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As any good marketer knows, a strong marketing plan relies on the following tried-and-tested elements:
Market research
The 4Ps and tactical planning
For a refresher, take a look at Mark Ritson’s post on the key steps for marketing planning.
An effective marketing strategy is based on a deep understanding of your market, audience, competitors and brand. Only then will you be in a strong position to develop a successful marketing communications strategy.
SEO analysis can provide crucial value in the earliest stages of market research and strategy planning for brands. Research into customers and competitors is an SEO’s bread and butter, through daily use and familiarity with tools such as Google Search Console and Google Trends, and SEO tools such as SEMrush and Similarweb. SEO isn’t something we should only start considering later down the line, once all of the research and planning is done, in order to drive organic traffic and leads/sales via a website.
When you’re looking for a solution to your problem, where do you turn? Search engines, of course. It’s estimated that Google processes approximately 63,000 search queries every second, translating to 5.6bn searches per day and approximately 2tn global searches per year.
This means that all those search terms, phrases, questions and problems posed by your customers every day to Google provide a treasure trove of useful information to help inform your initial market research, strategy and tactics. That’s if you know where to look and how to utilize the data effectively.
The all-important market orientation and research stages of developing a marketing strategy are what Mark Ritson calls “killing the hypothetical customer”, where marketers “embrace customer complexity, which is revealed by research”.
By the nature of the work they do, SEOs tend to be led by in-depth research and testing of hypotheses rather than doggedly following best practices or thinking they know all of the answers. And this is exactly what’s needed at this stage of the process, so get them involved.
Here are some thoughts about what your SEO team can bring to the table:
Market research
Understanding demand for your product and service(s)
Market research is carried out to test the validity of a business concept and refine a business plan. Key questions to understand include market size, market dynamics and customer need for products/services.
If you are starting a new business or planning to add a new product/service offering to your current business, keyword research by the SEO team can help you to understand whether there is search demand for what you are planning to offer. They can also determine whether demand is growing or reducing over time using keyword research tools such as Ahrefs, Google’s Keyword Planner and Google Trends.
In-depth competitor research to gain a full picture of the market
SEO can help to identify competitors that you’ve not even thought of or come across before. The competitors you are traditionally up against, for example, in pitches if you’re a B2B company, or when your customers are browsing products in stores if you’re a B2C brand, are not necessarily your online competitors in search.
With organic competitor research, we can take your top ten (or more) core keywords relating to your product or service and find out who your top 10 competitors are in the UK organically.
Competitor information is especially important when you are positioning your product and/or service in the market – if you don’t have a full picture of your competitors then you could be going in blind.
SEO teams can also provide you with data on which branded terms your customers are searching for, both for your own brand and competitor brands. This can highlight a host of comparison terms to help you understand how you stack up against your competitors in the minds of customers right now. We can then dig deeper into the keyword analytics.
SEO research can also help you to understand your current market share as displayed by Google Trends-branded searches, as well as a share of search calculations for a set of common keywords. This is useful for helping to build a picture of your current market share alongside other research being carried out.
You can also use Google Trends for broader topic searches to understand how the topics associated with your business, products and services have grown or declined in interest with searchers over time.
Customer/audience research
Understanding current customer sentiment and attitudes to your brand
Using Google Search Console data, we can understand the branded terms that your customers have typed into Google.
One client I have worked with recently is an e-commerce watch reseller that came to Hallam looking to build its brand and to be seen as more of a luxury retailer. A review of its branded terms driving visibility and traffic from the search results demonstrated that this could be quite tricky, and potentially not the best route, with the following terms driving impressions and clicks from the search results:
X = client brand
“X discount code”
“Is X legit?”
“Is X genuine?”
“X reviews”
“Are X watches real?”
“Is x fake?”
“Do X sell fake watches?”
“Is X real?”
Consumers were clearly unsure about the legitimacy of the brand as displayed by the wariness around purchasing, and also saw them as a budget retailer.
Understanding how customers refer to your products and services
Too many times I’ve heard, ‘We called our service X as that’s what customers call it.’ But then lo and behold, the research shows that these terms are not searched in search engines by anyone.
This will also help with positioning once you’ve decided which segments to target. What do you want your audience to know about in terms of product features, product benefits and, most importantly, the benefits to them as a customer?
Using search data to help to decide on geographical targeting
SEO can support you by carrying out initial keyword research in potential target markets to understand the size of current search demand for your product or service. This data can feed into the overall mix when it comes to geographical research into potential customers and determining the size of the market opportunity.
Customer pain points and needs help to refine your segmentation and decide on targeting
SEOs regularly research the queries and issues that customers are highlighting in search engines. This is especially important for the market orientation and research stage, but also the product element of the 4Ps.
When we buy a product, we essentially ‘hire’ it to help us do a job. If it does the job well, the next time we’re confronted with the same job, we tend to hire that product again. And if it does a bad job, we ‘fire’ it and look for an alternative.
Research into the problems that consumers are having with a product or service provided by a competitor, or just generally the problems they are trying to solve without knowing what the solution is yet, should feed into your strategy.
The data by no means provides us with everything we need to know about our potential customers, and of course must always be taken with a pinch of salt rather than gospel. However, in combination with focus groups, ethnographic research, surveys and other research methods, it can help to provide a more rounded picture and possibly highlight some areas of focus.
Don’t miss this opportunity.
Speak to your SEO team or agency when planning your strategy for the coming year(s). Understand where they can contribute. Explain the process to them and ask for their input. Get them working on providing you with the vital insights and data you need that you can then combine with all the other research that you’ve done.
You won’t regret it.
Charlotte Tomlinson, media director at Hallam.

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