A friend of mine alerted me to a recent interesting read via the New Yorker. The article, written in part as a reaction to the recent US election and the alleged fake news items that social media spread, reminded me of why I always start off with empathy when approaching a new SEO campaign.
The article critiques technology’s absolute power to corrupt and persuade the public. Should they not, the journalist argues, use all of this data for social good?
“Silicon Valley’s biggest failing is not poor marketing of its products, or follow-through on promises, but, rather, the distinct lack of empathy for those whose lives are disturbed by its technological wizardry. Two years ago, on my blog, I wrote, “It is important for us to talk about the societal impact of what Google is doing or what Facebook can do with all the data. If it can influence emotions (for increased engagements), can it compromise the political process?”
SEO gives us the power to persuade actions. If we focus on keywords and not on humans, we’re not addressing uniquely humans wants and concerns.
This means we’re going to be faced with two problems:
- We’ll send unqualified leads to our website.
- We won’t be able to convert website traffic.
Not to mention the ethical quandary of keyword stuffing!
So here’s my case for empathy-based SEO, and a more human-centric approach to keyword research and SEO copywriting.
How to use empathy to fuel your SEO results
1. Start with market research
So many businesses initially turn to keyword research to try to understand their audiences more. While honing in on long-tail keywords can deliver some insights, your first stop should never be Moz's Keyword Explorer or SEMRush. Start with some old-fashioned market research. This doesn’t require hiring a marketing company and forking out lots of money. You can do this all yourself quite inexpensively.
If you have a product-based business, one useful tip I learned from Joanna at Copyhackers is to mine Amazon and similar websites for product reviews. These types of websites are a haven for customer concerns, and I’ve found that Amazon’s reviews are of high quality. If you happen to own a cosmetics-based business, you’ll love the reviews on MakeUpAlley.com.
Other avenues for market research include:
- Facebook Groups
- Joining a mastermind
- Whirlpool (great for technology and finance-related topics)
- Survey Monkey for sending questionnaires to an engaged audience, like a nurtured email list.
2. Create your personas
If you’re a member of Marie Forleo’s B-School or you’ve joined any similar online course designed for female entrepreneurs, you’ll be well aware of this activity. If not, it’s a process where you create a character with wants, needs, traits and physical attributes that match your ideal customer. Also known as a customer avatar, this exercise is designed to get you inside the heads of those you provide a service or product for. When you understand their day-to-day lives, aspects of their personalities, and their particular lifestyle needs, only then can you effectively and efficiently craft copy that will engage them.
Not sure where to start? My worksheet is a great place to begin creating your audience persona. You can download it instantly when you subscribe to Communique, my e-newsletter on all things content, SEO and business.
3. Ask for testimonials
When you ask existing or previous customers and clients why they chose you and continue to do so, you’ll gain a world of insight. Questions to ask include:
- Why did you choose me/us?
- What was your primary concern when looking for our product/service?
- What did you enjoy about the process of working with me/us?
- Any room for improvements?
If you have an online store, you might think that this might be impossible for you to do. Depending on how engaged your audience is, one option is to send out the survey in an e-letter, and provide an incentive for filling it in.
4. Understand that you’re not perfect
A common error that many businesses make is that they want to be everything, to everyone. But when we assume that our mastery can fulfil the wants and needs of all, we fail to recognise and empathise with the unique desires of individuals. I can’t be a copywriter for corporates – they can’t handle my quirk. But fashion copywriting? And working with lifestyle business, and those in the health and wellness sphere? This I can excel in. And I do. So I speak to the needs of marketing managers, small business owners and entrepreneurs in those industries.
Radiant Roots, a coaching business for spiritual women, does this quite well. The website’s language speaks to the needs of women specifically, who likely work round-the-clock, and are receptive to language the has esoteric connotations. In other words, not CEOs in need of corporate coaching.
The increasing need for empathy in SEO doesn’t come from those who’ve designed the Google algorithm, or even from the business owners themselves. It comes from a lack of outward thinking that forgets the people on other side of screen. A poorly converting website is a reminder that you’re not addressing a distinctively human need, not that SEO doesn’t work or that Google is evil. Remember that the language you use affects real people, for good and bad.