Stop Marketing to Keywords, Start Marketing to People: Lessons in Traditional Marketing

Today’s post is from one of our favorite customers, Ethan Lyon.  Ethan is an SEO Consultant at SEER Interactive in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. You can follow Ethan on the SEER Interactive blog, Twitter, and Google Plus.

Before I jumped into SEO, I wrote marketing and business plans for small to medium sized businesses. These often entailed customer interviews, audience segmentation, need state analysis and finally, creative marketing initiatives broken down by cost and time.

My next job was doing SEO for a lead generation site. At the time, it was about how many emails could you send, how many directories could you submit the website into, and how many comments could you leave on PR 3 sites.

Why was I spending all of my time writing BS comments and submitting to directories that probably would never post a link when at the end of the day, I was marketing to people? Nothing changed from my traditional marketing to SEO positions, yet I was running around spamming the internet to get links.

The focus was on revenue and leads without ever giving thought to how that revenue and those leads were generated.

So, I want to go back to marketing’s roots and that is: PEOPLE.

  • People sign up for your newsletter
  • People buy your products
  • People want more information about your business


People, People, People

It’s so simple, it’s embarrassing that I was running around spamming the internet when I should have used some of the traditional marketing knowledge and marketed to people.

People have unmet needs that search marketers overlook because they’re marketing to keywords, not people. People build relationships with brands that can last a lifetime. Do keywords do that?

The true irony is people tell Google their deepest, darkest secrets. In theory, Google knows people very, very well. I want to show you how to use the core principles of marketing and inject them into search optimization.

We’re going to use the corpus of knowledge about people that Google provides, free of charge, to inform our marketing campaigns. We’re going to use keyword research to segment our audiences, develop content to meet their needs and finally, find internal and external linking opportunities to promote that content.

Let’s start big.

We’re going to use the highly competitive travel industry as an example. Let’s say this is the industry:

For someone who doesn’t care about their audience, well everyone in that industry is their audience, which would look like this:

But that’s not what we want to do, right? That model is meant for people that don’t care about their audience and don’t understand there are people visiting their site, instead, they’re just a line chart in Google Analytics. These “marketers” sole goal is for visitors to buy, buy, buy. If we can actually understand our specific audiences, we can better meet their needs, build a relationship and at the end of the day, get money from them, over and over again.

We need to first identify our audiences, figure out their needs, develop content that’s going to engage them to build a relationship. Once we have that relationship, we can continue to leverage it to make more and more profits.

So this is what we want our audience mix to look like:

We don’t want to target everyone. We just want to select a few audiences to target and try as hard as we can to meet their needs and eventually prioritize them.

How do we get to this point?


First, let’s start with Google. As I said before, Google knows our deepest, darkest secrets, so maybe them might know something about our audience.

If we’re going to be meeting the needs of travelers, why not start with a question. Go to Google, type in “how to [INDUSTRY]”. In our case we’re going to use “how to travel “ and don’t hit enter. Just see what Google Suggest says:  

You can see we have some pet lovers and expecting women looking to learn more about travel.

This is a very limited view of our audience, so let’s pull Google Suggest for all of our keywords using


Now, we have a lot of keywords here, so what we’ll want to do is identify trends in our keywords to see what audiences might bubble to the surface. is always my favorite tool for spotting trends in keyword phrases. Just copy and paste from to

Now, we can spot our audiences. We have maternity (“baby” and “pregnancy”), pet lovers (“cat” and “dog”) and finally, let’s look at the inexperienced traveler (“light”).


Now that we have several audiences, we can start drilling down into what they might want and how we can meet their needs with our website.

So, let’s use and again, but only use it for the search term “how to travel with a cat” and you can see the following clusters:

This can give us some insight into what cat lovers want to know about traveling with their pets. Maybe we can create a resource that tells us which airlines have the best pet policy. Or, we can create content about how far you should travel with your pet before thinking about a pet sitter. These are just a few ideas to get us started. But it’s all derived from search, which is driven by people. Again, people are the root of these insights. We don’t have to be entrenched in the industry to start forming these audiences and figuring out how to market to them.

