Selling Organic Food Through Organic Search – The SEO Conundrum

What can Jim, Sarah and Megan teach the organic food industry about search engine optimization (SEO)?

As it turns out, quite a lot. Because they are typical consumers of a multi-billion dollar industry that caters to the health-conscious needs and demands of millions around the world.

Sarah and Jim are children of the eighties, growing up with the computer revolution and comfortable around technology. A shared passion for programming brought them together while working at a company that went belly up during the dot-com bust.

That was when Megan was born, and she grew up with the Internet. Enamored by the wonders of the wireless Web, she’s hardly ever without her smart phone handy. Like her parents, she’s passionate about healthy eating. Organic food is a subject close to their heart, and often a part of dinner table conversation – as it was today.

“Delicious dessert, guys. Milk pudding with raisins and cherries.”

Eager hands grabbed at the tray Sarah brought into the dining room.

“I found this new brand of milk. OrgiBeef. Claims to be purer and healthier than any other organic brand. Nice name, too.”

Megan picked up her mobile phone, her fingers flying over the screen. In a moment, she exclaimed: “Ew… did you say ‘OrgiBeef’?”

“Yes, what about it?”

“Didn’t you look on Google before you bought it?” cried Megan, her expression a mix of dismay and surprise. She handed over the device to her mother.

Sarah glanced at the first few results for the search and realized what her daughter meant. There were so many negative reviews and comments about the brand she had thought was great.

Jim was tapping on his iPad. He nodded his head… and then shook it in astonishment, and looked up laughing.

“Would you believe it? A milk dairy called ‘Toxi-Calf’ is the most popular new brand. What a name!”

“But look at these reviews” said Sarah, who was searching Bing.com, her favorite. “They’re awesome.”

Jim pushed his tablet to the center of the table.

“Listen to this presentation by the dairy’s spokesman,” he said. They watched the 2 minute video on YouTube.

At the end, all three looked at each other.

“We’re buying ‘Toxi-Calf’ from now onwards” declared Sarah.

Jim and Megan nodded in agreement. And a health-conscious family that cared about organic food made a buying decision worth $2,000 a year (that would last 5 years or longer) based on a 2-minute search on the Web.

Millions of other families all around the world are doing the same every month. And that’s why a manufacturer, supplier, vendor or anyone at all engaged in an industry serving this market cannot afford to ignore or overlook the importance and impact of SEO.

From Organic Search To Organic Food

Good SEO is about ranking a website high on search engines for specific terms. Great SEO is about knowing which terms have the highest impact on your target audience.

Let’s take the organic milk industry as a representative example. The overall goal is to get people to buy more milk. There are people using the Web to help make this decision, searching for information that will tell them more about milk allergy and lactose intolerance, dispel myths such as “Milk will make your body rot!”, or address even more general questions like “Is milk only for cows?”

The answers they find affect sales, directly or indirectly.

A passionate (but factually incorrect) defense of false information on a public discussion forum can influence a prospective consumer far more than a well-crafted and delivered marketing message from an organic food manufacturer. Human beings are social animals, and generations of conditioning have taught us to ‘trust the herd’.

That’s where it becomes important to be found in organic search results.

Once vendors are ‘found’ by a consumer in a natural manner, their message has a better chance of influencing buying behavior. But there’s still a leap to make from merely informing a prospective buyer, to getting them to actually pick up a milk carton or package of organic food from the rack and take it home.

Keywords Become A Route-Map To Their Mind

Let’s say you have a organic product like milk that has significant health benefits to your market. It is high in protein, has near zero fat content and is low on carbs. How to convert these facts into talking points that convince someone to buy it?

The answer depends upon the unheard conversation that’s going on inside your prospect’s head.

Suppose Jim is your intended prospect. His thoughts may lean towards the strengthening, muscle-building and revitalizing effects of your brand of milk. A landing page on your website that speaks to these elements of your product will appeal in a more direct manner to Jim than it may to his wife.

Sarah’s perspective may be different. She may be more attracted by the fact that your brand of milk makes cereal more delicious, can help her achieve a perfect body, and gets her toddler (or teenager) to drink more of it without a pitched battle every morning! Your landing page targeting consumers like her must focus on an entirely different set of benefits, and target different keywords.

SEO Strategy Ties It All Together

You don’t start your SEO efforts planning to sell more milk. No. You set out to speak to your target market’s biggest needs, desires and fears.

You probably have reams of powerful information, data from scientific experiments, and extensive research material that can prove that your brand of organic food is superior to any other. But unless your audience is excited and fascinated by facts, these will not help convince them to buy it.

The challenge is to present this information to your audience in way they want – and in a way that will influence their thinking.

If Megan’s desire is to lose her puppy fat and feel healthier as her body grows more muscular, then the high-protein and low-fat features of your brand of milk take center-stage – with other benefits presented on a lower priority. Your SEO approach will then involve looking at the search volume and popularity of related keywords, building landing pages that will rank on those search terms, and at the same time spotlight the biggest benefits your audience is looking for.

Your goal with SEO is to build pages that deliver value. The hardest part of it is finding the ‘bait’ that will appeal to your prospects, and then lead them to do what you want them to do.

Effective SEO Helps Make The Sale

Milk is for more than drinking. And SEO is for more than merely ranking an information rich website at the top of a search engine. But to do more with it, one needs to get creative. When implemented correctly, your SEO strategy becomes an effective tool for both marketing and communication.

SEO can save a lot of money because you’re no longer paying per click for your Web traffic. The rankings you achieve can last for years, providing an ongoing return on your one-time investment. And SEO thereby becomes a great weapon in the battle for your prospect’s attention, both in an attack against established peers and competitors, as in defending your premier position in the marketplace.

The key, however, is to step out of the box and move from more than just “making them think” to “getting them to act”. Publishing a set of delicious recipes that can be cooked using your product will get people interested – but doesn’t give them a reason to buy your brand of organic food.

You must get them to discriminate in your favor. And that requires that you understand buyer psychology. Selling is about more than technical specifications, lists of ingredients and brilliant packaging. It involves leading them along a journey, where you show how your product meets their needs.

People like Jim, Sarah and Megan share something in common. A desire for organic food.

They are not just hungry people searching for food to eat. They are discerning consumers who know why they want a particular kind of organic food. Your role, then, is to solve the riddle of not just how to reach them, but how best to communicate with them, and then transcend to helping them make a decision in your favor.

You can’t do this by merely giving them more data. You’ll have to jolt them from attitude to action. You’ll take them from thinking to doing. You’ll do it by talking with them, instead of just talking to them.

is Head Of SEO at MediaCom Norway, and Columnist at Search Engine Land, and blogger at well-known websites like MOZ and SEOBook. He can be found on Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn and his Norwegian SEO blog.

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