When your members type your organization's specialty into Google, what does the search results page return? Is your association at the top? Near the top? Nowhere near the top?
By Jacqui Cook
GOOGLE, YAHOO, AND OTHER SEARCH ENGINES guard their exact formulas closely, but if you are angling to get at or near the top, there are some steps you can take to maximize your chances. These strategies were outlined recently at the Association Media & Publishing Annual Meeting by a panel of search engine optimization (SEO) experts: Thad Lurie, director of technology, American Health Lawyers Association; Dan Scheeler, director, information services, American Health Care Association; and Tobin Conley, senior consultant, technology management, DelCor.
Step 1. Go to Google
The person in charge of establishing a search engine presence should begin by simply going to Google and acting like a member or someone else who would have an interest in what you do. Type in the words you think they would put in, and see what comes up.
"You have to start at the beginning, Lurie says. "When people go to a search engine, they type in keywords. You need to know who your audience is and why they are coming to your site.
Step 2. Decide Whom You Want to Impress
Who is the primary audience you want to engage via a search engine? Is it your members, the profession at large, or the public? The answer to this question is key to deciding which keywords you want to focus on in Google.
For example, if your members are dietitians and you want to appear high in their searches, you might use terminology such as "water-soluble vitamins or "high fructose corn syrup. If your primary audience is the public, however, you might use "Vitamin C or "sugar.
Scheeler cautions against confusing terminology with jargon, even for a professional audience. Don't overload your site with jargon and acronyms that you use in your organization. Even if your members know what they mean, they probably won't type them into a search engine.
"You have to know the terminology in your field, Conley says.
"This is very important. But avoid the jargon of your industry, Scheeler adds.
Step 3: Mine the Data
The Web is an immediate medium, which means you don't have to wait for a readership survey or renewal season to find out how you're doing. The panel recommends associations pursuing an SEO strategy should establish a Google Analytics account to monitor Web traffic. This free, easy-to-use tool, available at http://www.google.com/analytics/, offers a wealth of data about who is coming to your site, how they are getting there, and how long they are staying.
"Once you have that information, you can make subtle changes in how people are getting there, Scheeler says. "By setting up filters, you can see what is getting people to your pages and what's causing them to leave. How can we improve the page to get them to take the next step?
Step 4: Be Patient
All three panelists stressed that a good SEO strategy takes months sometimes close to a year -- to establish, track, and refine. Don't give up if there isn't an increase in traffic or high search engine results right away. Encourage your organization to make a commitment to SEO and actively work to implement the strategy in all its communication vehicles. Eventually, you'll find your way to the top.
Jacqui Cook is a freelance writer in the Chicago suburbs. Twitter @olmomto4. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for covering this session at the Annual Meeting for those who were unable to attend.