Editor’s note: This story is taken from Ragan Communications’ distance-learning portal Ragan Training. The site contains hundreds of hours of case studies, video presentations and interactive courses.
In a modern world where the internet is our primary source of information, every organization seeks to improve search engine optimization.
To really reap the benefits of Google-driven traffic, however, start with an ancient Greek aphorism, “Know thyself.”
Then add to that a contemporary variation: “Know thine audience” and “Know thy competitors.”
In a new Ragan Training session, “Online writing’s holy grail: Master the combined art of SEO and writing with voice,” two experts urge organizations to dig deep into their brand identity, their audiences and their competitors to improve SEO.
Erika Taylor Montgomery, founder and CEO of Three Girls Media, joins Emily Sidley, her senior director of marketing and PR, to offer insight on ways to draw more eyeballs to your websites, blogs, social media feeds and other channels.
“By understanding where your audience gathers information,” Montgomery says, “it’s going to help you inform your strategy as you move forward.”
Here are a few alms of wisdom these pilgrims offer along the way in their quest for the holy grail:
1. Find out where your audience is.
Are they on social media? What platforms? Do they read blogs? Which ones? Do they listen to podcasts? Figure out what they’re plugged into, and what they’re doing there.
2. Brainstorm keywords.
List every word or phrase you can think of that relates to your subject. The question to ask is, “What would you type into Google if you were personally searching for information on this topic?” Montgomery says.
She and Sidley detail three types of keywords:
- Short-tail keywords. These are road and generic, amount to only one or two words and draw high volumes of search. Example: “Photographer”
- Medium-tail keywords. Such terms are three to four words, more specific than the shorter ones, and draw less search volume. Example: “photographer in Seattle”
- Long-tail keywords. These monkeys flaunt tails of four or more words that are detailed and specific. This means they have the “lowest search volume.” Example: “Pet photographer in Seattle.”
3. Categorize your lists.
Use an Excel spreadsheet to establish each type of keyword. A clothing company might set up a column for each category, such as T-shirts, skirts or shoes.
Certain tools, such as the browser extension Keywords Everywhere, can show you whether a particular keyword is highly competitive or not particularly useful. Google Trends can also help you evaluate what keywords are most helpful for your audience.
That way, you can “see which words will be the strongest terms for you to use for your brand,” Sidley says.
When you’ve decided on your keywords, list them in a simple document or even on a Post-it note to remind yourself to use them when writing.
4. Establish voice.
In order to write creatively without feeling like you’re just an SEO content mill, have a strong sense of your brand voice. To do this:
- Determine your persona.
Who do you want to purchase your product? Determine the lifestyle of your audience. Be as detailed as possible. For an outdoor retailer, don’t just list hikers. Instead, say, for example, Young middle-class men who enjoy mid-level hiking and are always on the cusp of new trends.
- Research the lay of the land.
Study organizations that target similar demographics and embody your ideals—not only your competition, but brands your audience uses. What do they post on their blogs? What social media platforms are they using? Do they have an email newsletter? Sign up for it. Scope out their website. What pages do they have?
What do they do that you like, and what don’t you like?
- Choose adjectives to describe your brand.
Are you “unique, trustworthy and genuine,” or “trendy, high-end and suave”? How about “elegant, lavish, classic” or “minimalist, refined, cultured”?
“What word do you want people to think of when they think about your brand?” Montgomery says.
- Create a brand voice chart.
Chart the adjectives you have selected under three columns: description, do (i.e., the things you do as a brand), and don’t. For the adjective “unique,” one might list the following:
Description: We are not like other brands; our customers will have truly extraordinary experiences.
Do: Stand out, and go against the grain.
Don’t: Do things as they’ve always been done. Use stereotypical language or clichés.
5. Add keywords in key spots.
By following these and several additional steps that the speakers detail, you will end up with your keywords. Use them in your blog posts, white papers, website copy, social media and elsewhere.
When blogging, slip keywords into these and other places:
- Subheads and section headers
- Photo captions
- Image file names
- The first sentence
- About every 100 words
- The last paragraph
One tip stands out as evergreen wisdom: Write for your readers first, then edit for SEO.
“Get your content down and be creative with your writing,” Montgomery says. “And then you can always go back and fine-tune for SEO.”
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