Lee Odden

Optimizing Business Communications for Search

One of the things that often happens with people in the search marketing industry is that after being in the business for a while and attaining a certain level of expertise, it becomes easy to take for granted that not everyone in marketing and business is consuming and digesting as much information. References to strategies and certain tactics do not have the same meaning, because of the dependencies on previous knowledge.

This happens with SEO or search engine optimization pretty easily. Chasing after the next “silver bullet”, whether it’s SEO and PR, social media, social networking or personalized search, can distract marketers from what’s important. The search marketing industry is one that can be counted on to change on a regular basis. Strategies, tactics and best practices will emerge as new channels of distribution evolve and consumer search behaviors change. Just look at the shift from offline news consumption and traditional media to online as an example.

6-10 years ago it used to be that optimizing a web site to achieve the desired visibility within search results, increased traffic and sales involved basic on page modifications and submissions to the search engines. With Google’s prominence the notion of link popularity came into play as well as the need to correct indexing issues as a result of complicated URLs from content management systems. Quality, quantity and age of inbound links are important as well the information collected from applications such as toolbars and personalized search.

Best practices optimization now involves a lot more than making code changes, modifying content to certain keyword densities and addressing inclusion issues. Many companies seem to have little real expertise in dealing with creating an overall strategy for marketing online. They often do not know how to integrate online marketing initiatives such as search marketing into their other marketing channels. What are the best practices? How is knowledge shared and how do disparate stakeholders collaborate so business units are not competing against each other for keywords?

While many search marketers stick to textbook SEO, there are an increasing number that have long since moved on from optimizing web sites for better search results to optimizing businesses communications for search. Search happens in many forms and there are many dependencies in order for an organization to take full advantage of the channels available. Just look at all the buzz around social media optimization and marketing that happens to be the SEO tactic du jour. Of course, I’m not knocking SMO, it’s a big part of what we do. But it’s also just one channel of many.

In order for businesses to take full advantage of the shift to online information consumption, networking and the subsequent marketing opportunities, the notion of “optimization” should be extended to all company communications. This starts with understanding the market, consumers, their pain points as well as the language that market associates with finding solutions. The language insight applied to keyword resesarch and analysis enables organizations to strategically implement keyword messaging across communications both online and offline.

Anyone involved with creating content for an organization should have a current keyword glossary available to them so they can make informed decisions about concepts and words to use which anticipate demand from the target audience. A popular example of this is optimizing press releases. Every time I ask PR professionals, “Wouldn’t you like to know what words end consumers and maybe even journalists are using to find the kind of content you’re putting out in your press releases?” the answer is an enthusiastic, “Yes!”. The key is to find the sweet spot of messaging that satisfies both algorithmic categorization/ranking as well as compelling content for people.

Whether it’s landing pages for PPC, landing pages for email campaigns, web pages, press releases, product data sheets, web pages, anything electronic published to the web – keyword messaging applies. Formats are not limited to web pages either. PDF files and MS Word documents published to the web are probably the most often overlooked optimization opportunity for large organizations. Just implementing simple anchor text linking as a best practice can have a measurable impact when hundreds or thousands of documents are involved.

This isn’t really anything new and it’s not difficult. So why do so few organizations implement properly, if at all? It’s because most entities within organizations responsible for site optimization approach it tactically and from a stand point of execution rather than as a part of overall messaging. And can you blame them? With all the politics and agendas within some organizations, marketers need to pick their battles wisely. Budgets are at stake! Also, selling the management team on making revisions to key company messaging is a hell of a lot more difficult than implementing template optimization on a few thousand web pages.

So what do you do? You take it piece by piece. Start with the web site, move on into PR then maybe email marketing and start coordinating with other media and even direct response, keeping in mind measurement all along the way. Winning the small battles makes it easier to make the big pitch on a broader scale when you have the hard data to support it.

Another example of incorporating keyword messaging into company communications involves media training. In this scenario, imagine appropriate areas of a company’s web site have been properly optimized for target keyword concepts. An executive is scheduled to be interviewed by a number of prominent industry publications. In PR, it is common for the public relations firm to provide media relations training or at least a journalist briefing prior to the interview. Rather than limiting the focus of that coaching only to questions to be asked, the style of the journalist and their possible agenda, the executive is coached on using keyword concepts in their responses.

What often happens is when the article is run (print, online, radio or TV) it will mention many different companies/concepts. The reader may not remember specifics, but they will remember the topic. When readers go to their favorite search engine to find out more or to recall the interview, they’ll search on the topic and if the document itself does not rank well (and often does if it’s niche) then the company web site will because content has been optimized for the topic of the interview. Finding the company via search and recalling the name from the original interview generates a much higher quality lead than through search alone.

Depending on the media format and message, the content would be optimized for multiple channels to make it as easy for the intended audience (journalists, end consumers) to find as possible. This includes social bookmark and news sites, video, blog and RSS search engines, news search, local, mobile and any other relevant channel. Running pay per click ads shortly after the interviews is also an excellent compliment to this strategy.

Optimizing business communications for search ties closely into the notion of content distribution networks that I’ve written about in the past. Not only does each channel offer it’s own visibility opportunity, but they also provide relevant “signals” to search engines which can affect standard search engine visibility. In the end, it is the measurement of success that will make or break such efforts. From branding to lead generation, optimizing business communications for search enables companies with a sustainable online marketing strategy that will change as channels of distribution change.

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on integrated content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely on a beach somewhere doing absolutely nothing.