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Writing for the Web in 2010—New Search Strategies
Takeaway notes from a Search Engine Strategies webinar. By Aliza Bornstein, copywriter, Melissa Data

Publishing content on the Web is more than just distribution. A lot of benefits and business objectives can be achieved when you optimize your content for search engines. One of the biggest benefits is being visible for things your audience is looking for when conducting searches. Visibility increases credibility, which results in greater exposure for the products and services you’re selling on major search engines like Google, Yahoo!, and Bing. Being visible helps attract both customers and journalists looking for new topics to write stories about. Optimizing your content for search engines also helps give you search visibility for candidates that might want to work for you, or customers that are looking for support information. Fundamentally, if something can be searched on, it can be optimized.

SEO
Let’s start with the definition of SEO (Search Engine Optimization): “A set of methodologies that make it easier for search engines to find, index, categorize, and rank Web content.” The definition has changed quite bit over time, but it really comes down to content and links. With updates like Google Caffeine, we see the bubbles where the importance can really vary. No one will have anything to link to unless you’re publishing content. No one will have anything to find in the search results unless you’re publishing content. Links act as the electricity for the content, and these are the core of SEO.

Google ranking basics
You’ve got to fish where the fish are, and the fish are at Google. Google is #1, with 65.7 percent of the market share (per comScore 2009). Yahoo! trails a distant second place with 17.3 percent market share.

A lot of people who are new to SEO don’t understand the basics of how Google does what it does. When you search Google.com (or any other search engine) you’re not searching the live Web for the most part, you’re searching a copy. So Google sends out software programs (called “spiders” or “bots”) that operate like a browser. These bots follow links that they know about to find fresh content. They make copies of the text and content, and if they find any new links, they follow them and they make copies of that content as well. Then they bring it all back and organize it into an index. They continue to revisit those links to find if anything has changed, and to discover new links that will lead it to new content.

All of these “copies” which include different types of documents from Web pages, images, video, tweets, etc., are collected into a big repository to serve up the most relevant matches Google will use: user searches; user location/login ID; words matched in the index; etc., to present you with a long list of customizable content with the most relevant links at the top of the page.

The following are Lee Odden’s top 10 SEO tips for PR:

Tip #1: SEO tactics—only do one thing…
A lot of people ask “If I could do only one thing to further my SEO tactics, what should it be?” The technical answer is: It depends on the problem. The real answer is “make sure the site is crawlable.” That means remove any technical barriers for the search engine bots from finding, crawling, and interacting with the content of your site. It means having navigation that’s crawlable. Also, make sure your URL’s aren’t creating any difficulties and that there’s no infinite loop traps. If you’re not an SEO specialist, you need to talk to IT or your Webmaster about making sure your site is being included.

Tip #2: PR tactics that affect SEO
There are four main PR tactics that affect SEO.

1. Press releases. Press releases are something that a lot of companies publish and you can optimize them like any other Web document.
2. Letters to the Editor. If there’s a publication in your industry that publishes letters to the editor online, you can find a topic you can optimize with your keywords and write in a compelling opinion piece. This is something that can rank in search results—just be sure to include links!
3. Online newsrooms. There are repositories of newsworthy information about a company: press announcements; media coverage; archived webinars; white papers; case studies; etc. They’re all content and they include different media types that can be optimized for search.
4. Media kits. Corporate blogs and individual documents (whether they’re Web pages or not); and white papers (whether they’re html or .pdf) can be optimized for keywords.
Tip #3: How to choose the best keywords
How do we choose the best keywords? Through a four step keyword search. Start by brainstorming phrases and then move onto importing a keyword search tool. Google provides six keyword research tools: Google keyword tool; Google insights and trends; Google trends; WordTracker; Keyword discovery; SEMRush.com. After you import the tool of your choosing, find which one is the most popular and provides the most variation. Finally, create a keyword glossary. Who is your target audience and how do they think of you?

You want to associate keywords with categories, primary phrases, derivatives, permutations, popularity, relevance, competitiveness, etc. If you use a keyword research tool it will give you a metric that’s relative so you can compare your own keywords to each other, and how often people are searching on those phrases. Then do other types of research that will tell you how competitive and relevant they are to your existing content so you can uncover what areas of optimization you need to execute on. A keyword glossary will help you manage the execution of content optimization for what you’ve already published, and will guide you with your content strategy in deciding what type of content you’re going to publish going forward.

