How a Stack of Post-it-Notes Can Help You Win More Customers

When I decided to sign up for the Authority Intensive conference put on by Copyblogger Media, I knew that assembly of speakers (keynotes were Seth Godin and Darren Rowse) would not disappoint.  Segments focused on Design, Content, Traffic and Conversion are all things that our clients are interested in.  The more we know, the more help we can be to them.  Suffice it to say that the conference experience was of utmost quality in every regard.  It far exceeded my expectations at every level.

I went into the experience hoping to acquire a handful of practical tips and tactics that could help clients NOW–not later.  And while I did pick up more than a handful of tools and ideas (more on that later), I saw a common thread in a few of the speakers that represents a major shift in the digital marketing industry.  I’m not sure when it happened, but it became abundantly clear to me that SEO is undergoing a renaissance–a sea change.

The first speaker who helped me see this was named Dennis Goedegebuure, who used to head SEO for eBay and now manages it for Airbnb.  He gave a great talk which included some practical wisdom on some well-known best practices (e.g. links, URL structure, content, etc.).  But he seemed to spend less time talking about tactics and more time talking about design, brand, and story.  Huh?

When I approached Dennis G (don’t even try to pronounce his last name) to ask the question I was too afraid to ask on the microphone in front of the group, he cleared it up for me.  My question, quite simply, was: “How do you advise smaller businesses that don’t have the abundant resources of eBay to start with SEO?”  In essence, I was asking him to tell me which tactic was more important than the next.  To my surprise, his answer had nothing to do with keywords, link-building, or otherwise.  Instead, he said (and I’m paraphrasing):

“The most important thing a smaller business can do to get started with SEO is to step back with a stack of Post-it-Notes, map out a customer’s journey to becoming a customer on a wall, and then work on the areas where your site, content, and social strategy are weak.”  He was more concerned about the customer’s experience than he was the latest SEO gimmicks and tricks.

When it comes to how this process relates to SEO, John Doherty summed it up this way:

People like good design. With good design comes a lot of trust that the company is legit and knows what they are doing. Good design is pleasing and therefore people feel pleasure. They keep coming back to the site, and buying, because it is a good experience for them.

As the conference went on, other experts also emphasized this shift from tactics to experience.  Copyblogger founder Brian Clark alluded to the “good old days” when having the right words in the right places (anchor text) could make all of the difference in the world in generating traffic.  Ann Handley of MarketingProfs remarked that empathy and experience should be more important concerns than articles or blog posts.  Copyblogger Chief Content Officer Sonia Simone encouraged site owners to move users “closer to where they want to be because of something you’re doing.”

The long and short of it?  Gaining customers through search has less do do about granular tactics and more to do with user experience and overall strategy.  So get out some Post-it Notes and start building a map that your customers can use to get closer to you through your digital presence.  Instead of thinking of yourself as a keyword strategist, position yourself as a tour guide–a concierge of sorts.  We’re in the process of doing this ourselves and encourage you to do the same.