SEO, Optimizing Your Web Content, and How That Supports Your Other Marketing Channels
I recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk with my colleague Vaughn Shinkus about leveraging high quality content to improve your SEO and support other marketing channels. Vaughn has spent the last decade focused on SEO and the constellation of initiatives around it, and twice that time in higher education marketing—at Wilkes University (his alma mater), the University of the Arts (in Philadelphia), and then Temple University.
As a writer of content (for this newsletter) that is at least in part designed to improve our own SEO, I was interested to talk with Vaughn about how this all works.
You can watch the full conversation here or read excerpts from our interview below.
SJ: So why is content so important to SEO and digital marketing in general?
Vaughn Shinkus: Content is a strategic asset to colleges and universities. By sending the right message at the right time, we can really motivate prospective students and are other audiences to take action. And so, essentially, it’s about using content strategically to both inform our prospective students, and also to perform in a way that will motivate action and get them to take that next step toward engagement with us. As I say to our campus partners, our goal should be to develop content that both informs and performs for us.
SJ: How do you ensure that the content that is developed “performs” as well as “informs”?
Vaughn Shinkus: This is optimization. Optimization really relates to understanding what user’s needs are at every step of their engagement with us. In search engine optimization we use keyword research to understand what terms people are searching for and then develop our communications and content based on that understanding (or edit the work of others to ensure that these terms appear). Whether we’re writing content, or we’re developing video, or developing our content strategy overall, the most important part is to ensure we understand what people are searching for, and how many people are using a given phrase or term each month, and then develop our content around those concepts.
SJ: Once you know the terms people are searching for, how do you use them most effectively?
Vaughn Shinkus: There are two important parts in terms of how we then develop the content. First, we want to write to those concepts directly in web content AND also make sure that our content is fully exploring and providing information about the concepts that keyword research has shown us to be of greatest interest to our audiences. Second, we need to use the language that prospective students are using because that will be an indicator to algorithmically driven machines that “crawl” across the web that our content is matching up to the needs of users. We are then rewarded with higher search engine rankings.
SJ: Say more about writing content the way people speak. Is that more important than ever?
Vaughn Shinkus: It IS absolutely more important, particularly in the age of voice search. We’re seeing search engines rewarding websites in a number of different ways that really avoid jargon and write to the way users talk. One example of that is on a search engine results page, where we see a quick answer at the top of the page, a few bullets or a paragraph that relate to the question that has been typed into (or spoken into) a query. That’s an example of the search algorithms identifying content on a page that answers in plain language the question that a user has typed or spoken into a voice search. This means that if web content is not written the way people pose a query, it is less likely to be picked up, and that is not good.
SJ: So institutions who write their web pages like a text book aren’t helping themselves?
Vaughn Shinkus: No, absolutely. It goes back to the curse of knowledge. Inside of our academic institutions and within our programs, we know an awful lot about those topics, but we have to recognize that our audiences, prospective students and others, may not even know where to begin. So, to the extent that we can move away from academic jargon and into the language that students are using as they’re searching for experiences, whether it’s a graduate program or an adult returning to complete a degree, or of course, even at the undergraduate level, we need to make sure that we’re talking directly to those students in the language that they would use, and that’s where keyword research comes in and helps us understand how to best do that.
SJ: How does this all fit together in support of other marketing channels?
Vaughn Shinkus: That’s really the heart of the matter right now. When writing optimized content and doing the research necessary to write optimized content, it doesn’t just inform the content that we put on our website, but it can have an impact across our omnichannel marketing strategy.
For example, a campus partner is using the keyword research to inform their multichannel communication flows—text, telephone, and emails—in order to ensure that these communications reflect what the greatest numbers of their prospects are searching for, with a particular focus on understanding what may be barriers to entry to a particular program. By identifying what people are searching for—salaries, what kinds of jobs can I get in a particular discipline, etc.—this can inform web content, but it can also be included in the communications used to cultivate prospective students throughout the pipeline.
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