By Blair Williamson
“Search engine optimization…that means you have to buy ads on Google, right?”
That’s the old school way of thinking – pay Google and they will make your site appear in search. Not really. Yes, Google AdWords can help your site turn up in a targeted keyword search, and those site visits can increase your “street cred” with Google. But SEO requires a little more thought than that, and I believe SEO requires the special skills of a communicator.
Search engine optimization sounds a bit technical, so you might think it’s best to leave it to the technical side of your team. So why is SEO the job of a communicator?
1. SEO is about context
At the core SEO is about making your website easy for search engines to read and understand. Search engines are machines. And while they are smart machines that can read and understand text, they can’t understand the entire context of your site.
While infographics may illustrate a great point or a video from your CEO may convey a lot of information, search engine bots don’t know. All they know is that there is a photo or there is a video, not the message within. It’s our job to make sure these bots can quickly and easily understand the information on your site so they can covey a complete picture to people searching for what you offer.
2. SEO is about brand messaging
SEO is about brand messaging because your SEO work tells search engines what to think and know about your company. You can work with your web team to get the technical logistics done, but brand messaging and how you position your brand to a search engine is a communicator’s job.
Brand messaging is key in crafting metadescriptions. Each page on your site has a metadescription – a 155 character description of the page, often paired with a call to action. This metadescription is essential to how a search engine understands and sorts your website among all potential search results. It’s also the first piece of content that someone will see in search results. This short sentence – the metadescription – can make or break whether someone decides to click on your website over another.
I recommend crafting a metadescription with keywords for your homepage, each of your top trafficked pages, and your key landing pages. If you don’t have a metadescription, the search engine will automatically pull the first bit of content from your page and truncate the rest of the sentence. So, if you don’t set up a metadescription, be sure to write a great lead.
3. SEO is about content
Recently a client emailed me about why her site didn’t turn up in search engine results for “coffee center.” Yes, there were a few ways I could help technically, but the site never used the term coffee center! And the ‘about’ page only has two sentences. How can we expect a search engine bot to figure out that you want coffee center as a keyword when we don’t use it on the site? Can a search engine understand the entire essence of your organization in two sentences? This SEO issue was really a content issue.
As search engines have become more sophisticated to read and understand content, the value of content increased in search engine algorithms. You can get dinged for not having enough content on your website. And you will certainly get dinged for not having unique quality content on your website.
Keep this in mind – what is unique about your company that no one else can do? Write about it. Your site gets major SEO points for offering unique, helpful information and, in turn, can also be penalized if it appears that you don’t offer unique value.
Bringing it home for communicators – SEO is about relationships
SEO is also about the relationships you build. Communicators are already in the business of building relationships via social media, relationships with bloggers to promote your products, and connections with other websites and companies.
Learn what you can about SEO, partner with your technical team if you need to, and download some helpful tools. If you are using WordPress, I recommend Yoast SEO as an easy way to manage metadata for SEO. It’s easy enough to teach your content contributors how to use it as well. If you want to learn more about SEO and how to make it part of your routine, check out the free beginner’s guide to SEO from Moz.
Blair Williamson is a past president of Brazos Valley IABC, and is the web content strategist for Texas A&M AgriLife. She has a specialization in search engine optimization from Coursera and UC Davis, and an affinity for reining horses.
The Blog at bviabc.com publishes articles written by local professionals engaging in professional communications and IABC members from around the world on various topics of interest to our members and participators. If you’d like to contribute content for The Blog, please contact Jennie L. Lamb at firstname.lastname@example.org.