Short and Sweet: Writing & Optimizing Web Content = An Exercise in Discretion

Writing content for dissemination via Web channels has little to do with prose, try as the long-form writers among us might to prove otherwise. Verbosity holds little appeal for audiences who consume information online. For communications executives, this means shunning the proverbial epic poem in favor of the 17-syllable haiku. Like it or not, this is the only way to deliver key messages to stakeholders, as Web platforms--specifically search engines--suffer from attention-deficit disorder; the more they have to read, the less they'll comprehend. Thus, optimization is critical. The only problem? Many communicators fail to realize that true optimization transcends press releases to encompass all content written for the Web. "SEO is not press release optimization," says Andrew Barnett, director of Fleishman-Hillard Digital. "Digital communicators can drive search in ways traditional approaches to SEO can't." Driving search first requires executives to write content for specific digital channels and then optimize it accordingly. Blog Posts Blogs are one of the Internet's crown jewels in terms of online communications, and the same holds true for organizations' efforts to engage stakeholders. As the number of companies that maintain blogs increases, the so too does importance of making these posts optimized for search. Brian Giesen, VP of digital strategy, 360-degree Influence, Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, outlines the most effective means of optimizing blog content. *Step 1: Focus your writing. "Write your entire post around a single topic. Give it focus," Giesen says. "Aim for [between] 250 and 700 words per post. *Step 2: Choose one keyword. "Think about the topic you're going to write about. What's the one word or phrase people would actually use in conversation to describe your topic?" Giesen says. (For additional optimization tips regarding keyword choice and placement, see sidebar at right.) Once you've asked yourself that question and come up with a few possible answers, test each one's viability via one of the free online keyword selection tools, such as Google's Adwords and Word Tracker (for more on identifying the best keywords for SEO, see "Keyed Up: SEO Success Requires Decoding the Keyword Puzzle," PRN 10-20-08). *Step 3: Place the keyword in five places within the blog post. Giesen offers these locations as ideal places: Title of the post; First sentence; Once within each paragraph; Text that hyperlinks to other pages; and Alt text, including captions, etc. *Step 4: Format the post. "Mix in bullets, blog and italics where appropriate," Giesen says. "Separate long sections of your post with subheadings, and include the keyword in subheadings if appropriate." *Step 5: Spread the love through links. Search engines prioritize results based on a number of factors, and the number of links is one of them. When possible, link to other blog posts or Web sites relevant to the topic, or, as Giesen recommends, "Reverse engineer by linking to a blog or site that appears in the top 10 results on Google for your keyword." Executives should also push to get as many inbound links--other sites that link to their blog posts--as possible. This can be done by commenting on topical blog posts, posting a link to the blog on Facebook and Twitter and reaching out to influencers who might be willing to include the link in their own blogs. Media Centers Online newsrooms, media centers, press rooms--call them what you will, but don't forget that these channels are also ripe for optimizing, as this is the location to which you should strive to bring media. "Most SEO efforts optimize for lead/sales generation," says Lee Odden, CEO of TopRanking Online Marketing. "News optimization focuses on a different audience and outcome." As for that audience and outcome, Barnett says, "The digital media center is both a channel and a destination--its importance is clear." He identifies the following media center functions that support this stated importance: Influencing online and offline coverage; Improving search visibility; Leveraging and redistributing syndicated content, including video, audio, photos and updates from social media; and, Embracing conversation and commentary. To develop a media center/online newsroom that lands among the top search results, it's critical to think in terms of interactivity. That's a primary reason that more and more professionals are turning to blog publishing platforms (WordPress, TypePad, etc.) to host the centers; this enables the easy integration of dynamic content such as video, RSS feeds, press releases and photo libraries, all of which can be tagged and optimized individually, in turn increasing the visibility of the site as a whole. In terms of writing optimized copy for various media center components, the aforementioned blog rules still apply: Always write as succinctly as possible; limit the focus of each element to one topic; and use discretion when choosing and placing keywords. (For more best practices on creating optimized content for media centers, see sidebar at left.) In the age-old battle of quality versus quantity, the former always wins when it comes to search. PRN CONTACTS: Andrew Barnett,; Brian Giesen,; Lee Odden, Best Practices For Writing Media Center Content Utilize a robust content management system; consider using blog publishing platforms as a content-management system for media centers. Train content team on integration of SEO best practices for media kits, releases, etc. Optimize template for search. Integrate multimedia throughout--utilize YouTube (and other platforms) to extend footprint. Develop a compelling narrative by aggregating third-party content and providing commentary. Maximize information accessibility: Embed search tool to navigate the site content. Provide gallery of fact sheets. Include Web 2.0 contact information (IM/Twitter/etc.). Make all information available via RSS. Source: Andrew Barnett, director of Fleishman-Hillard Digital. Optimization Tips Think upward and to the left Optimize for people first, search engines next Use keywords in title, subhead and body Don't obsess over keyword density For a 500-word release, use target keywords between two and four times Use keywords in links to company Web site (landing pages) Add media, including images, podcast, videos, PDFs and word documents Source: Lee Odden, CEO, TopRanking Online Marketing

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