Tip #4: Basics of on-page SEO. What do you do with the keywords? You can use title tags, keyword placement, on-page titles, navigation links, body copy, keyword text links, image alt texts, or URLs. In a structure of a Web site in terms of on-site SEO, think of an organizational chart where you have top level concepts and they’re supported by subordinate concepts. You want to make sure that they link to each other in a way that’s meaningful. Everything needs to be logical and structured to make it easy for both consumers and search engines to find what you’re publishing.

Tip #5: Press release optimization tips
To get more from press releases from a search perspective, you need to research what keywords are relevant for that individual press release. Don’t try to optimize one press release for 10 different phrases. If you optimize for a large number of phrases, then each of those phrases is going to compete with each other. Focus on singularity when optimizing a single document like a press release. If a press release can have a call-to-action, it will inspire click-through. Make sure your press releases are distributed or available through an RSS feed.

Tip #6: Newsroom optimization tactics
If you don’t currently have a newsroom you should think about incorporating one. A lot of content management systems publish newsrooms in such a way that they archive press releases chronologically—and that’s it. From a keyword standpoint, that’s not very useful to people or to search engines. Try using blog software (Wordpress.org is a free one) as an easy way to add a search engine- friendly newsroom to a website. You can customize it, optimize it, and add plugins.

Make sure you make it easy
Make it easy for consumers of your newsroom content to save and bookmark or share what they find there. Include keyword categories so press releases, announcements, or whatever you’re putting up in your newsroom, are archived chronologically and according to keyword category. Make sure you add site search on the newsroom so people can conduct a search if they don’t see what they’re looking for. Make it easy for them to subscribe through an RSS feed and optimize whatever documents you’re putting in there. Make sure you’re cross-linking between the announcements or content you’re publishing on your newsroom with the corresponding pages on the corporate Web site.

Tip #7: Link building fundamentals
Creating great content is wonderful, but if no one knows about it to link to it, then you’re at an unfortunate disadvantage. It’s important to realize that when you’re publishing and optimizing news content you take full advantage of maximum linking opportunities. Links are like electricity. They can literally light up your content in the search results. Content and links have a yin yang type of relationship. Great content will attract links, especially if you promote it. Earn links with that great content and have a content strategy where you’re intentionally identifying target audiences, keywords, and what kind of content you’ll need to publish to meet your readers’ needs.

Promote your content socially by growing social networks. Make sure you’re distributing and syndicating your news content to those different audiences if that’s where your target audiences are spending their time.

Tip #8: SEO and social media promotions
Social media and search have a reciprocal type of relationship. If you optimize social media content for search, it can influence the discovery of new members to your community. If you’re publishing content on a social network externally and people can find that content in standard search results like Google.com, then you can grow your community. People who are looking for subject matter experts or resources on a certain topic will probably join your online community—if they find answers there that they seek. As you share contact with that community, a lot of people could take that content and write about it, and that can increase links back to you.

Inspiring people to have discussions and making it easy for them to share are all part of the search and social media relationship. It can benefit getting your news out there and best optimize your news content you found through search. You want to layer social media tactics with SEO at the point when content is created. You might do that by intentionally optimizing video or tweets according to certain keywords from an infrastructure standpoint.

Tip #9: Measuring and selling the value of SEO
Communicating the value within your organization can be done by using advertising in commonly understood metrics or dollar values with pay-per-click advertising, and associate that with what you’re achieving through optimized news search. You can take a look at your new search ranking versus another company or competitor, and you can look into how much it would cost to achieve those types of rankings through pay per click. Then, see how much it would be worth to you.

Tip #10: SEO don’ts
     • Use keywords that are more important to you than those searching.
     • Overuse keywords; aka “stuffing.”
     • Over-rely on “tricks” to gain advantage.
     • Over-rely on Key Performance Indicator (KPI) measurements like ranking.
     • Forget to link using anchor text.
     • Rely on text alone—use media: images; video; audio; social.
     • Forget to be really, really nice to your IT dept or Web developers.
     • Ignore measuring all aspects of success: placements; links; mentions; traffic; page
       views; social impact; inquiries and conversations…short and long term.

Takeaways
It’s about links and content, and it’s very important that you have a content strategy that speaks to the audience you’re trying to reach so you can meet their needs. In many cases, you will also need a social media strategy to increase your channels of distribution.

---Source: Search Engine Strategies webinar on Jan 20, 2010. Lee Odden is the CEO of TopRank Online Marketing (www.toprankmarketing.com).
 

Melissa Data


 
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