SEO Basics Every Association Publisher Should Know
association publishing teams know what search engine
optimization is, but hereís a great primer to help you understand how it works
and how your association can do better.
SEO, also known as Search Engine Optimization, is the
process your association can use to organically improve or optimize your siteís
ranking on each respective search engine.
This caveat of SEO ó being rooted in organic ranking
improvements ó is the main distinction between paid search and SEO. Organic
improvement of a site is largely related to how a site is being interpreted by
search engine algorithms.
According to Internet Live Stats, Google processes around
40,000 queries every second. Search is a seamless part of our digital
experience, but few understand how it really works.
When users enter their keywords in a search engine, an
algorithm is used to find the most relevant results for the specific keywords. Algorithms
are constantly changing to improve the results users are getting,
and to fend off black hat SEOs.
Before a website can ever appear for a unique query, it
must go through the indexing process, where a search engineís crawlers/spiders can each page of a website and follow both internal and external links. This
indexing process categorizes websites into a large database thatís used to pull
relevant results from each time a search is made.
While crawlers analyze each site and its internal and
external links, they donít see sites like we do. Instead of seeing the images
and colors of a site, crawlers scan html code to understand its content. Now
the question is: What are these crawlers looking for when they rank websites on
a search engine results page, also commonly referred to as the SERP?
Engine Ranking Factors
1. Content. While it may seem like a given, creating
relevant and useful content for your associationís website is one of the best
ways to work your way up to the top of a search engineís rankings. Is your associationís
website engaging visitors in a way that enhances their digital experience? If
so, then you have little to worry about.
Long-form content has proven to rank well, but this isnít to say simply
reaching that 1,500 word milestone is enough. Ranking well goes back to
creating content that is useful and relevant, which in many cases requires in
depth analysis and explanation through long-form content.
2. User experience. A search engineís goal is to provide the most relevant answer to a
userís query, but what good is relevancy if a site is so unresponsive or poorly
structured you canít get the information you need? This is where user
experience comes into play. Examples that could lead to a bad user experience include
slow page speed, hidden content, multiple 404 errors, poor organization, and
more. When your site is optimized for an enjoyable user experience, youíll likely
begin to see higher click-through rates (CTRs), lower bounce rates, and more
Good use of keywords. Keywords can help users and crawlers know
what your site will be offering. While keyword stuffing was a popular tactic in
the early days of SEO, itís now one of the many ways to get your site
Todayís SEO landscape sees keywords being used for indicators of relevancy.
Properly used keywords should be used in the following:
- URLs. A
URL is the specific address for your site, with each page having its own unique
URL. When the search engine displays your URL, youíll want it to act as a
preview of the pageís content. Using excessive subcategories and identification
numbers makes URLs too long and complicated for users.
tags. Titles are the clickable links that display in a search
engine results page. Google will most likely only display 55-60 characters for
a title tag. Itís important to keep your title within this range to avoid
leaving out keywords that could help a user understand what your site is about.
Use a title that concisely states the pageís content while being unique enough
to warrant a visit.
descriptions. Meta descriptions are the bodies of text
you find under the URL for a search result. These descriptions are another way
to concisely (between 150-160 characters) inform users of the most valuable
information to be found on your site. Choosing not to add a description into
the <head> of your code will often
result in google choosing a snippet of text from your site, which may not
always be relevant to the userís search query.
4. Linking. Links are the gateway from site to site for our online
digital experience. The two broad categories of links are internal and external
links. Crawlers use both to determine relevancy and user experience for
- Internal links act as the network or
architecture for users to bounce from page to page within a single domain.
Youíll want to make sure all of your different pages are uniform in the domainís
overall architecture so users and crawlers are getting a proper experience.
- External links are those that, when clicked,
will take you off the original site and onto a new one. For consistency
purposes, use external links that would be valuable for visitors.
Furthermore, external links on other domains that link
back to your page are called backlinks. Backlinks are interpreted by search
engines as votes of confidence for the site being linked. These votes of
confidence arenít all created equal. A backlink from Adweek, for example, is more valuable to crawlers than a backlink
from a small, local agency.
If youíre planning on going out and buying a bunch of new
backlinks for your site, you wonít see the same results as an organic link from
an authority such as Adweek. And youíre
most likely on your way to being banned by Google.
5. Social signals. Social Media is
a great way to get the word out about your new blog post, product launch, or
any other information related to your association. Once your social media
campaign starts to pick up steam, youíll see the interaction and shares trickle
in. Many claim social media metrics have no direct relationship with search
algorithms. Even so, social media continues to grow in influence, and itís
always a smart idea to promote your business through all available channels.
Thereís much more to SEO than just understanding how the
search engines work and a few of the key ranking factors. Testing out what does
and doesnít work for your organizationís site will go a long way in curbing
some of the more complicated aspects of SEO. The single best piece of advice that
SEOs give to those just starting out is one thatís been stated time and time
again: Make your site for users, not for search engines.
Zach Wilson is SEO specialist at
Zion and Zion, a full-service adverising firm in Tempe, Arizona. This brief guide to SEO was excerpted
from a longer report on digital marketing. Wilson suggests Sidebar readers interested in SEO may enjoy this free