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The topics discussed here grow out of the bread-and-butter issues that confront my consulting and software clients on a daily basis. We'll talk about prosaic stuff like Membership Management, Meetings and Events Management and Fundraising, broader ideas like security and software project management, and the social, cultural, and organizational issues that impact IT decision-making.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Organic Non-profit SEO

SEO - Search Engine Optimization - has been a consulting hotspot for years. Everyone wants their website to come up near the top of the first page on major search engines. How is this magic done? A few years back, SEO professionals emphasized keywords... words hidden in the page that would match likely search terms. And knowing that engines like Google rank pages by "authority" -- by how many pages link to them - site owners were engaging in link exchanges and other less honest games to increase this statistic.

Organic SEO. Nowadays I'm seeing more emphasis on "organic SEO" -- using the actual semantics of the page, rather than arcane techniques, to increase page ranking. The fact that Google has backed away from keyword ranking is a major part of this. Organic SEO emphasizes correct titling, identifying each page as a landing for specific terms, and so on. And in terms of linking, this approach stresses the importance of social networking tools as well as Search. This posting by Daniel Riviong explores some of these social networking issues.

Many writers have emphasized the importance of blogging to SEO. The daily posts to your blog increase your site's "cross section" and thus the likelihood that a search will hit one of your entries. Then you just have to hope the reader will be pulled further into your organization's site by bait in your sidebars and headings. And of course, a well marketed blog can generate links. Wendy Boswell offers several tips along this line in her article on blogs and SEO.

Unintended SEO. But blogging also generates a great deal of what I call "unintended SEO." These are pages that rank highly on subjects only marginally -- or perhaps not at all -- related to your central focus. Some of the most highly read pages on this blog are found because of their high ranking on unlikely searches. Such hits make your page load count look good. But they do not get you donors, or customers, or regular readers -- whatever it is you are looking for.

I've been able to isolate "clever" titling as the real culprit here. Since the title is weighed heavily in searches, use of simile or metaphor in your title pulls lots of lost souls into your site. For example, I have a very high ranking for Bricklaying Technology. Great. I also get hit daily by people trying to learn the meaning of the English idiom "Like Pulling Teeth." They don't stick around either. It's painful to lower your literary standards to please some stupid spider that could give a damn about your subtle use of irony. But if your goal is to pull in readers who will support your organization, not masons, or dentists studying English as a Second Language - it pays to use straightforward titles.

Unintended SEO can also arise when you write an article on a popular subject somewhat removed from your usual subject matter. For example, I wrote a piece a while back on how to embed a YouTube video in blogger. Through the vagaries of search patterns, this always ranks very near the top of a very common Google search and accounts for about 25 percent of my page loads every day. But it is only remotely connected to my central focus on CRM and CMS for non-profits. So stay on topic.

Unless of course, you just want the gratification of seeing your numerical stats soar. Then by all means, mention Twitter and Paris Hilton in every post. It works.

[Update] Whoa. I just noticed there is other talk about blog headlines lately... more from the human than machine angle. CopyBlogger has a long discussion of choosing headlines to pull the reader in. (Thanks, Kivi)

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