Content creators should be onboard with search engine optimization strategies because good content is the key to good search results.
By Amy Rigard
MANY PEOPLE HEAR THE TERM SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION (SEO) and automatically assume it is something only their IT department deals with. That is simply not true. Content creators and managers need to be involved because good content is the key to good search results.
People who use search engines such as Google, Yahoo, or Bing typically click on the results closest to the top of the list because they believe they are the most relevant. The panelists at Association Media & Publishing's September 18th Lunch & Learn titled, "Best Practice for SEO Success,” (held at the American Bankers Association in Washington, DC and sponsored by The YGS Group), asked the sold-out audience whether their associations' websites appear at the top of the list when people search for them. While most people said yes, some in the crowd seemed confused as to why other search terms that they assumed would result in a top ranking, actually did not work so well.
The panelists—Thad Lurie, director of technology for the American Health Lawyers Association, Tobin Conley, senior director, technology management for DelCor, and Dan Scheeler, director, information services for the American Health Care Association—suggested that the first step is to determine how people typically find your association's website. While it is important to be at or near the top and easy for people to find, if most people who visit your site are already members or are prospects directed there through direct marketing efforts, SEO may not be your organization's biggest priority. Even so, it is still wise to take some simple stepsto improve your search engine rankings.
For example, the panelists advised, make a list of terms you wish searchers would use to find your site. Next, using free (and simple) tools like Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools, and Google Ad Tracking, look at what search terms users are actually using to find/search your site.
One key factor to consider when undertaking search engine optimization is to be sure that your website is crawled by the major search engines. This can be done by registering a site map XML file with the major search engines. Quality inbound links and the use of relevant terms to link to a page are important. Do not use generic terms, such as "click here.” Instead, using key words in the page creates a more relevant URL.
One major takeaway that seemed to interest many in the audience was learning that Google reads "dashes” as a word separator and "underscores” as a part of the word. Therefore, using dashes rather than underscores can improve your Google page rank. A good strategy is to purchase your domain name with dashes and then redirect traffic from that name to your existing main site.
The presenters stressed the point that fresh content is the key to a good ranking because search engines view fresh content as more relevant. Refreshing your blogs, news, feeds, user reviews, comments, and other copy on a consistent basis and as often as possible will help your association's page ranking. Sites should also be easily editable, simple to navigate, and not have all of the copy in images.
Search engine optimization is not an exact science, and the best approach to it will vary by organization, said the presenters. However, when working toward search engine optimization, it is important to determine the appropriate balance between usability of the site and the site's page ranking. Typically, whatever you lose in search engine optimization, you pick up in usability, and vice versa. The key is to have everyone on your association publishing team on board with your strategy to optimize SEO.
Putting in place substantive measures and goals and arming the entire team with the knowledge that content is king—and staying consistent and persistent in your SEO strategy—will eventually pay off. Bottom line: If your content is strong and refreshed often—and if you employ a few simple SEO strategies—you can trust Google, or any of the other major search engines, to carry you through.
(Editor's note: At the conclusion of the presentation, our panelists recommended a number of sites with general SEO tips that Association Media & Publishing members may find valuable, including:
Amy Rigard is assistant editor at the National Club Associationin Washington, DC. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for volunteering to cover this Lunch & Learn for our members who were unable to attend.
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