SEO Strategy
Marketing SEO

TCS Case Study: Reimagining SEO to Reach a Targeted Audience

This month, we kicked off our Content Standard case study project, introducing you to an ongoing series where we talk about everything we learned during the relaunch of our media property. Today, we will talk about how we re-imagined SEO to drive our content strategy.

We all struggle to get our thought leadership noticed. Content is only powerful when it’s discovered by the intended audience.

Online DiscoveryBut new discovery methods through networks like Outbrain and Taboola, from aggregation sites like Feedly, and recommendation apps like Buffer look to dramatically influence the way people happen upon content in the near future.

When we began to think about how search was fueling our content strategy for The Skyword Blog and news site, we recognized from the start that our plan had to change to support our new media property.

We knew our audience would inevitably grow as we produced more content around new topics. Our Featured Editorials and For Writers sections were opportunities to pull in a wider, more vertical-oriented audience, and old SEO strategies hinders real growth.

At the same time, we had watched as the search marketing landscape change. We wanted to factor in SEO to give us a boost, but we absolutely didn’t want to become slaves to monthly search averages or other key performance indicators for key phrases.

For example, we had focused for so long on our ranking for the term “content marketing.” But was our audience really searching for that term anymore? Was there any value in having a service-based site appear on the first page of search results for an educational term?

Take a quick look at the first page of Google’s results for “content marketing.” There, you’ll see age-old content that broadly defines content marketing, a few services explaining why their particular organization is great at it, and a conference link or two. This clearly isn’t a place for enterprise marketers—that audience needs deeper insights. They get what content marketing is, and now they need help scaling their efforts.

Content Marketing Search

This realization inspired us to reimagine how we approached search optimization for the Content Standard. The world had moved away from content for SEO to content with search optimization in mind.

You have likely seen similar changes in how your audience discovers your content—the approach is now a lot more question based, and a lot less programmatic. Our learning and processes are highlighted below.

Understanding Our Different Audiences and Why They Search

First and foremost, your site, like ours, reaches many different types of people with different needs—from those who are ready to buy, to those who will never buy but may influence someone else to convert.

When we looked at the mockup we created during our social listening and site analysis exercise, we saw five sections that spoke to five distinct needs of our audience.

  • Our News section, which had traditionally funneled content into Google News, would reach readers at an awareness stage.
  • Featured Editorials aimed to put vertical-specific content in front of decision-makers at enterprise organizations. We would benefit from external contributors, who essentially would get us through the front door at top organizations.
  • The Skyword Blog influenced prospects on the cusp of conversion or industry players who aligned with Skyword’s core mission and view.
  • The Innovator Series reached new markets by way of our interviewees’ networks, nurturing relationships with top executives in the process.
  • Our For Writers section bridged the gap between the business and creative worlds, showing our contributor community that we valued their expertise as much as our client base. This would, in part, draw in more influential and established writers looking to explore brand journalism.

With so many different types of readers of the Content Standard, we had to understand their unique behaviors online and ensure that our content responded to the ways in which they searched for information.

The New Search Optimization Process for the Content Standard

It wasn’t enough to look at popular search terms and map them to where we thought they would fit in our content. We had an idea of the topics we’d cover, but we had yet to think about audience intent in the context of search.

Why were people searching for news related to content marketing? When a freelance writer lands on our site, what does he or she want to do next?

We came to see that there was greater value in optimizing content using keywords that, while less commonly searched than some industry phrases, could answer our audience’s specific questions.

To start that optimization process, we looked back at what we had learned already through our ecosystem and audience analysis exercises. Two findings stuck with us most:

  • People had shown an interest in, and need for, advice beyond how to get started with content marketing. Readers needed definitive direction on all aspects, from strategy to measurement.
  • Marketers were looking to technology to help connect these different aspects of content marketing to make their lives easier.

Now we had the functional reason someone would search for our content (advice) and the emotional reason (to make their lives easier).

We went back to the content we had gathered during our audience analysis exercise. These posts were collected through the social listening tool Sysomos. After organizing the pool of content we consulted, based on the cornerstone on which landing pages were created, we began to see how industry influencers spoke about these new trends.

For example, marketers and industry insiders most commonly use the phrase “content amplification” to describe their methods for reaching prospects with content, while people unfamiliar with the practice are more likely to use “content distribution” in search.

For some, the two terms mean the same thing; in search, however, you reach an entirely different audience depending on which phrase you use at a given time.

Pulling Themes From Web Tools and Finding Correlations Between Terms

By now, most content and search marketers understand how to use common tools like Moz and Google’s Keyword Planner when building a keyword list to support content marketing.

SEO ScorecardFewer marketers know how to step outside of those tools and build a strategy for the new age of search. At Skyword, we view SEO as a component to content strategy, instead of strictly examining content creation. The difference is that we don’t bring search optimization best practices in at the end to clean up and optimize an article; search optimization plays a crucial role in how we speak to our audience on the Web through topic generation and content writing. This viewpoint is evident in the way we run our strategy, and is adhered to through the Skyword Platform, which tracks keyword activity and requires contributors to optimize every article for a given phrase.

However, with Google’s Hummingbird algorithm update and a push toward semantic search, Google is well-equipped to analyze and rank content beyond the two or three words people place cleverly within their writing. In fact, those content creators who only look at search optimization in terms of keyword placement are missing a bigger opportunity for content amplification.

At Skyword, we wanted to understand not just the core phrases our audience uses to discover relevant content, but also the wider lexicon they use when speaking with colleagues. This takes into account the verbiage that is frequently used, but infrequently searched.

We started with our platform to understand where we currently ranked for key terms, and then jumped into our social listening tool to create a word box with terms to use in conjunction with our core list. Using “content marketing” as an example, we saw that people often associated or paired that term with other words, such as LinkedIn, focuses, branding, and customized.


These are terms we’d never optimize an article around, but they do explain a lot about what people are looking for online.

  • “LinkedIn” is rapidly becoming a publisher with huge benefits for brands. Marketers are likely looking for advice on how to adapt their content strategies to reach engaged consumers through the social network.
  • “Focuses” stuck out because it was associated to the phrase “content marketing” by way of the terms “engage,” “shares,” “brand,” “create,” “strategies,” and “B2B.” This led us to believe many B2Bs are still struggling to develop advanced strategies to move beyond brand awareness.
  • “Branding” also stood out because it was tied to “content marketing” through “engagement” and “SEO.” Are organizations looking to search as a way to amplify and support branding?
  • “Customized,” meaning personalization, stood out because the word “curation” was nowhere in this graph. Marketers are finally realizing that originality means more in the long term.

We regularly use this feature to learn how our audience speaks, writes, and consumes relevant content online. To create authentic content that appeals to our audience, we had to speak like our customers—and that’s something that tools like Moz and Google Keyword Planner cannot help us do. In the new age of search, we’re thinking more about optimizing content for our customer than structuring it for Google or Bing. That’s not to say we have abandoned search optimization altogether, but we’re challenging ourselves to think about it from a different angle.

I challenge you to start doing the same with your content strategy. If you’d like to learn more about how Skyword’s platform can help you optimize content marketing, request a free demo.

I hope you enjoyed this piece! Tune in on Thursday for chapter four in the evolution of the Content Standard: “User Experience Matters.”

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