it with deterministic IDs, creating an end-to-end linkage of search behavior and people
We’re not far from being able to truly capitalize on the promise of people-based marketing at scale. As we drive toward this vision, it’s critical that marketers keep an eye on content strategy and its critical place at the center of the customer journey. That is a key to unlocking lifetime customer value and return on ad spend.