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Trojan horse SEO: How to gain traction in new markets

We all **** Netflix binge-watching now, but do you remember how you first learned about Netflix? I’m guessing it wasn’t by typing “DVD mail rental subscription” into Google on a whim.

And that represents a similar challenge for any business with a new or disruptive idea: how do you build engagement for something nobody knows exists?

Luckily, there is an audience for your product or service, regardless if they already know it. And you do have a category, regardless of its keyword volume.

Much like paid search practitioners occasionally like to borrow competitor clout and poach traffic by bidding on brand terms, SEO professionals who are growing brands in new markets need to look at poaching the demand that already exists for related markets – and then explain why their brand is a great alternative. 

This article will break down my approach to what I call “Trojan Horse SEO” for category creation:

  • Researching the existing market you’ll disrupt.
  • Creating an SEO and content strategy around the old terms.
  • Introducing your new category/keywords in the process.

SEO research for new markets

Your mission at this step is to discover how people search for that thing you’ll disrupt – even if it doesn’t overlap with your new product or service. 

To do this, you really have to understand the old way of thinking and why people are motivated to search. 

  • Find the search volume for keywords associated with the old way.
  • Create an SEO strategy using those old terms as a foundation.
  • Acquire them for your new category.

Start by interviewing the early customers of your new product, your customer service team, and the product managers who helped define the product-market fit. 

This research should teach you about the problems or gaps within the old industry, specifically what was broken or missing and what people absolutely **** about your new solution. That’s your qualitative research, which should inform your keyword and content strategy. 

If you were on the Netflix SEO team in the early days, maybe “DVD rental” could have been a keyword to focus on, with the knowledge that folks in super-rural communities or folks without cars or public transportation might not have had access to traditional options like Blockbuster.

Another great resource is customer reviews of the products or services you’re disrupting. These will help you isolate even more pain points.

And try to dig up industry reports that talk about how things are shifting. For instance, Gartner, Forrester and Adobe can give you great SaaS (software as a service) insights.

As for quantitative research, go to the usual set of keyword research and planning tools – and remember that for new products or services, it’s a volume game. 

Keyword planners help you prioritize the old terms by impact, often expressed by search volume (the bigger the search volume, the bigger the potential to introduce your concept to a group of customers who might need it).

As a sanity check, do a quick Google search for the old terms you’re focusing on. If they’re returning SERPs that include the brand or brands you’re trying to disrupt, that indicates that user intent aligns with your strategy.

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Creating a new-market SEO strategy

Content is great for new-market SEO strategy, and you should have many byline ideas from your quantitative research. 

Talk about the existing market, optimize it for the known/heavily searched terms and use content to introduce a better alternative. For example, “DVD Rental When There’s No Blockbuster Near You” or “The New DVD Rental: Get {Recent Oscar Winner for Best Picture} Delivered to Your Doorstep.”

There’s one thing you must remember at this step: it isn’t enough to bring people to your Trojan Horse content – you have to give them a reason and a clearly defined path to learn more. 

How to introduce your new category

So you’ve brought your users in through the old-category Trojan Horse. Now teach them your new language. 

Your goal should be to own a term, rank for the term, and then try to turn up the volume on that term (I think of this almost as I do a brand campaign).

Start seeding the market with your new term and optimizing your properties, including:

  • Your homepage.
  • A statement blog post.
  • Your company’s boilerplate and social media profile.

Make sure that everything you create that mentions the old term carries internal links to your fundamental pieces. 

The stakes

Is this tough to pull off? Absolutely. 

Can it work? 

Consider Five-Hour Energy (energy shots), HubSpot (inbound marketing), Asana (task management), Fitbit (wearable fitness trackers) and Salesforce (cloud software), among others. 

Those brands all developed a new term now widely used in the market and earned a huge advantage. They’ll always be one of the brands you’ll associate first with that term, no matter how competitive the market gets.

For me, few challenges are more rewarding than using your full array of research, technical, and content skills to bring a new product or brand to the mainstream. 

And if you do it right, you’ll be more than the team that brought “the new {competitor}” to market. You’ll be “the marketing team behind {amazing brand success story}.”

Dig deeper: 6 SEO considerations for a successful international expansion

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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