To get even more content ideas, you can use the following in

who are / is / does / might / could / would [INDUSTRY]
what are / is / does / might / could / would [INDUSTRY]
where are / is / does / might / could / would [INDUSTRY]
when are / is / does / might / could / would [INDUSTRY]
why are / is / does / might / could / would [INDUSTRY]
how are / is / does / might / could / would [INDUSTRY]

Here is a link to a spreadsheet with all of the variations and links to queries:

Internal / External Linking

Internal Linking
Why should Google rank your pages if you yourself don’t pay much attention to them? My thoughts are before you spend tons of money trying to build links to your pages, first prioritize the ones you have and link to them.

Don’t think that by putting your link in the footer you’ll all of the sudden start ranking number one. You’re not fooling anyone.

Try to segment out portions of your site to each of your audiences. One site that I think does this really well is, an online motorcycle shop. understands it has three distinct audiences: street, shop adventure / touring and offroad. We can do something similar with our audiences on our homepage:

Then, we can build an internal linking structure that follows suit:

This would be an ideal set up. And of course, we could link between our categories. The main idea is we want to link internally to the content meant for each audience. So, pet lovers will get pet content and maternity will get only maternity content. While there are likely many pregnant women that love pets, from a content and audience perspective we’re going to keep them separate.

External Linking


There are any number of ways to identify influencers — whether they’re journalists or blogger or company CEOs. Keep in mind, influencers field a lot of bad PR so just like we’re treating our customers like people, we also have to do the same for influencers. Try to build a relationship, not just a one-off “hey, could you do me a favor?”

Here are a few ways to identify influencers:

  • Followerwonk – simply type in a few keywords into Followerwonk’s search tool and it will retrieve Twitter users that use those keywords in their bios. Create a list of these users in Hootsuite, or another Twitter client, and try to respond, answer questions or retweet their stuff.
  • Author Pages – If you want to get on, wired or another enormous publication, find the people that are writing about your industry by identifying author pages, then do an site: search to find the most relevant author. For instance, forbes’ author pages look like this:[author]. So, to find authors in our niche we can perform this query. Now, comment on their posts, follow them on Twitter or whatever social network they prefer.
  • Alerts – After you’ve been stalking your influencer for a while, you’ll start to understand what they are interested in. The next step is to set up Google Alerts that enable you to find content they might be interested in, which you can then share. And I’d strongly recommend putting their name into a Google Alert that goes directly to your email. I’ve found some interesting stuff that way.
  • RSS Feeds – Once you have where influencers produce content — both on social networks and blogs — you can create a folder in your RSS reader that has all of their feeds. Every couple of days, jump in there and Tweet / comment on their content.

Small to Medium-Sized Blogs

Getting the attention of influencers can take a long time, and possibly never bear fruit.  But the rewards of getting picked up  could be huge from a branding and search perspective.

But while you’re courting influencers, you can target small to medium sized blogs for linking opportunities. There are hundreds if not thousands of posts about linkbuilding, so I’m not going to go into too much detail but one place I’d start is with top blog lists. For instance, there are hundreds of travel bloggers. So, if we want to do guest posts on them, we can search for the top travel blogs out there, scrape the list with Scrape Similar, and drop all of the URLs into a Google Custom Search. Next, search for “guest post.” That should bring some quick guest posting opportunities.

That’s just one of many ways to get links from small to medium sized sites that might not necessarily get the constant noise from PR and search folks. So, it might not take as much effort to get links from them.

Now What?

I don’t expect anyone to completely rehaul their website, or search strategy, but I hope this post helps you think slightly differently about search optimization. Too often, we’re blinded by revenue forecasts and the idea that we need thousands of links, not high quality links that we lose our ability to think about our customers and who would want to link to us. If even one person tries to build one relationship because of this post, it will be worth it.


  • Certainly people are the main pillars of any website’s success. Keywords do have their own priority but they should be used by getting them along with the most important factor i.e. the people. I personally liked the influencers part of the article… Good piece of information and nice presentation.

  • Ethan

    Thank you for the kind words Sunayna!

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