Search engine optimization can feel difficult to grasp, but it’s all about matching the content to the audience, a nonprofit marketing expert says.
Search engine optimization is a key tool for associations looking to reach potential members or other audiences that share their niche.
The problem? SEO can get pretty niche itself. Indeed, a quick dive into the world of SEO may scare some people away from pursuing the practice further.
That would be a mistake, says Emily Patterson, founder of Bee Measure, a firm focused on nonprofit digital outreach that has worked with many associations over the years. When it comes down to it, she says, SEO is really just providing relevant information to the right user.
“People are going to Google, and you have information you want to appear when people will find you—and you want them to have a good experience on your site when they find you,” she says. “You’re not doing any favors by just being like, ‘Oh, SEO, that’s for e-commerce companies; we don’t need to participate in that.’”
With that in mind, Patterson offers these tips for maximizing your SEO capabilities:
Put yourself in your users’ shoes. Associations often think about presenting content in a way that makes sense internally but doesn’t match how their own members think about a topic. “They tend to use jargon, keywords, and things that are internal to their organization rather than thinking, ‘How do the people that we serve and the people in this field actually talk about things and search for things?’” Patterson says. Simply think about the topic from the perspective of your target reader, she explains. After all, that’s the person you’re trying to reach.
Sell the skeptics by encouraging them to think about their own search habits. Some employees may not be familiar with digital work or the benefits of building with SEO in mind. This can result in accidental resistance—for example, an employee unaware of how SEO works won’t write headlines with keywords in mind. “Sometimes there can just be this sort of technology barrier where people are like, ‘It’s online, so I’m really intimidated,’” Patterson says. When she encounters this mindset, she emphasizes to those employees that approaching search as an average user would can shift their perspective and make it seem simpler. “Everybody uses Google and searches for things,” she says. “So when you do that, what’s your experience for the types of things you’re looking for? I feel like that helps.”
Refresh your content occasionally—if it’s relevant. No matter how well an evergreen article is written, odds are high that it will fall out of date and require a periodic refresh to ensure that it is as relevant as possible. Patterson suggests using two common search tools, Google Search Console and Google Analytics, to uncover possible candidates for refreshes. However, she warns that not all content is worthy of extra attention: “Every client I’ve ever worked with, they always have some article on their site that’s getting a lot of traffic because it’s indexed well in search, but it’s not necessarily really related to what they’re doing,” she says.
Don’t lean too hard on tools. Search engine optimization has become something of a cottage industry for third-party tools to allow users to understand competitors and maximize positions, among other things. While she acknowledges that those technical approaches have their place, Patterson says they matter less for associations than for businesses in other lines of work, such as e-commerce. “Generally, having a strong website and writing your content like how your users speak and what they’re looking for—that will go a very long way,” she says.
Understand the changing tides. The shifts haven’t been as dramatic as they once were, but Google does use its position as the primary search engine to push site owners into desirable best practices, such as mobile-first design and fast page loads. Paying attention to these changes allows you to approach not just your day-to-day content strategically but also larger endeavors, such as site redesigns. For example, Google now favors longer content over shorter content. Naturally, the most straightforward way to address this trend is to develop long-form content, but the shift can be approached with design as well, such as by consolidating multiple pages into one longer page.
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