A couple of weeks ago I was honoured to be asked by Heather Yaxley if I would like to give a talk to members of the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) on improving Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) for marcoms materials; monitoring and engaging in social media; and the challenges and opportunities of evaluating influence.
Unfortunately the weather had other ideas, and as I look out of the window right now, it’s coming down in – not sheets, that’s rain – what does snow come down in? Duvets. Big thick duvets of snow.
So while I could have struggled to get into London there was no guarantee I’d get back. Very reluctantly I therefore had to tell Heather I couldn’t make the talk. She entirely understood – we’d already planned for this contingency because earlier in the week we’d had four inches of the fluffy stuff (I took some nice photos at the time) and I raised the possibility that this might happen.
The contingency was that Heather would just talk people through my slides, which at the time of writing she’ll be 15 minutes into. I’m sure she’ll do a superb job, but I’d also like to add my own penn’orth alongside the presentation which you can see at Slideshare and as a Google Presentation (some may call them bare or spartan, I prefer ‘clean’…)
I’m going to do this in three parts cos otherwise it becomes a huge post that no one will want to read. So, let’s kick off with part one…
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
Before I start, I need to say this: you can buy books this thick (gestures with hands) about SEO, or hire the services of entire companies to improve your SEO.
I don’t want to write a book, nor am I a company, but I do think you can go a fair way to improving your SEO through two reasonably simple measures: identifying your keywords; and linking.
First off, let’s think about what SEO is. There are many definitions but I like simplicity, so how about this: making it as easy as possible for people to find you through search engines.
Sounds blindingly obvious, but let’s think about this for a minute. We’re talking about people finding you. People will be using words to find you, so to help them find you, you should use those same words.
But when we say ‘people’, with SEO we really mean computers. Search engines are just sophisticated algorithms run on vast numbers of computers to find content. So through SEO we’re really looking at ways in which to use the right words while working with the search engine algorithms.
Using the right words
Imagine someone sitting at their computer and looking for you. Think about the words they might use to describe you. You already know some of them. For example: who is your MD? What is your top-performing brand? What would you say is the major issue facing your company?
That name, brand and issue are three words or phrases that people might use to find you. They’re words that are therefore important. Hence keywords, and you may not realise this, but you already know quite a few.
I’ve already written about how to identify keywords so that a look at that post. Simply fill in the grid – it takes an hour at most – and you’ve listed the keywords you know. Piece of pie. Easy as cake.
Then list the keywords you don’t know. These are your known unknowns. You’ll find them in other marcoms material, on your own website if your website agency did a good job, and other agencies will already be using keywords to buy online adspace or search for cuttings on your behalf.
You can also use the Google AdWords Keyword tool to find more keywords. In particular, I like the feature whereby you specify a web page, and the tool will tell you what the keywords probably are for that page. It’s almost a reverse-search, giving you what the search terms may have been to find that page. So if you find a webpage that you think is bang on the money – that is, talks about exactly what you talk about – then run that through the tool and peel the keywords out of it.
Let’s take an example. Type http://www.mpiaa.com into the Adwords tool. Wait a few seconds, admiring the animated Google graphic, then up pops the answer. Looks like the kewords would be public relations, public affairs, pr, marketing, media, car, advertising, job, communication and brand. For an organisation concerned with PR and PA across the automotive industry, that sounds about right to me.
Now, liberally sprinkle these keywords through your marcoms material. Specifically, put them in page titles (ie the title in the banner across the very top of your browser), headings and links because search engines like this. Put them in your body text – about 5 every 100 words, otherwise it starts to look ridiculous.
Also put them in your meta tags. These are tags plus a description built into a webpage that describe the page, and while a lot of search engines no longer use them to find pages, they do use them for the description that appears in their results. If your description looks nice and makes all the right noises – that is, contains those hot keywords – then people are more likely to click you. So you won’t appear higher in rankings by using meta tags, but you will encourage people to click when they see you. That’s still SEO.
Secondly, algorithms. There’s a lot you could say about how search engines work, but generally they rely on links. They love pages with lots of links coming in and going out, so add them to your marcoms material. Link out to other sites – the ones you’ll identify when you start monitoring social media – and encourage them to link back to you. Consider link exchange programmes where both partners benefit.
Also link within your site. Make sure your most important pages are linked up as much as possible. You can do this with those context-sensitive menus you often see to the right of a webpage, or some sites have what is almost a mini sitemap along the footer of a page.
And when you do link, if you are using graphics or Flash – as some great sites do, simply because they look fantastic – then try to supplement these links with text, because search engines still prefer it. And if you can use keywords in those textual links, and keywords in the alternative text that describes the link, then you’ve got a triple whammy – a highly SEO-optimised text hyperlink. Nice.
If you want an example of links, take a look at my PR Friendly Index and you’ll see some badges at the bottom of the page. People seem to like using them. Suits me – I get loads of links back to this blog. It’s not a link programme as such, but it seems to work. And in the code I’ve supplied, I have alternative text to go with the graphic for a bit of SEO. Plus all the entries in the index point to those blogs, so I get loads of links out too. OMG, is it really that long since I updated it…?
So, there you have it. That’s part one. Take a look at the presentation on Slideshare or Google Docs to see the whole thing. You might not need – or even want – to read two more posts covering the rest of itbut I’m going to write them anyway, probably tomorrow. I might even try and record myself talking about it. But that would be a webinar, or even a podcast, and the thought of doing one still scares me…