By Dimeon Van Rooyen
Content marketing is nothing new, but that doesn’t stop many businesses from getting it completely wrong. A decade ago, a few random pieces of content singing the praises of your business, with some rudimentary SEO could get you traffic, but today, that is a recipe for obscurity. Increasingly,
businesses that are winning the online battle for eyeballs and attention do so by using an all-encompassing sales enablement content strategy.
Sales enablement content is any content that helps to move prospective clients through the sales funnel as quickly and effectively as possible, while making the journey as enjoyable and memorable as possible. Content cannot, and should not be created on an ad-hoc basis anymore, but every piece of content should play a particular role in the broad company sales enablement picture. The business must then optimise this content to stand out from that of online competitors.
Against this backdrop, we asked industry experts for their views on what a good sales enablement content strategy looks like, and what role, if any, SEO can play to ensure that as many people as possible, and, more importantly, the right people, see the content.
Sales-enabled content starts with the customer
Sales-enabled content starts with the customer. Most businesses will tell you that they create content to drive sales, with the customer as the primary focus, but the content they produce either doesn’t address the customer’s questions or pain points, or they use outdated SEO approaches to get their content noticed.
Skyler Reeves, founder and CEO of Ardent Growth, believes that tried and tested SEO approaches could prove ineffective in the modern environment, particularly in the B2B SaaS start-up space, where potential customers may not even be searching for your product or service.
“It is entirely likely that potential clients are product unaware or solution unaware,” says Reeves. “So you have the opportunity to create demand and make them aware of your solution. The content that will get their attention is comparison-type posts (x vs y) or top alternatives to a more established competitor. They are effectively battle cards, but in content form.”
This represents top-of-the-funnel content, which attracts potential clients who are not looking for your product in particular, or who are not even using your SEO keywords in their searches.
Lower down the sales funnel, case studies play an important role in sales optimisation by assisting customers to continue their journey with as little friction as possible.
“Case studies work really well,” says Reeves. “Search volume tools often don’t pick up these searches, but people do search for them, because we see organic traffic coming through these pages. At this point in the process, users are looking for specific use cases or to see how the product would work in their business. Help documents, pricing pages and, integration pages, showing applications your product integrates with, are also important.”
The good news about creating sales enablement content for these pages is easier than ever thanks to the information we can glean from SEO tools.
“Sales enablement content includes instructions on all the different ways a product can be used, deals with objections, and considers other factors that move a customer toward a sale,” says SEO and content strategist Aleks Pesic. “In the past, you would gather this information over time, through market research and experience.”
“Now, you can use SEO as a shortcut to find out what people are trying to achieve with a certain product, even before talking to anyone. You can also see their concerns, specific requirements, and sometimes even who they are comparing you to, just by looking at what keywords people type into Google. When you use SEO for market research even before you do actual market research, you can produce quality content from the outset.”
Target your approach
There is an understandable tendency from sales departments to want to cast the net as wide as possible, but this could be counter-productive to your sales enablement strategy. If you try to make your business the correct answer to every search related to your industry, sales could well suffer.
“The best content, both in terms of SEO rankings and business outcomes, is the content that makes it very clear what the business is, and what it isn’t,” says Reeves. “Clearly state who your product is good for, and who it isn’t good for. Don’t be afraid to recommend competitors if they are a better fit for different types of markets or different types of buyers.”
Another counter-intuitive measure that could prove valuable for your business is keyword de-optimisation.
“The natural instinct is to optimise your pages as much as possible for SEO, but for me it is just as important to de-optimise certain pages,” says Andy Chadwick, Co-Founder of Keyword Insights. “Let’s take the example of case studies. Case studies are hugely important because they are nearly 70% more likely to convert than any other content. However, we do not want them to rank for certain searches, because then you’ll end up competing against yourself, instead of your competitors.”
“Many businesses do not put enough thought into their title tags and their headings. Your headings need to be specific. If they are too basic, they end up cannibalising each other in terms of SEO. In this manner, each page ranks higher for a specific user search. Your case studies landing page will be more generic, and optimised in that manner, so that people can also find your content in that way.”
Tommy Walker, founder of The Cutting Room and former Editor-in-Chief of QuickBooks, suggests adopting a bottom-up approach to creating sales enablement content, particularly in the high-growth start-up arena.
“At the outset, your business relies on your sales team to do a lot more cold calling, because it takes months for content to start ranking and for the production cycle to follow that,” says Wilson. “So, in the beginning, sales and content teams need to work together very closely to go after no-volume key
phrases. This is a scary proposition for many people, but just because keyword detection tools do not pick up volume doesn’t actually mean that the volumes aren’t there.
