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Starting things off on a slightly unrelated note, I absolutely hate clothes shopping.

My t-shirts have holes in, my hoodies are years old, and, while writing this, my boot’s shoelace is nothing but threads. I desperately need to go clothes shopping.

I’m sure I could rattle off some green-friendly reasons for not buying more clothes. I could easily get a few nods by talking about rejecting a consumer lifestyle to reduce my carbon footprint but sadly, that’s just a nicely dressed excuse.

In reality, I just hate clothes shopping.

However, I’m aware I’m in the minority. Most people love shopping. They want to look good, feel smart, confident, and proud (let’s skirt past the fact that I am entirely happy looking like I haven’t been clothes shopping in 10 years and what that potentially says about me).

So, people want to look nice.

How do they look nice?

They shop.

And where do they shop?

They shop online.

And oh boy, do people shop online in great numbers. The US alone is expecting to hit 300 million online clothes shoppers by 2023 (source).

There’s an absolute world of data telling us how many people shop online, how they like to shop, where they shop, what they expect from their online shopping, etc, etc.

But with all this data, it’s easy to forget that every search is a person.

Behind every keyword is a group of people – real people with thoughts, worries, and feelings.

Companies that forget this often miss the mark. Then you get companies that focus on the person – these are the companies that marketers write inspirational LinkedIn posts about five years down the line.

Optimising for keywords is second-rate SEO. You optimise for the person – the keywords just point you in the right direction.

Optimising for people, not for numbers

Let’s take two keywords:

1. Fashionable men’s clothing

2. Cheap men’s clothing

Both keywords show a high search volume, for which it would be pretty difficult to rank for without prior authority in the space, and have a high transactional intent.

But that’s not the full story. It’s what a small selection of data says, sure, but it’s not the real truth.

Looking at how search volume for these two keywords is trending, you see an entirely different picture:

Fashionable men’s clothing search volume trend:

Cheap men’s clothing:

Currently (currently being the 5th September 2022, just after my morning sandwich – more on the benefits of morning sandwiches in another article), more people are searching for cheap men’s clothing than fashionable men’s clothing.

However, it used to be the other way around.

What happened? Has everyone joined me in the clothes shopping hatred and settled for wearing last season’s outcasts? No, of course not.

The world’s getting more expensive. To put it simply, prices are rising and people’s wages often aren’t.

So, those that once searched for fashionable now search for cheap.

Does this mean they no longer want to be fashionable? Of course not.

And this is where the opportunity lies. Searches will rise for ‘fashionable and cheap’ clothing. Additionally, any landing page targeting ‘cheap’ clothes can throw a few nods towards the fashionable items for those on a budget.

Doing so will boost your conversion rate, while helping you bring in more users through long-tail keywords.

If we optimised solely for keywords, without any care for the user behind them, this opportunity would have been missed. We’d have just written a load of stuff about cheap clothing, forgetting the desires of the person searching.

How to optimise for people

Optimising for people is fairly simple, just follow a process:

1. Ask who

2. Ask why

3. Ask a deeper why

4. Ask yourself, ‘how can I help?’

Sticking to my personal nemesis, clothes shopping, let’s take the search term ‘fashionable kids clothing’ and run it through our process.

Ask who

First off, it’s not going to be a child. Children don’t search for ‘fashionable kids clothing’ – they search for ‘cool dinosaur t-shirt’ (or, more likely, ‘Minecraft video’).

How do we know this? We can look at the SERP, we can look at similar keywords, we can look at ‘people also ask’:

The above doesn’t exactly scream ‘a child searched this’.

So, we’re somewhat confident our keyword ‘fashionable kids clothing’ is likely coming from a parent. Time to ask why.

Asking why

Why has the parent searched this?

1. They want their child to look fashionable.

2. Their child has expressed a desire to wear cooler, more fashionable clothing.

When asking why, you simply need to get the 2-3 main reasons someone will be making a search. There’s no need to go into huge amounts of depth.

For example, someone searching ‘best HR platform for small businesses’ probably just wants a really good HR platform. That’s all we need to know at this stage. We’ll add more detail in the next step.

Asking a deeper why

This is where you really get behind the search term. Put yourself in the searcher’s shoes. You’ll want a list of 5-10 reasons why someone could have made a search, each branching off the earlier reasons they asked why:

1. They want their child to look fashionable.

  • The parent cares how they look and naturally want their child to feel the same (either consciously or subconsciously).
  • The parent was picked on for not being fashionable, and they don’t want the same to happen to their child.
  • There’s a big event coming up, maybe a birthday.

2. Their child has expressed a desire to wear cooler, more fashionable clothing.

  • The child has been bullied or picked on due to their clothes.
  • The child is getting older and more independent, and the trusty dinosaur t-shirts aren’t cutting it anymore.

Asking a deeper why does more than build your understanding of your target market. It gives you your target market’s pains. Take the above and turn them into more manageable, skim-readable pains:

1. Parent wants their child to look cool

2. Parent remembers not looking cool (and issues that brought)

3. There’s a big event coming up and they want to look their best for it

4. The child has experienced issues with not looking cool

5. The child is growing up and Dad’s outfit choices are far from on point

From here, it’s worth double-checking the pains you raised by completing a bit of keyword research around them.

In our example, we’d look at keywords around clothing for a child’s birthday, bullying due to fashion/clothes, and maybe even matching parent-child outfits (yes, there are monsters out there that buy matching outfits for themselves and their children).

Ask yourself, ‘how can I help?’

Now we’ve got the pains, it’s time to solve them. After all, that’s all marketing is – identifying pains and solving them.

Let’s take our pains and brainstorm a few ways we can solve them:

1. Parent wants their child to look cool

  • Landing pages focusing on fashionable clothing
  • Advice from fashion experts (will likely be great from a PR angle as well)

2. Parent remembers not looking cool (and issues that brought)

  • Similar to the above

3. There’s a big event coming up and they want to look their best for it

  • Event/birthday-targeted category pages

4. The child has experienced issues with not looking cool

  • Content providing support, advice and answers

5. The child is growing up and Dad’s outfit choices are far from on point

  • Look into ‘complete the look’ functionality

This is where optimising for people can be so powerful. Rather than simply optimising a page based on a selection of keywords, you’ve got:

1. Ideas for new landing pages

2. Ideas for PR activities

3. Ideas for new categories

4. Ideas for blog content

5. Ideas for new website functionality

All that from looking at a single keyword.

That’s why I stopped optimising for keywords, I found more value and better results for optimising for people instead.

Why this is more important than ever

When you’re optimising for people, all you’re really doing is solving pains.

From a commercial perspective, businesses that solve a user’s pain are more likely to be remembered, helping reduce customer churn and build their brand.

From a human perspective, the world’s gotten a lot tougher than it used to be for a lot of people. Sadly, it’s looking like it’s going to be getting even tougher before it gets better. The more we can do to help, even if it’s only answering a quick little question, the better.

Don’t pretend you have all the answers, pick an area you know and focus on that.

It’s fairly easy to do once you’re in the swing of things. Use the keywords to point you in the right direction, then optimise for the people that search for that keyword.