The process of discovering what Google thinks people want is a great tool for SEO research. It is often referred to as “SERP analysis,” where SERP, of course, stands for search engine results page.
Now, I know you’re a plastic surgeon or dermatologist, and you’re not an SEO expert. But this is not about SEO in a direct sense. It’s about good old market research. It’s about understanding what users are looking for, why they want it, and how to give it to them.
Understand that market research is the core of marketing. When I talk about “keyword research,” it’s not about keywords in and of themselves. It’s about understanding what your audience is looking for.
It’s impossible to ask users what they want as they conduct their searches. So keywords are “observable traces” that users leave. Artifacts, if you will.
Like uncovering dinosaur fossils during an archeological dig and making some best guesses, looking at keywords alone don’t tell the whole picture and they certainly don’t tell us what’s on users’ minds when they use them.
So market research, in this sense, is SEO research.
In its purest form, SEO is to simply make sure your website is optimized so your content can be found, read, crawled, and indexed by Google. It’s a tad oversimplified, of course. But that’s what SEO essentially is.
Market research, on the other hand, is what will help you rank higher. I often refer back to what my friend and top copywriter David Garfinkel, who said that the key to success in copywriting (and I could easily extrapolate that to SEO or any form of marketing in general) is to ask:
- Who is your market?
- What is their problem?
- How are they talking about it?
If you know who your market is (which you likely do), then you know what their problem is and why they want to solve it. But learning about how they talk about it can be uncovered by studying and reverse-engineering the SERPs.
You need to go beyond keyword research.
Google’s goal is to satisfy the user’s search and to become more effective at doing so. They’re already showing you the results they think will serve the users best. They’ve done countless experiments, hired many sophisticated engineers, and analyzed petabytes of data.
They’ve done the research for you. So use it to your advantage.
Typically, SEO is to understand what users are looking for and to give it to them. But it’s not enough. You also need to understand the intent — the reason behind their search. As Google is becoming more sophisticated, it tries to identify not only what people are looking for but also why.
And therein lies the crux of SERP analysis.
Think of it this way: the goal is not only to create content that your audience wants but also for the reasons they want to consume it. Sounds a tad pedantic, I know. But it’s actually quite simple.
You can focus on keywords for example, and try to successfully align your content’s title and description (what shows up in SERPs) that match the user’s query. This will undoubtedly increase clickthrough rates.
But, what happens once they land on your site?
If they pogostick back to Google because your user experience (UX) is less than desirable, that’s one thing. (And an important thing to look into, too.)
But if it’s because your content fails to satisfy their query, even if the content is presumably what they’re looking for, you’ve failed to satisfy their intent.
Plus, it can hurt you. Google has publicly said that they don’t directly use those signals as a ranking factor. But Google engineers have stated that they do use pogosticking in connection with other factors, such as going to the next result as opposed to conducting a new search, for example.
In other words, it may not necessarily be a direct factor against your website. But when analyzed in combination with the next click, this data helps Google to learn more about its users’ true search intent and to refine its searches.
That refinement may cost you in rankings.
Also, consider that the answer people are looking for may not only be in the content but also in the format — they may prefer a video, podcast, or PDF for example. And in a field such as plastic surgery, visuals are key.
Nevertheless, if you know who your market is and what their problems are, next is to know how they talk about it, which reveals their stage of awareness.
By knowing at what stage of awareness they happen to be, you can then serve them with content that takes them to the next stage — and hopefully closer to becoming your patient.
This goes to the concept of the content funnel I talked about before. It’s not always linear or perfectly compartmentalized. For example, it’s different for someone who has had other procedures done or who is unhappy with their results, as opposed to someone who never had plastic surgery at all.
But for now, the thing to remember is that the funnel is based on graduating the user to a new level of awareness. The way to do that is to understand intent.
Which brings me to the differences between search topic, search intent, and user intent. Because they are different.
- Search topic is what they’re searching for.
- Search intent is how they’re searching for it.
- User intent is why they’re searching for it.
When studying the SERPs, this is where you can extract a decent amount of insights from your target market. For example:
- What (e.g., the problem, like “excess belly fat”);
- How (e.g., “how to get rid of stubborn belly fat?”);
- Why (e.g., frustrated, research, wants options).
Next stage of awareness:
- What (e.g., a solution, like “tummy tucks”);
- How (e.g., “recovery time for tummy tucks?”);
- Why (e.g., interested, planning, wants details).
Then, of course, the next stage:
- What (e.g., your solution, like your name/clinic);
- How (e.g., “[X] tummy tucks before and after photos”);
- Why (e.g., motivated, taking action, wants assurances).
These are just examples.
Nevertheless, the goal is to research your market.
With a SERP analysis, you can do this by identifying the search topics your market is interested in (based on their stage of awareness), their search intent (what Google thinks they want), and the user’s intent (what results come up, what do they offer, and how it helps the user).
Or as SEO consultant Brittney Muller said:
“Paying closer attention to search results will give SEO pros a leg up in creating competitive content in the way that searchers desire to consume it.”Brittney Muller from Search Engine Journal