Ever since Google’s last significant evolution of its search engine algorithm, known as Hummingbird, the marketing world has been treading water trying to understand how to drive search traffic to digital campaigns and websites. In the pre-Hummingbird era, search could be gamed by gaining multiple links back to a page and installing keywords throughout the content. So-called “Black Hat” experts charged a lot of money to get around the rules. In today’s Hummingbird era, it’s no longer only about keywords, but rather having good content with a smart keyword strategy that is relevant to the target audience. Attempting to manipulate the system through meaningless links and keyword overload no longer affects the search results.
While the Google algorithm is extremely complex, SEO itself is not complicated. It’s actually very easy to understand. In sum, Google’s algorithms are designed to serve the best, most relevant content to users. That’s the filter that any company or organization needs to use when deciding whether any particular activity that is part of your online strategy will have an impact on your SEO.
It’s just difficult to execute.
For example, if you’re thinking about blasting a request to bloggers to link back to your site, don’t bother. If they haven’t created good content, it won’t make a difference. Want to change the title of every page on your site to your key search term? It won’t work. Thinking about jamming every keyword into a blog post? If it’s not good content, don’t do it.
The challenge is determining the definition of “good content,” at least as far as Google is concerned. That’s where the hard work begins. Good content is not a subjective evaluation, but rather an analysis that the web page or blog post is relevant to users as measured both by the type of content and the extent of its sharing by other influential users. Let’s break those apart and take a closer look.
The merit of the content is important because if Hummingbird detects that it’s crammed full of keywords, or that it is copied from other sites or even within other pages of the same site, it will quickly discount the relevance. The Google algorithm will see right through those types of attempts to create SEO-weighted pages. Good content needs to be original and unique.
More importantly, good content is also a measurement of how much that content is linked to or shared by influential sites and individuals. When you have created a blog post or web page with good, relevant content, it is vital to share this with your intended audience and with influencers that they trust. This is the hard part. There are no shortcuts when it comes to developing good content and in getting it in front of your audience. Nor are there easy ways to identify trusted influencers and get the content in front of them.
For the content itself, the goal is not just to be informative and provide the types of information that the target audience is seeking, although that is important. The goal is also to have that information shared, whether via social media platforms or through other sites and feeds. That means it must be interesting and sometimes even provocative so that the intended audience takes the next step and slips it into its own networks. It should challenge the conventional wisdom, offer valuable and actionable insights and educate the audience with information not already known. And it must be relevant to the audience.
How do you find the right influencers for your audience? That’s not easy, either. At Bluetext, we do in-depth research into who is talking about the topics and issues important to our client campaigns, and then evaluate each of those potential influencers to determine the size and reach of their audience. These can include industry insiders, trade journalists and columnists, government officials, and academic experts.
A solid SEO strategy takes time and patience, and a lot of hard work. It’s not complicated, but it is difficult.
Last week we launched a new digital experience for Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. The new website, msb.georgetown.edu, gives alumni, global executives, prospective students, master’s candidates, faculty and staff a world-class digital experience. It is specifically designed to show how the McDonough School of Business helps its students succeed in their goals and the institution move up in the highly competitive business school rankings.
Site launches are always an exciting time for the Bluetext team, and McDonough was no different. It’s opening night, the curtain is raised, and the target audience will determine if the strategy, creativity, discipline and hard work have paid off. Shortly after the site launch, we gathered the team to review the project, discuss lessons learned, and identify ways to apply those to current and future projects.
The session was also an opportunity to further refine our core approach to innovative digital experiences to Higher Education as a market. Here are some of the key take-ways:
- Build a strong and sophisticated brand connection. Clean, bold, and straightforward design lets the institution’s brand speak for itself. The design, imagery, headlines and copy should convey confidence. Videos, infographics and interactive functionality can showcase the value proposition and the work of faculty and students.
- Address Return-On-Investment up-front. Students are savvier than ever. They want to understand the value proposition and why the degree at any particular institution is worth the cost. Address the question up-front in a way that students understand, speaking to their concerns and goals.
- Show the “bigger picture.” How will the education experience help students make an impact or shape their world in a positive way? Talk about how their education correlates to what’s relevant today. Depending on the discipline, it could be entrepreneurism, clean energy research, transforming the public education system, or even global citizenship.
- Engagement is essential, just like in the real world. It’s about social engagement and community. Smart use of social tools will put a face on the educational product, faculty and institution.
- Simplify. Put phone numbers and contact information at their fingertips. Clearly describe the admissions process and what they need to know to get started.
- Deliver a coherent digital experience across all touchpoints. Digital audiences are more connected, more empowered, and more distracted than ever before. They are constantly interacting with one or more devices that place data from websites, apps, and social media at their fingertips. Responsive design can give a consistent brand experience across multiple devices. What’s also important, but often neglected, is making sure that content is structured in a way that makes it reusable across desktops, laptops, mobile devices, social media and digital campaigns.
These core principles provide a solid foundation for creating a successful digital experience that drives ROI for any institution. Today, the user experience is about how a broad range of audiences interact with the brand and product across multiple contexts. That requires thinking of the .edu presence as a digital platform, not simply a “website,” to drive enlistment, revenue, and engagement goals.