Your social venture may be doing great things to change the world—while you turn a profit. But it will be hard to meet your goals if customers can't find you, especially if you're online. You can maximize your web presence through search engine optimization, or SEO. “It increases brand awareness, generates new leads and helps you with your reputation,” says Gabriel Shaoolian, CEO and founder of Blue Fountain Media, a web design and online marketing firm that works with both businesses and nonprofits.
Here are some SEO tips to help boost your social venture’s online visibility.
Choose the right keywords
If your site is new and you don’t yet have meaningful website analytics, develop your SEO strategy by first figuring out which words or phrases potential customers will most often use to find a business like yours. You’ll want to include these words in headlines, captions and other prominent copy on your site.
One way to identify the right words or phrases is to use Alexa. This tool analyzes the keywords that people are using to find rival sites, says Evan Bailyn, author of Outsmarting Google and founder of Good Media, which advises cause-driven clients such as Fundly, Journeys for Good and Unity Productions Foundation. If you type the web address of a competitor’s site into the search box and use the analytics, you’ll see the most common search terms. “The more popular the site, the more accurate Alexa will be,” he says.
The Google Keyword Tool also can help you find out which terms people are using to find similar businesses. Ask friends or family what words or phrases they would turn to, for starters, and type those into the tool, suggests Bailyn. You’ll get a list of similar words and phrases, with data on how frequently they are used. That should help guide you to relevant keywords for your site.
Make sure your keywords lead to customer conversions
Optimizing your site for the most popular keywords isn’t always the right strategy. If you want people to buy your products, it’s important to focus on the keywords that are used by people who actually make purchases from you.
One of the best ways to access data on which keywords lead to conversions is to invest in a pay-per-click campaign on a site like Google. You may have to experiment. One of Blue Fountain’s clients sold T-shirts with graphic designs. The client's site was pulling in a lot of people who had searched under the term “graphic T-shirts.” “No one was buying,” Shaoolian recalls. Blue Fountain’s research, using pay-per-click advertising, revealed the folks who were actually willing to order the shirts came from a younger crowd, which searched under the phrase “graphic Ts,” he says.
Add some great landing pages
“Your home page cannot rank for every keyword,” says Shaoolian. “It can rank for several.” Posting some additional landing pages–such as one offering helpful resources to those interested in your social cause—can help pull in visitors who use different keywords. Be sure to optimize those pages for such keywords.
Try Google’s website optimizer
This free tool will help you test different versions of your site to see how to make them most attractive to your target visitor.
“You may just want to see the difference between a black background and a white background,” says Bailyn.
You will need to create and publish different versions of the page you want to test. To measure conversions, identify the page you want them to reach through those pages.
Build meaningful relationships
Google evaluates sites, in part, based on the quality of incoming links. Links from government and media websites will help you the most, Shaoolian says. “Google sees government and institutions as authorities that don’t give out links to just anyone,” he says.
Another SEO tip is to share news of your business and cultivate professional relationships with influential bloggers. Links from these blogs can help you.
Commenting on other people’s blogs with a link back to your website, however, will not help you.
Watch out for bargain-basement SEO experts
Some use “black hat” techniques—like linking from a “farming” site that will point to any website—that can get your site removed from Google or pushed far back in search rankings, notes Shaoolian. If you’re thinking of hiring an SEO firm, make sure to ask for examples of keywords for which they’ve helped clients attain high search rankings, he suggests. If they cite a price, ask: “How many keywords are you going after?” And, if you hire them, set measurable goals at the outset. Good SEO is labor intensive, so someone who promises miracles for a rock-bottom price may not deliver much.
Elaine Pofeldt is an independent journalist and editorial consultant who specializes in small business, entrepreneurship and careers. A former editor at Fortune Small Business magazine, she has written recently for Fortune, Money, Crain’s New York Business, Working Mother and many other publications. She is co-founder of $200KFreelancer, a community for freelance professionals, and Endhousearrest.com, for homeowners looking to sell.
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