The role of SEO in the martech stack: The voice of the customer
As brands build and manage their technology suites in an increasingly complex environment, contributor Jim Yu says organic search data increasingly plays a foundational role.
No two martech stacks are the same, but all martech stacks have the same core objective. Across industries and marketing channels, marketers seek to derive customer insights from data, with the aim of driving better business results. That’s why search engine optimization (SEO) is now playing a pivotal role across many CMOs marketing technology stacks.
Brands require a unifying data source that will link together their audience segments and their marketing activities, as a foundational layer for their martech stack. Organic search sits at the core of this ecosystem and acts, in multiple senses, as the true voice of the customer. As SEO is becoming voice-enabled, visual and vertical, the organic channel’s significance will only grow over the coming years. This makes it an invaluable element for any business that aims to improve their customer experience.
SEO and the CMO: Building martech stacks
For CMOs and marketing technologists, the stakes have never been higher, with projections from Foundation Capital estimating that technology spend by CMOs will grow tenfold over the next decade, from $12 billion to $120 billion. This is reflective of a martech landscape that is increasing in complexity in line with the fragmentation of consumer journeys.
To understand the consumer means to prioritize search, and vice versa; brands understand this. As Search Engine Land has previously reported, Borrell Associates predicts that brands in the US will spend $80 billion annually on SEO technologies and services by 2020.
As SEO takes a seat at the executive table, CMOs are focused on utilizing search to improve the customer experience at every stage, from initial engagement through to retention. In fact, Gartner data has revealed that CMOs are spending twice as much on customer retention as they are on acquisition. Meanwhile, an IBM C-Suite Study finds that successful CMOs today ask, ‘‘What do our customers want? And how do we best serve their latent needs?’’
The use of the word “latent” here is telling. The brands that thrive will use their organic search data to surface these needs and respond by creating content that powers every marketing activity. This cuts across all the main priorities for marketing departments today, as getting search right is the key to improving the customer experience. As seen above, the top priorities for CMO are related to consumer insights, both implicitly and explicitly.
These CMO objectives can be tied back to SEO and content marketing. When consumers have a want or need, whether for information or for products, they call upon search. This now extends into the inspiration stage, with Google reporting that people are searching in significant volumes for queries containing the word “ideas.”
SEO – Understanding the voice of the customer in martech
Undoubtedly, businesses are spending more on organic search technologies, just as they are spending more on martech across the board. Organic search offers a range of resources that can reveal the voice of the customer:
- Search query data: Search queries, whether spoken or typed, contain clear signals of intent that can be uncovered using natural language processing. As voice search grows in popularity, these opportunities to speak to the consumer through organic search will proliferate.
- SERP analysis: Brands can also avail themselves of Google’s resources (albeit indirectly) by using visual parsing to track the results served in response to search queries. These provide a reflection of Google’s understanding of the query. If video results are prominent for a particular keyword category, that gives good reason to believe consumers want to see these results.
- Analytics data and AI insights: When combined with analytics data, search queries can reveal a host of implicit intent signals. When, where, and how people search can be as telling as what they search for. Moreover, if companies are set up to capture insights, they can even learn from the occasions when visitors’ intents are not satisfied by the content on a brand’s website. This can all flow directly into a content marketing plan that provides more effective answers in the right media format. The application of AI and search technologies help provide smarter, faster and actionable insights focused on revenue improvements. Automation allows teams to scale and improve performance.
- Content marketing data: Content is about responding to user needs. The array of targeting options available to paid media channels is as essential as it is impressive, but marketers must also consider what they will say once we have their audience’s attention and become SMART with their content strategies. In a post-GDPR world, how content performs should be seen as a core indicator of a brand’s relationship with their customers.
- Cross-channel collaboration: If marketers can understand the underlying intent behind search queries, they can use both organic and paid search more effectively. For some queries, it will be essential to rank via local listings, while for others ranking within Quick Answers will be more important, for example. SEO insights can inform many other digital marketing activities, too. Search and social media should be closely aligned and the consumer knowledge taken from organic content can directly inform social media plans.
From data to knowledge to action
The SEO industry is moving towards an era of connectivity and integration, where devices all around us are connected to search engines. Through visual, voice, and vertical search this creates a lengthy list of new data points, all of which tell brands something about the hyper-connected consumer. Without a data science department, that can be an overwhelming challenge. As a result, businesses are turning to AI and deep learning algorithms to identify significant patterns in consumer behavior.
These algorithms are embedded in an increasing number of search technologies and can perform sophisticated statistical analysis at a huge scale. It is important to view these technologies as platforms with a continuous, real-time use rather than tools that can be used sporadically, however. The insights that are surfaced must be turned to action and monitored to assess the impact of their outcomes.
In an age of fragmentation within the martech landscape, brands are seeking enterprise-level search technologies that can consolidate this data and remove friction. From a conceptual standpoint, the screenshot below of the Cisco MarTech stack is a useful reference from Scott Brinker’s Chiefmartech.com.
In this example, the circular flow helps to engender the idea of continuous data sharing and learning, with the customer placed at the center. Where organic search may once have been viewed as an outer, marketing channel, we can now see that an SEO platform like BrightEdge (my company) sits as part of the foundational data layer that drives all other activities.
This has the further benefit of rallying disparate teams around common metrics and definitions of success. It also maintains a direct focus on listening to what the customer wants from the brand, before using this data to shape all content marketing and communications. Customers seek out frictionless online experiences; this approach to martech enables brands to provide them.
In summary: SEO and the martech stack
The creation of a cohesive martech stack will enable any business to derive more value from their data, which, in turn, will deliver positive business outcomes. If the focus on customer experience is a unifying factor at the strategic level across the business, the use of shared data and metrics is the means of achieving this in the granular detail. For example, many brands are now using shared targets around profitability, ROI, and share-of-voice to engender a culture that looks at the bigger business picture.
If meaningful data is the missing link in building powerful martech stacks, it is precisely the element SEO can provide. However, simply having vast quantities of data offers little guarantee of new insights. Enterprise-level search technologies that can synthesize these resources, use deep learning to identify behavioral patterns and shape more impactful content will prove to be the difference between noise and knowledge.
As search becomes more conversational — in many ways — it also becomes the best representation of the voice of the consumer. The brands that understand intent and listen intently will gain the competitive advantage.