Writing for SEO Part Two: Basic Optimization Tips and the Logic Behind Them

Tuesday we looked at the evolution of search engine optimization over the last two decades and discussed that strong, effective writing is now—thankfully—a compelling factor in how a Website page performs in search engine results.

Gone are the days of keyword stuffing and white-on-white text (a.k.a. “black hat” SEO). Today’s search engines reward sound, concise writing, relevant content, updated pages optimize-part-IIand viewer interaction.

We’ve already shared a few tips for optimizing headlines and using key words, so today let’s discuss the roles copy, links, and graphics play in SEO.

Lead and Body

In the lead, as with the meta title discussed before, it is possible to supply search engines with a metadata description that will appear in search engine page results. If a meta description is not included in the code, search engines pull the first 140 to 150 characters from the beginning of the post. For that reason, it’s important to make sure that the lead sentence is short enough and concise enough to be read as a complete thought.  While Google has announced keywords in titles and meta descriptions do not count towards PageRank, it is still important to have a readable and compelling description of the article visible in SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) to encourage and increase click-through.

Tips:

  • Include the selected keyword in the lead
  • Keep the lead sentence to 140 characters or less
  • If a short sentence is not possible, make sure the first 140 characters of the lead sentence can stand alone as a complete thought

Technically, the lead is part of the body of an article, but treating the lead separately is important because of that first 140 characters thing. Still, the entire article is important to search engines. It’s important to make sure there’s not a lot of fluff, to stay on topic, to keep the article at about 300-400 words, and to not repeat keywords needlessly. (Good writers are saying, “Thank You!”).

Links

Links in press releases, in blogs, and even in static Web page copy have become confusing due to the near constant Google policy changes, but there are a few basic rules that make sense and help readers find the information they seek.

There are two basic types of links (in the context of a body of text). They are:

Both types of links should be treated in context.  Asking a reader to visit a specific site should be written like this: “Go check them out at: http://lovell.com.” Or write, “Check out Lovell Communications, Inc., and find out what they’re all about.”

This is also true when referring to another article. It’s best to use the whole title of the article as the anchor link to attribute the source, but using part of the title or a few relevant keywords is okay, too.

Here’s an example “ideal” to “not so ideal” breakdown:

Also, it’s not good practice to insert a link that is not immediately contextually relevant. Those two linked words were relevant to the sentence, but the hyperlink goes to their definitions, and the sentence was not about defining them. To link a word like “defining” to an online dictionary is even worse in that the linked word is indirectly relevant (you define stuff with a dictionary), but it’s certainly not helpful to the user. But the worst-case scenario would be something like the previous link in this sentence, which links to a book called Worst-Case Scenario. It is immediately relevant in terms of text to the search engine, but it does not help the user better understand the immediate content.

When inserting links in any type of online publication, it’s also important to include “tooltip” or “screentip” text. This is an option that appears when a writer is inserting a hyperlink and allows the user to see a relevant description during a hyperlink mouse-over, like this. Learn more about creating tooltips here.

In providing links to your site, remember to think beyond your homepage to measure ROI. For example, a story announcing a staff member’s recent award should link to that individual’s bio on the company’s Website – not just the landing page for the company’s leadership page, or worse, the company’s homepage.

Images

Images in a post can also appear on a SERP and stimulate overall SEO. Supplying a description and alternative text when uploading an image can help the searcher who finds that picture reach the corresponding story.

Tweaking the actual file name of an image can help as well. The file name of an image associated with this page might look like this: writing-with-seo-in-mind.jpg. Using a hyphen tells the search engine to separate the words in the name, while an underscore tells the search engine to smash them all together. It’s not hard to imagine how the proposed image title above will have greater SEO impact than a title like “X123photo999.jpg” or “laptopmonitorimage.jpg.”

So, if you already knew all this, thanks for reading! If this is news to you, please continue being a good, concise writer but also keep up with the inevitable changes in search. After all, if you’re writing for the Web, you want readers to actually find your content!

