It’s no secret that the importance of content strategy and production has grown massively in the global digital marketing community. Yet when I joined the industry just four short years ago, content wasn’t exactly on the sidelines: certainly, the quantity of work a team member was expected to output was quite a bit higher. Working in the snippet groves and article centrifuges of turn of the decade SEO, you were never short of things to do – the work you did just wasn’t especially important.
Ultimately, the change comes down to a difference in how everyone – whether inside a dedicated content team or outside of it – approaches the platter of keywords that are determined for each client.
Keyword research and the old SEO
Keywords were once considered unmalleable and almost bizarrely inscrutable. I have less than fond memories of repeatedly attempting to perform grammatical gymnastics because the holiday-goers of deepest, darkest recessionary 2010 were specifically searching for “holidays Carribean” (sic). Just try fitting that exact phrase into a sentence without adding punctuation or words that would actually help it make sense.
Even as the most paranoid SEOs became a little more comfortable with the idea that Google’s labyrinthine data centres could probably join the dots on such a simple matter of language processing, keywords were still afforded little in the way of actual scrutiny. Thankfully, the industry is now a lot better at understanding that while keyword research is perfect for tweaking an approach to the areas you already have covered on a site, an extra layer of analysis is needed to uncover new areas, pages and site structures that actually serve the intent behind searches.
Applying an audience intent analysis
Internally, we refer to this extra layer as an ‘audience intent analysis’. Usually working with around 1,000 terms per market, built out from a core short tail term, we identify frequently occurring lexemes in the pool of keyterm data. These lexemes can inevitably be clustered along certain thematic lines, and their relative search volumes compared – the resulting graphs allow us to identify where the biggest opportunities lie, as well as provide content recommendations for your site and international SEO strategy.
The table below provides a brief example of how a pool of terms can be thematically worked through. Working down the list, we realise that there are various descriptors of destination, holiday type and price.
We recently ran a small scale audience intent analysis around the term “florida holidays” for the purpose of an internal experiment (note that instances of “florida” and “holidays” aren’t noted in the table above – their appearance isn’t sufficiently meaningful in this instance). This focussed initially on how the UK market searches for holidays in the state of Florida, USA. Though using only 500 terms – at least half what we’d usually recommend – it still provides an interesting applied example.
So once we’ve worked through all 500 terms in the keyword pool, we can count the instances of each term using a pivot table and produce a series of graphs. In the above example, we could observe that Orlando dominates Search and Miami has a significant presence. In the (unlikely) event that the client doesn’t have content surrounding Orlando as a destination, we can recommend its creation – possibly cross referencing other themes to suggest more specific topics that need covering.
The themes identified in the audience intent analysis can also be linked to stages in the consumer’s buying cycle. Destination search, for instance, is likely to be a range of ideas rather than a specific villa – and a search for specific airlines is likely to be close to the point of purchase. It’s worth observing that holidays can have multiple purchase points, where flights and accommodation are booked separately.
The cultural dimensions exposed – how Spain searches for Miami, not Mickey
Though the output can enable easy at a glance prioritisation and portioning of content production around each theme, the method comes into its own when applied across markets. Add another 500 terms in for the (European) Spanish market and you can easily make the case that a one-size-fits-all content strategy simply isn’t going to work.
Placing European Spanish search alongside UK search, the need for a regional focus on Miami – a de-emphasis of Orlando content is particularly apparent. You would also think twice about localising UK content based on Florida Keys considering this data.
A degree of cultural insight is needed to properly decipher this difference in search intent. In this instance, the fact that Miami is the second largest Spanish speaking city in the United States and has a Spanish-language media production centre is a major contributing factor. The Spanish market is naturally drawn to a city that speaks their language and is frequently glamourised in its film and television – Miami is a cultural bridge between not only Spain and the US, but with Latin America too.
Our limited study suggests that though the UK content team should be churning out as much content related to Disney as possible, it is unsafe to assume that the “most magical place on earth” has precisely the same cultural cachet in Spain. Disney-themed Florida holidays account for a far higher percentage of searches in the UK – the association is still there in Spain, but to nowhere near the same degree.
We could pin this on the relative strength of the Disney brand in the UK – an English language cultural export with countless British resonances – or perhaps even the comparative readiness of Spanish holiday-makers to ‘settle’ for Disneyland Paris.
Further insights from this research include:
• The lack of Spanish search for “villas”, a term uniquely used in the UK to describe holiday accommodation
• Higher volumes of search for package holidays by UK searchers, whereas all-inclusive holidays are favoured in Spain
• Our data shows far greater volumes of UK search for specific airline and travel agent brands – only Iberia registers in Spain
• An enormous spike of search for flights specifically from Madrid dwarfs all other departure searches in Spain
• UK searches are rarely so specific, suggesting that they are far more concerned about finding cheaper flights
• This is backed up by the fact that there is proportionally a larger amount of search for “cheap” terms in the UK (though the term is certainly still significant in Spain)
These insights are only a small piece of the puzzle of search intent, but they allow us to refine keyword research into a form more relevant to content strategy. For businesses operating in both the UK and Spanish markets, targeting Florida as a holiday destination, our findings suggest that the products you offer should be substantially different. Though we would encourage more in-depth research to back up these claims, we would be recommending that a client in these markets:
1. Steers content production and product priorities towards Orlando for UK search and Miami for Spanish search
2. Places as much emphasis on ‘Disney holiday’ content as possible in the UK and use resources to translate only the most successful pieces for the Spanish market
3. Emphasises choice of departure and airline in the UK
4. Emphasises all-inclusive holidays in Spain
We asked Oban International’s managing director, Greig Holbrook to articulate the importance of this approach to us: “Understanding your audience and its search behaviour is a fundamental building block for online marketing. Search engines and searchers are demanding increasingly accurate and relevant search results –so if you can understand why groups of consumers are typing a search query you can categorise their activity and make sure your marketing message, supporting content and website is meeting their needs through Paid Media, Social Media, Content or SEO.”
The days of wrapping key terms in any old article are over – the content we can recommend and create both onsite and off can serve multiple stages of the buying cycle, across cultures and markets. Similarly, the days of the “English first” internet are far behind: statistics about growth in non-English markets impress on an almost daily basis. Whether it’s Brazil’s 88.5 million internet users or China’s potential as a 4G trendsetter, there’s enormous amounts of untapped potential – but you’ll have to understand your target customer’s intent if you want to profit.