“How much am I going to have to pay to be number one in search results?”
Unfortunately, that was not a rhetorical question. Nor was it sarcasm. That was a real question I recently heard a business person ask a web development team.
He truly believed he could just write a check and be number one by tomorrow. This is not the first time I have heard this request. I’ve lost count of the hundreds of websites and marketing programs I have helped both for profit and nonprofit organizations put together in the last 2 decades.
While the point of the question was valid, it does highlight a very important fact: many people still don’t understand how search works.
There are numerous resources for information about how to optimize your content and I have included some of those below, but the real goal of this post is to help you understand the three fundamental elements to improving the visibility of your nonprofit’s website.
Key 1: Search is all about trust.
The goal of search engines is NOT simply listing a ton of links. It is all about only promoting trustworthy links.
If you have watched the search industry for long, you know that many of the early “online portals” such as Yahoo and AOL have lost their shine. Why? Because they failed to understand that when people search, they don’t want the search engine—and fakers, scammers, and advertisers—pushing irrelevant results at them.
This element of trust is essential to profits for search engines. Search engines make money by attracting lots of eyeballs. But if the search results are not trustworthy, people will go elsewhere.
We have all had it happen before where you click on a link but the site you land on is not what you clicked on. Think about it like this: if you are looking for vacation rentals in Florida, but every time you search, you get theater ticket sales in New York you will quickly try another search engine. When search results don’t match what you are looking for, your perception of that search engine will suffer.
To combat less-than-scrupulous people who try to game the system, search engines will resoundingly punish websites employing “black hat” techniques such as keyword stuffing, duplicating the same content repeatedly, and auto-generated “affiliate” programs.
Google takes this principle to the extreme, even famously announcing that one of their goals to put the “search engine optimization (SEO) industry out of business…” From their perspective, many early SEO companies simply tried to get their clients listed higher in search results at any cost.
Key 2: Search is all about content
We have heard the phrase, “content is king”. That is partially true.
To be more precise: relevant, fresh, high quality content is king.
You can have beautiful content, but if people don’t read or share it, search engines will not promote it.
This is particularly tough to deal with because it often feels like the old adage about the chicken and the egg. You have to produce great content to get read, but you have to get read in order to be found.
To help with this, you need to really embrace the practice of content marketing. It takes discipline and intention, but producing lots of fresh, relevant, meaningful content and then sharing it across your networks is essential.
You also need to really focus your content on what separates your organization from the pack. Always answer the “why” question. Why does it matter? Why do I care? Why should I pay attention to this, rather than a funny cat video?
You can have great product features, but if a prospect does not understand from your content how those features translate to better outcomes, they won’t take time to even read the feature list.
Great content helps people stay engaged which, in turn, leads them to want to learn about the features.
Key 3: Search is all about organic, long term results
Without going into a lot of detail, there are 2 basic types of search engine results:
Organic Search – which is earned, not paid for
Paid Search – follows traditional advertising rules of paying for placement
Don’t get me wrong, ads are not bad. We love ads.
When magazines poll subscribers, advertisements are routinely cited as one of the primary reasons they continue to read them. Readers want to know about the latest fashions, trends, designs, vacation spots, tools, makeup, gadgets, etc.
Ads are also the reason millions of people who don’t care about football still watch the Superbowl every year. Ads are not the problem.
Likewise, people searching for a product or service online welcome the ads on a search results page.
The difference is that people want to trust that the search engine is being transparent in how the results are displayed. This allows visitors to choose to click on either paid ads or organic links which are earned by a website.
While many businesses are frustrated by the notion that you can’t just buy your way to the top of search results, it is actually a fundamental bedrock of keeping the internet open and transparent.
The single most important take away
It may seem like search engines and website owners are at odds with each other, but in reality, search engines don’t take that view.
Search engines need you as much as you need them. After all, if visitors to the search engine don’t find what they are looking for, then Bing, Google, Yahoo, and all the others will be out of business very soon.
The reality is that what search engines really want is provide accurate, quality links for visitors to click.
With this in mind, it is critical to understand how search engines work, then build your site, content, and networks within those guidelines.