 

Michael Peacock was a Digital Media and Content Strategist at Lovell Communications. 

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Writing for SEO Part One: Basic Optimization Tips and the Logic Behind Them

In many of ways, writing for SEO, or search engine optimization, has come full circle. Search engines first appeared in the early 90s and have been evolving ever since. And while the early ones were not very efficient, it was common knowledge that the best way for writers to get people to seek out and read content on the Web…was to make sure it was good.

It’s just common sense to write informative and readable content, right?

Sure, but when Google introduced PageRank, an algorithm that ranked individual Search Engine Optimization - Magnifying GlassWebpages in search engine results based on specific content criteria, out came the optimizers.

New tactics and techniques emerged that were meant to ‘game the system.’ These optimizers realized that by packing pages full of keywords, hiding text and links, hatching elaborate link schemes, duplicating content in subdomains, and a laundry list of other tricks, they could manipulate search engine results, regardless of the quality of the content.

Not only was this sneaky, it was very frustrating for good writers. Simple, succinct, and high-quality writing was losing ‘rank’ to crummy, jumbled, repetitive, and often irrelevant pages.

Thankfully, in 2013, these practices were put on notice. Google led the charge by introducing new algorithms that promote higher quality content and penalize low quality shadily optimized content.

Google also decided not to ANNOUNCE when it was updating and changing algorithms. Suddenly, as Jim Yu put it in SEO Changed Forever in 2013, “Low quality content is no longer worth the trouble, even for short-term gain.”

Now we are back where we started…being encouraged to write good, compelling content that is easy to find and that is helpful to users and to readers.

Google has stated on multiple occasions that its primary function is to present information—based on search input—that is relevant, accurate, and useful. (This concept, along with some basic optimization ideas, appear in Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide.)

Even though ‘optimization’ may not necessarily be the primary goal for writers, there are still basic things we can do to improve search performance and legitimately serve users by helping Google get them the information they seek.

Today we’ll look a few tips regarding keywords and headlines to help improve performance for multiple types of content on SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).  In my next post, we’ll discuss optimizing lead and body copy, using links to stimulate SEO, and understanding how images can improve and enhance search results.

Keywords

It’s no longer a strong SEO practice to stuff a ton of keywords into a page. Too many keywords in copy and tagging dilute relevance for Google. The best practice is to write to the keyword that is most relevant to the topic.

Quick Tips for Keywords:

  • Select one main keyword that describes or matches the primary theme
  • Avoid repeating keywords all over the place (Synonyms are okay; Google algorithms understand them these days and respond positively)
  • Include keywords in headlines
  • Include keywords (or variations) in the lead sentence
  • Include keywords in the URL (this is mainly for blogs and Website page copy)
  • Include keywords in the image description (this too, is mainly for blogs and Website page copy)

Headlines 

A good headline is important regardless of the medium, but when writing for an online audience—one that will most likely use a search engine—it’s important to note that most search engines “cut off” headlines that are too long or too heavy on keywords.  As a result, the description that appears on SERPs can seem incomplete, or worse, irrelevant to the search terms.

In the HTML of a Web page, it’s possible to include a separate title and description that search engines will automatically display.  Legitimately ‘hidden’ in the code, and not visible in the text displayed on the page, this information is called ‘metadata’ and is meant to provide a little more information to a potential searcher who is looking for something specific.  In the absence of defined metadata, search engines often pull a set length of the headline for the meta title. To counteract this uncertainty, here are some quick tips for writing a headline:

  • Include the selected keyword in the headline
  • Make sure headlines are accurate, informative, and succinct
  • Limit headlines to 70 characters or less

Visit our blog again soon to learn about optimizing lead and body copy, embedding links and using images to stimulate search results.