“If you get 10 highly qualified leads and you’re directly answering the questions your sales team identified, you are building a much more solid foundation. It sounds risky, but unless you are the LinkedIn, QuickBooks or Shopify of this world, this is your best option. It does mean that your content team has to listen a lot more to your sales team than they usually do. That is difficult for them to hear, because they do not want sales to dictate to them.”
Good sales enablement content means good SEO
Reeves points out that good PR and good SEO go hand in hand.
“When you consider SEO, you should not just think in terms of SEO for your site, but SEO for your business around the web,” says Reeves. “Make sure to develop a presence with good reviews on sites like G2 and Capterra. Then also network with third-party sites that test and rank products to ask how to get on their lists, even if you have to give them a free license to test your product.”
“Google has begun to trigger a feature near the top of the page called ‘Best For’, displaying icons of companies most closely related to your search, based on how other pages rate them. The more of these pages you can feature on, the more likely you are to appear in this new feature.”
Wilson believes that many of the tried and tested SEO techniques simply do not work anymore, as Google strives to constantly close the gap between their results and users’ search intent, rather than the intent of online marketers. Therefore sales enablement content should be created to resonate, rather than to attract clicks.
“We often divorce how we want our users to act and how we interact with the Internet ourselves,” says Wilson. “We tend to think of SEO on a page-by-page basis, but that is not how Google views it. It can see that the first time you visited a site, you typed in a key phrase, the next time, it was type-in traffic, and then they type in the website’s name directly. From there, they click on various links on the site. This alerts Google to the quality of their interactions.”
“I would say, tell your story first. If you do a good job of telling your story, the keywords will find themselves in the piece.”
This certainly appears to be the approach of the future, as quality is becoming the dominant SEO metric.
“There is this conventional wisdom that if you write a 2,000-word article, you would rank higher than a 500-word article, even though Google says that word count doesn’t matter,” says Walker. “Then you include images and multimedia because that is supposed to help you rank better.”
“However, what I’m seeing consistently across multiple searches and pages, is lower word count articles ranking higher because the content is distinct and they’re actually answering the users’ questions. I have seen a 500-word article outrank a 5,000-word HubSpot article, even while having fewer backlinks.”
Quality content is therefore an excellent SEO driver, but sales, content, and, marketing should still manage their expectations. When the business produces content that is valuable and engaging to users, the conversation process is just kicking off.
“Much of your sales optimisation content feature tier-2 content that is not aimed at converting users, but to push them through to tier-1 pages, where conversion can occur,” says Chadwick. “But the tier-2 content is important to drive traffic to the website, because we create it to be of interest to our target audience and answers their most frequently asked questions.”
Lend Google a hand
“Google now has so much information about our behaviour that it is hard to wrap your head around,” says Wilson. “They can tell whether you are driving your own traffic, or are relying on them to do everything for you. They can see your retention levels, how far down the page users are scrolling, how long you are staying on the site, and how many other pages on your site they are
clicking through to.”
“Google uses this information to simulate the human brain to decide what is good quality content and what is not. That is why, in my research, Google cares more about whether you are driving your own traffic first. They can see whether your newsletter traffic is up. They can see whether your social media traffic is up. All of these factors help Google decide whether you are producing good quality content. By all means, optimise for key phrases, but not with the intention of having Google do the work for you. Instead, you want to make it as easy as possible for Google to see that you are doing a good job.”
Many businesses have recognised this shifting trend, and are now employing measures to drive up their traffic, which means that competition can be fierce. But if the search engine can see that customers interact longer with your content it will take that as a sign that your content quality is higher.
Sales enablement content IS the future of SEO
With the conventional approach to SEO, the business would create sales enablement content in a vacuum and then optimise for search once it was completed. Following the modern mindset as laid out by our experts, sales enablement content needs to be quality content that resonates with potential clients and keeps them interacting with your product. Not only is this a win for you and your clients, but it automatically improves your SEO.
This could be an exciting time for businesses that embrace the freedom to put out exciting, engaging, and ultimately, brand-enhancing content, instead of the paint-by-numbers keyword soup content that we have grown accustomed to. Keyword research will still have its place because any business needs to know what their clients’ needs and interests are, but it will no longer be the guiding metric. Instead, quality and engagement now form the cornerstone of sales enablement content and SEO.