Move over, SEO. OAO (Online Audience Optimization) is the hot topic these days, with a recent INC. article declaring SEO as “… deader than last week’s sandwich.” OAO, where knowing your audience reigns supreme over keyword placement, is fast-becoming the sought-after way to optimize your online presence.

If you’re concerned about this so-called death of SEO, not to worry. SEO hasn’t gone away entirely, as there are many who still value its importance in creating good content. Instead, we’re urged to think of OAO as a kind of SEO enhancement. In fact, Linda Ruth, president and CEO of Publishing Dojo, says, “I like to think of OAO as SEO on steroids. OAO is a holistic system for maximizing your online visibility and profitability.” In other words, it’s almost an OAO first, SEO second approach. Once you determine who your audience really is, then select the keywords that they’re searching for. In many ways, we’ve been doing this in a cart before the horse approach.

SEO dead

More About the OAO Concept

For online entrepreneurs fed up with keyword insertions and more recently, Google Search Secure (putting an end to the ability to tell what keywords the audience actually used to get to your site), the dead sandwich notion may be a welcome relief. But if you’re typically a late adopter and/or a strong SEO believer, you’re likely unsure about jumping on the OAO bandwagon. No matter where you fall, the million dollar question still remains: “What will OAO do in the way of helping my online business continually progress?”

The OAO concept is simple and makes sense. In a nutshell, it’s about knowing that who you’re writing for is the key to creating a searchable site. Your audience knows what they need and desire and it’s up to you to uncover what those needs and desires are. Furthermore, OAO also adds the element of branding that SEO seemed to neglect. While SEO can search key words and help drive traffic, when it comes to the world of branding and message consistency/sharing, it often falls very short.

Online entrepreneurs have always known that the key to resonating with their audience is to truly get to know them. But in the case of OAO, it means going a step beyond strictly knowing what you’re selling and knowing that your audience needs it. What are their interests say, beyond the music they’re purchasing from your site? From there, creating content that speaks to them and keeps them coming back should fall into place with ease, at least with more ease than merely focusing on injecting relevant keywords throughout your content.

Here then, are top 7 suggestions to really get to know your audience and create content that keeps them engaged.

Getting to Know You, Getting to Know all About You

1. Think Beyond the Search Engine

First and foremost, embrace OAO. Put the fact that SEO was nudged aside by a new kid on the block by the wayside and get comfortable with OAO. Enjoy how OAO puts you in more control, poised to put that human touch on your audience’s needs more than any search engine (basically a computer program) ever could.

2. Network and Listen When You Do

Engaging in conversation is a great way to discover not only who your target audience is, but to learn more about what they are seeking. Friends, colleagues, neighbors and even people you’ve come to know at the local coffee shop are all people who can provide insight. Ask them what they like most about eBooks (if that’s what you’re selling). Ask about their favorite childhood books. Get them to talk about what their children read or visit the local library to chat with the librarian. And when you’re interacting with them, be sure to listen. This goes beyond the obligatory head nod and occasional “uh-huh.”

Pam Moore, CEO & Founder of Marketing Nutz and self-professed social media addict says, “Listen with an intent to understand. Listen to the meaning of what your audience is saying. How are they engaging with others? How are they engaging with you? What is the tone? What questions are they asking?” People are often very open about sharing their opinions about their likes and dislikes which can ultimately allow you to translate that into content with more personality. In the end, your site will be about talking to your visitors, not at them.

3. Read

Take a cue from advertising copyrighter Eugene Schwartz who said, “One hour a day, read. Read everything in the world except your business. Read junk. Very much junk. Read so that anything that interests you will stick in your memory. Just read, just read, just read . . . There is your audience. There is the language. There are the words that they use.” Read big-name newspapers and yes, maybe even skim those gossip ones at the supermarket checkout line.

Find the blog or social media profile of people in your audience and read what they’re saying about the world around them. Identify with their needs by relating to how they speak and the frequency in which they “talk” about certain topics. When you know how they talk, you gain better insight on how to create content that speaks to them. In turn, your audience develops “ah, this person really gets me” feelings, which can go a long way in the sales-boosting department.

4. Get Involved with Social Media

There’s a difference between having a Twitter account and having a Twitter account that you actually use. Same goes for LinkedIn, Facebook and any other form of social media. Getting to know your audience means more than reading their posts, blogs and Twitter comments. If you want them to feel engaged with your online business, then it’s important to engage with them. Remember, it’s not a one-way street. Retweet a comment of theirs you found interesting, ask questions on your Facebook page, and respond (with insight, another question or even humor) to things they may post. All of these actions allow you to build relationships with your audience (and even get you noticed by potential new customers) and in turn, create a web site that gets noticed all the time.

5. Spy a Little (Check out their Twitter Followers)

Moore also believes in the importance of getting to know your audience. She suggests people fine tune their social media relationships by taking them to the next level. In other words, check out who’s really following you on Twitter. It’s more than the fact that 241 people are following you . . . who exactly are these people? They are your audience. Beyond that, see who they follow. Consider following them. Scour what they’re saying about other trends and pay attention to the tone in which they say it.

Poke around LinkedIn to check out your connection’s connections. Why not send a message and introduce yourself? Scroll down the list of feeds and posts on all forms of social media, not just ones from the last minute, but the past few hours, even day. Take note of what’s being shared on Facebook, what news topics and yes, even silly videos are making the rounds, and find a way to reference it (when appropriate) on your site (without taking away from the essence of your site). Your visitors will see you as a professional online business person, but also one who, like them, has a zest for life around them. When you position yourself as part of your audience rather than a separate entity, people will remain loyal to your business and be more inclined to return.

6. Create a Poll

Create a poll that can be shared across almost any social media or web platform. You can’t get to know your audience if you don’t take the time to ask about their needs. A face-to-face question can sometimes generate awkwardness and a less than honest response. However, a poll allows your audience to respond more freely, perhaps tipping you off to a pet-peeve they have about your online business. And don’t forget to have fun, or at times, throw in a humorous question at the end for no other reason than to provide a “we’re all in this together” casual feel. Everyone wins: you engage your audience, now understand them better and can make the changes to improve your business. When they see you’ve listened, it elicits a feeling that shows your audience you care and that matters.

7. Run a Klout Report

Klout, a measurement tool that allows you to examine your following and messaging in detail, is a great way to learn more about an audience’s response to your content. From Twitter influencers to the ratio of who you’re following versus who is following you to the extent in which your content is shared, Klout allows you to assess how you interact with your audience and if necessary, alter your messaging accordingly. For example, if numbers spiked on a blog post you wrote on your site, consider revisiting the topic or finding a new angle within it to keep visitors engaged. Sometimes wording like “Part II” or “Revisited” is all that’s needed.

So there you have it. SEO hasn’t fallen off the face of the Earth. But gone are the days of thinking that SEO and SEO alone is all that’s needed to keep your online business going strong. OAO should come first. When it does, the bare-bones level of semi-knowing your audience becomes one that builds strong relationships and in turn, maximizes visibility and profitability.

Notes By Site Admin (Oliver)

I very much agree with Keith on the issue of SEO. It is dead, but it isn’t. SEO will always have an important role in the life of a webmaster or marketeer. Right now on-page SEO is the most important skill to develop. There are so many ways how to do proper SEO these days and frankly most webmasters get it wrong. A lot of webmasters still live in the past and actually believe that link building is a viable strategy in 2014. It is not. Focus your efforts on user engagement and visitors will come. The tips in this article will help you to create engaging articles and sites – that is what you should focus on in 2014.

One of my favorite tools to create engaging content is to create polls for niche sites. Polldaddy is a great choice for that.