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#TwitterFail: When Being Trendy is Dangerous for Your Brand

I love watching trending topics on Twitter. I find “in the moment” dialogue of world events fascinating. Though I am not a regular tweeter, you can bet I’m reading when something big is happening. A few of my favorite trending topics have included when Felix Baumgartner jumped from 24 miles above earth, when Ussain Bolt broke the 200M record at the 2012 Olympics, when Beyonce performed during half-time at the XLVII Super Bowl. DiGiorno joins the regrettable tweet club

It was during that 2013 half-time show – or rather, during the 30-minute suspension of play caused by a power failure immediately following Beyonce’s electrifying appearance – that I began to really study total Twitter touchdowns and Twitter epic fails.

When I saw a tweet from Oreo pop up on my iPhone during that looonnnggg suspension of play, I thought it was sheer brilliance. The 21-character Tweet, “Power Out? No problem” was accompanied by an elegant, simple graphic reading, “You can still dunk in the dark.” It was a fast, smart, hyper-relevant message to, arguably, the largest global audience of its kind, most years.

Though Oreo didn’t hashtag their post to the #SuperBowl, many retweeters (including this one) did. Before the fans in the nosebleed seats in New Orleans had run down their batteries using the flashlight function on their smart phones, the Oreo tweet was worldwide. If I’d had a bag of the cookies in my house that night, you can bet my family would have torn into them in celebration.

I added the #SuperBowl tag when I retweeted Oreo’s post so my little message would get caught up in the stream/river/rushing tsunami of Super Bowl tweets. It was my way of sharing in the global experience of our nation’s biggest annual sports event.

You added #icebucketchallenge to your recent Tweet or Facebook page for the same reason, right? To take advantage of the trend, to elevate your post, and to bring awareness to ALS. A rising tide lifts all boats, right?

Well, just as sub-prime mortgages and the asymmetric haircut have proved in the past, not all trends are created equal – and not all hashtags lend themselves to selling cookies … or pizza. DiGiorno Pizza – known for riding trends on Twitter – slipped hard earlier this week when they used the #WhyIStayed hashtag in a tweet about pizza. Somehow, a now very regretful social media manager tagged an official company tweet with #WhyIStayed – a tag created by a social worker and advocate for victims of domestic abuse in response to the NFL / Ray Rice travesty.

DiGiorno recognized the error very quickly and pulled the tweet, then spent considerable time responding with apology and honesty for 1) not knowing what the hashtag represented and 2) inadvertently making light of domestic abuse. The company’s unpolished, earnest responses have helped the brand regain some lost ground, but the event remains a bit of a blemish on its reputation. And just like Pizza Hut and United Airlines gaffes before them, it will serve as a case study in college communications courses and crisis communication seminars for a long, long time.

While most people can respect that accidents happen, social media managers must always remember: we are corporate communications professionals, even if we don’t follow AP Style and basic grammar and spelling conventions. When we stand on a company’s brand and speak to the entire globe through social media, we need to make darn sure we know what we’re talking about.

 

Rosemary Plorin is president of Lovell Communications.  You can view more of her blog posts here. Connect with her at rosemary@lovell.com or @plorin.  

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Beacon Series 6: Feeling Good About the Outcome

Lovell Communications CEO Paula Lovell facilitates a panel on the art of negotiation.  Darrell Freeman, chief executive at Zycron, Inc., knows going into a deal that not everybody will get what they want. He lends advice on how to make it to the final deal point.

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Similarities between Public Relations and ABC’s Hit Series “Scandal”

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Television Drama Imitates (Sometimes) Real Life at Lovell Communications

It’s official: fall is underway. As we say goodbye to summer pool days and outside grilling, we usher in football season, crisp autumn leaves and, one of my personal fall favorites, the return of several hit television series.

My recent television addiction is “Scandal,” which enters its fourth season on September 25. With 10.5 million viewers having tuned into its May 2014 season finale, I’m not alone in my obsession. For those of you unfamiliar with the series, “Scandal” is an American political drama that focuses on main character Olivia Pope and her Washington D.C. – based crisis management firm, its staff, and the firm’s (often life or death) work with the White House and other clients.

