The Role of an SEO Audience Development Specialist

The past 3-4 years has seen the SEO professional upgraded from focusing on website search rankings to a goal focused web strategist.

Most have moved beyond just making tactical improvements, to a holistic mindset. This to attract a customer’s audience from organic search results, focused on business goals and objectives.

In my journey towards better understanding how digital publishers operate, my aim is to provide inspiration to all digital publishers to better mold SEO as part of the organisational culture, in all daily workflow processes. This post will highlight the growing role of an SEO/audience development specialist and the potential impact this role has within in these organisations for large and small online publishers alike.

What is Audience Development?

Before jumping the gun, let’s clarify the definition of what audience development actually is. Straight up, audience development is targeting a specific online audience at scale (using specific strategies), towards a specific object/asset, with the long term outcome of developing repeat (loyal) monetised visitor relationships. Essentially it is a pull marketing approach and not about pushing marketing campaigns to help achieve specific lead gen or subscription outcomes from those visitors.

There are four methods (you can call them channels), which are used in order to effectively build online audiences.

1. Search - Targeted visitors from organic search engine results to websites regularly publishing relevant (optimised) content on technically sound structured websites. Search drives the majority of traffic to websites with at least 40% website visitors.

2. Social - Directly and indirectly targeted referring visitors as a result of consuming shared content from social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and etc.  Social shares are becoming increasingly important aspects of SEO, as social proof provides validation of genuine citations, in the form of WOM recommendations from actual people.

3. Referrals - Existing content syndication/brand partnerships or mentions from others about your brand referencing (linking back) your website. Referrals (and links) form a key factor of offsite SEO, to determine the genuine popularity (authority) of your website.

4. Brand loyalists (legacy & internal personal brands) – People following the brand, due to positive direct responses from previous push marketing tactics (advertisements) and company values which align to their personal values. Or it might be people actually following people due to the quality of their online contributions or personal brand.

As you can see from the above strategies, search (and SEO) plays a big factor in integrating the above strategies to develop long term or organic reader relationships.

What is Audience Development

What is Audience Development


What is an SEO audience development specialist? 

An SEO audience development specialist is essentially an all-encompassing  data driven marketing specialist, who works closely with the management, editorial (and publishing), marketing, technical and design teams within the internal business environment, in addition to external parties i.e. content syndication partners. This person manages all earned/own media website traffic building and user engagement aspects to a website or an object. They also plan and execute earned media strategies; in addition to optimising the website’s key conversion points i.e. subscriptions, to make publishing efforts more scalable and effective.

The role generally involves:

  • Being tactical – Assisting the teams with the strategic, content, social, technical & semantic implementation, research, website positioning/optimisation and production requirements of  the website and all digital assets tieing back to the brand.
  • Being strategic – Converging internal and external data and analytics for trending reports that will shape the daily online search, social, referral and brand related tactical and operational actions based on set goals and objectives. It is also their responsibility to work alongside the head publisher to champion and educate all departments the application of SEO into everyday processes.
  • Managing key relationships - Working with various stakeholders on a day to day basis to get the job done accordingly.

An example of an SEO audience development specialist role can be found on the screenshot below from Wenner Media for a recent LinkedIn job advertisement.

SEO Audience Development Job description

SEO Audience Development Job description

Similarly, Mequoda  also provide a very specific job description with the key skills required.


How does SEO audience development differ from inbound marketing or content marketing?

There have been many concepts and coined terms over the years which have eventually brought the approach of “earning results” for digital marketing efforts, as opposed to paying to gather people’s attention for a product or service. From “Online Advertising” to “Internet/Online Marketing” to “Web Marketing”, we now sees the buzz terms such as “Inbound Marketing” and “Content Marketing” rule our screens.

The SEO audience development definition has been elaborated above, but does this make audience development an additional step or does it need to be adapted into content marketing or inbound marketing efforts? Well in my opinion, I don’t think so. In fact inbound marketing and content marketing is embedded as part of audience development and here’s why:

  • Whilst inbound marketing has become an effective marketing method for aligning a brand to its target audience, brands are not walking along the lines with their customers, and building relationships in order to more actively convert and sell to them. Also less experienced marketers take a more tactical approach, hence not achieving its full potential.
  • Content marketing focuses on developing strong storytelling and compelling content that appeals to a target audience at all phases of the buying cycle in order to engage and achieve a specific objective. Quite a few publishers rely on this method in order to pull their audience from the above channels and generate revenue. And while the importance of SEO and social have only recently seen light amongst content marketers, there is still a lack of general awareness of the benefits, especially from a technical perspective. Another disadvantage (a small one) of being a content marketer is that is a channel agnostic role, and with this limits the person to expand their role maximise the full job description and only focus on content creation.


What can SEO’s do that no other marketer can – taking the dual role of being an audience development specialist

Rand Fishkin, the founder of Moz (SEO software company) goes into detail in his recent blog post on the specific skills SEO’s can do that no other marketer can, and I think it is pretty relevant for this post, as all audience development strategies tie back to this.  For the purposes of not regurgitating what is already mentioned, I would like to only list the key points below:

1. Create a strategy to increase search traffic

2. Keyword research, targeting, measuring and improvement

3.  Funnel optimisation for visitors from search

4. Diagnosing a drop or stagnation in search traffic

5. Assist with reputation management in the SERP’s

6. Audit a site for opportunity to improve search traffic

7.  Earn & build links, social signals, and amplification to help content spread.

So what are your thoughts of having or being an SEO/Audience development specialist in house or in an agency?  Do you think that this can strengthen a digital publishers overall efforts?

Thanks for reading and please comment below.

8 years experience in SEO & Content Strategy, with half of that time working in agency startups (or newly created divisions), developing and improving SEO and content marketing service processes. Being an SEO is who I am, digital (content and/or media) publishing is where I want to be.

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