While there are several differences between the suspenseful drama and life at Lovell, I can’t help but notice the similarities. The show features a PR firm and its crisis management experts. Sounds a bit like agency life to me.

First, however, allow me to note a few differences between Lovell Communications and Olivia Pope & Associates. For one, we’re located in the nation’s healthcare capital of Nashville, Tenn., where we manage strategic communications for a lengthy roster of healthcare and other industry clients. Olivia, on the other hand, serves only political clients from our nation’s capital. Additionally, Lovell’s services range from issues management to publicity, internal communications, media relations, online promotion and everything in between, while Olivia specializes solely in reputation and crisis management.

As for the similarities, among the 12 PR professionals who currently work at Lovell and the thousands of clients we have served over the years, Lovell has handled a significant number of crises, dramatic activities and major press events. A few years ago, we were even asked to participate in a reality television series!  Although we turned down the offer, I must say the work at Lovell provides enough suspense, drama and entertainment to easily fill a show.

While we neither hide dead bodies for our clients (thank goodness!) nor juggle multiple life or death crises a day like Olivia does, I do believe there are a number of similarities between Lovell and the agency on “Scandal.”

  1. Dedication to clients. Like Olivia, Lovell staffers provide our clients with undivided attention whether we are handling a crisis, managing social media accounts, developing marketing plans or fulfilling any other client need.
  2. Control and level-headedness in a crisis. In my first month here, I was invited to sit in on a meeting with Lovell President Rosemary Plorin as she handled a hospital crisis. (Ironically, Rosemary bears an uncanny resemblance to “Scandal” character Abby Whelan played by Darby Stanchfield!) I listened in awe to her steady, confident voice inform the CEO exactly what he should be doing and exactly what we planned to do every step of the way. Like our fellow PR star Olivia, we meet the crisis challenges and provide unparalleled support to our clients.
  3. Hand selecting the best for our team. During my interview, CEO Paula Lovell told me the most challenging part of her job is selecting the right team members. Lovell’s agency staff are strategically chosen, and together make a diverse group that artfully and skillfully meets all of our clients’ differing needs.
  4. We have each other’s backs. Similar to associates at the “Scandal” agency, Lovell employees comprise a team. It’s at the very core of our culture to rely on one another for support, ideas and challenges. If one of us succeeds, we all succeed. And we don’t let each other fail.

It’s not every day that we are helping a client deal with some sort of scandal. But to be sure, we are well-equipped to help when there is one.

 

Jacqueline Miller is an Administrative Assistant at Lovell Communications. You can view more of Jacqueline’s blogs here. Connect with Jacqueline at Jacqueline@lovell.com, or @JacqMills28

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Beacon 6 Video: Substance & Process

Lovell Communications CEO Paula Lovell facilitates a panel on the art of negotiation. John Lowry, assistant dean of business at Lipscomb University, talks about the importance of knowing the substance and mastering the process prior to making a deal.

 

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Public Relations a Bright Spot in Entry-Level Job Market

Now that the school season is officially under way, many college students (and their parents) are wondering about the kind of jobs that will be available for new graduates in the years ahead. According to labor statistics and projections, public relations is a field that young scholars might do well to consider.

Overall, entry-level job prospects have been dismal in recent PR-employmentyears, even as the economy has recovered. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the unemployment rate for those between the ages of 20 to 24 was 11.3 percent in July—certainly an improvement over recent years (in 2011 the figure was 14.6 percent), but still a historically high rate.

In a recent analysis of the changing entry-level job market, The Wall Street Journal noted that, while automation and outsourcing have stripped some industries of entry level jobs, fields like public relations are seeing increased opportunities for young graduates—with positions for public relations specialists growing by 10 percent between 2003 and 2013 and the number of PR jobs expected to grow over the next decade. Specifically, BLS expects employment for public relations specialists to grow 12 percent from 2012 to 2022.

Additionally, the Journal notes that new jobs are emerging to keep pace with new technologies. For example, the position of social media manager—a position grouped with the fields of media, marketing and PR—did not exist five years ago but now has more than 18,000 open positions.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that a major in a PR-related field will automatically lead to a job after graduation. The job market still favors employers, which means many “entry level” positions still require applicants to come to the table with some on-the-job experience, usually in the form of an internship.

For more on the job market for young graduates, I highly recommend the WSJ story linked above. And for those who may be interested in starting a career in PR, or know someone who is, check out a few of our previous blog posts on things to remember when starting a PR job search, how to build a foundation for a public relations career, and tips for landing a PR job after college.

 

Erin George is a Senior Account Supervisor at Lovell Communications. You can view more of Erin’s blogs here. Connect with Erin at erin@lovell.com or @ErinLawley.

Photo credit: Robert Farrington

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Developing A Unique Selling Point

How does your business stand out among your competitors? What makes you different? If you can’t quickly answer those questions, you may be starting or running a business without a unique selling point (USP).

There are plenty of businesses like grocery stores and big box retailers that provide similar products, so what makes them unique? A USP provides a company with the point of differentiation it needs to stand out from the crowd and is the foundation for a solid marketing and sales strategy. An effective USP doesn’t need to be long or cumbersome; it should simply contain a piece of information to entice customers to use or purchase your product over that of a competitor.Unique-Selling-Point

One of the best examples of a successful, nationally-recognizable unique selling point is the one Avis used for many years, “We try harder.” Avis was the second leading car rental company behind Hertz and decided to capitalize on its silver medal standing and showcase the fact they may be number two, but they try harder to provide their customers with a positive experience.

Another example is how Domino’s distinguished itself during the pizza wars. It promised customers “fresh, hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or less or it’s free.” Competitors weren’t promising a free dinner, so this effective USP quickly differentiated the company from its competitors.  And, what about M&M’s touting the fact that their “chocolate melts in your mouth, not in your hands?” Not every delicious chocolate candy can make that selling point.

Unique selling points are important to your marketing strategy and there are a few critical things to consider when developing one for your company.

  1. What makes you different than your competitors?

Are you the lowest price (Ex: Walmart)? Do you provide luxury or the highest quality product (Ex: Neiman Marcus or Rolls Royce)? Do you provide a larger selection? Do you provide a better guarantee (Ex: Domino’s)?  Are you faster? Friendlier?

  1. Who are your customers?

To determine the unique selling point that will resonate with your target audience, you need a crystal clear understanding of to whom you are marketing. Start by analyzing demographics such as age, gender, income levels, location, etc., and also dive into their wants and needs.

  1. How do you match your unique selling point to your target audience?

This is the “what’s in it for me” question.  Your USP is basically the compelling reason your customer should use your product. Is it going to make their life happier, more efficient, easier?

Because I look for any opportunity to pay homage to my favorite city (Nashville), here are a few USPs developed by businesses headquartered in our community.

If you are a country music fan, why would you think twice about where to travel to see a show? Obviously, you want to go to a venue that was responsible for making the music you love famous.

We can all agree that cleaning the house isn’t fun. Sign me up for the vacuum that makes housework easier.

Two things that we can always use more of every single day are time and money. If Dollar General can save you some of both, isn’t it worth a trip?

Do you promote your company’s unique selling point? Do you have a favorite? Let me know.

 

Robin Embry is a vice president at Lovell Communications. You can view more of Robin’s blogs here. Connect with Robin at robin@lovell.com

Photo credit: Olala

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Beacon 6 Video: Ongoing Relationships

Lovell Communications CEO Paula Lovell facilitates a panel on the art of negotiation. Elizabeth Crook, CEO of Orchard Advisors provides insight on how to approach negotiation depending on your relationship, or future relationship, with that person.

http://bit.ly/1tc8vIF

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No Surprises Here: Journalists Still Value Newsworthiness Most

Implementing an effective media relations strategy requires understanding the needs and preferences of professional journalists, and staying abreast of how those needs and preferences are evolving. So I was interested to read the results of Business Wire’s 2014 Media Survey, which queried 300 North American journalists to determine the types of information and assets they need to effectively cover a story.

While more than 300 members of the media participated in the survey, 50.4% of media-relations-newsroom
respondents identified themselves as having been a member of the media for 25 years or longer, and 51.1% identified themselves as an editor or editorial staff member. That compared to just 4% who identified themselves as a blogger, and only 8.1% who identified themselves as having been a member of the media for five years or fewer.

So do the results skew more towards experienced, professional journalists? Likely so. Is that bad? Not yet, but with the ever-growing number of bloggers and citizen journalists, it will be interesting to compare this year’s results to those Business Wire may publish just five or 10 years from now.

But for now, let’s look at the insights this year’s survey provide to help communications professionals and organizations more effectively execute their media relations strategies.

The press release is still a valid – and valued – tool

  • Nearly 90% of responding journalists said they had used a press release within the last week with most reporters (62%) having used one in the past 24 hours at the time they were surveyed.
  • The most highly sought information in a release includes breaking news (77%), supporting facts (70%), interesting story angles (66%), quotable sources (52%), company background (50%) and trending industry topics (49%).

Read more about the study’s findings on the value of press releases in this recent blog by Lovell’s Robin Embry.

Multimedia elements help, but only if it’s really news

  • Almost a third of today’s journalists (31%) want communications professionals to provide supporting multimedia elements – logos, images, audio files or video files – with the press release and more than half (54%) are more likely to review a press release that includes multimedia than one that does not.
  • In regard to journalists’ preferences for multimedia elements, photographs lead the way at 73% followed by graphics (43%), infographics (32%) and video (27%) also favored. Business Wire reports that several journalists emphasized the fact that more importantly, the news must be relevant whether it contains multimedia or not.

Social media pitch? No, thank you.

  • It’s important to communicate with journalists in the manner they most prefer, and of journalists surveyed by Business Wire, email alerts (64%) and press releases (28%) are still the top two preferred methods by media for receiving news. Take note that – overwhelmingly – reporters rated social networks as their least favorite way to be pitched a story idea with Facebook least favored (90%), followed by Google+ (88%), Twitter (83%) and LinkedIn (75%).
  • Despite not wanting to receive pitches via social media, social networks are used as a research tool by 74% of journalists surveyed with approximately one-quarter (26%) using Twitter and 23% using LinkedIn.

Time to beef up your organization’s online newsroom

  • After an organizations main website (92%), the online newsroom is the foremost destination (77%) for journalists when they need to research an organization. And despite the growth of mobile, media primarily access online newsrooms from desktop computers (96%).
  • The most sought-after content in the online newsroom is press releases (88%), followed by media relations contact information (80%) following closely behind. Journalists prefer press releases in an HTML/text format (55%) over a PDF format (9%). Fact sheets (69%), images (63%), press kits (53%) and executive biographies (52%) round out the most frequently sought content.

How journalistic quality is judged has definitely changed

  • 52.6% of journalists surveyed said the number of page views is used to evaluate their stories and 41.6 percent said the level of social media activity (likes, tweets, sharing, email, etc.) on the story is used in its evaluation.

Would a survey of 300 writers with no more than 10 years of experience yield a different result? Likely so. But as long as we have traditional newsrooms left, the elder statesmen (and women) of the profession are likely – or hopefully – running them. So keep the results of Business Wire’s latest survey in mind and we’ll tune in same time, same place next year to monitor how media preferences evolve.

 

Dana Coleman is a Vice President at Lovell Communications. You can view more of Dana’s blogs here. Connect with Dana at Dana@lovell.com or @lovelldc

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