Social Media & SEO

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As part of my job, I often conduct website evaluations for individuals who attend our Learn at Northwoods workshops. During these evaluations, I examine various aspects of the targeted website, including the site’s information architecture, on-page SEO, and general usability features.

At the end of the evaluation, during the Q&A session, I often get asked some version of the question “How does social media relate to SEO?”

The reality is, though, there is no clear-cut answer, or, at least, no clear answer right now. Like most things in the digital marketing space, the relationship between SEO and social media is ever-changing.

Last January, for example, Google announced that signals from popular social networks (like Facebook and Twitter) do not impact search results.

More recently however, information about a new deal between Google and Twitter leaked, which will now place tweets on SERPs (search engine result pages) in real-time. While the final details about this arrangement have not been announced, it’s very likely that Tweets will start impacting search results in a very real way.

Even without the new Twitter arrangement, though, there are some very simple, but real, ways that your social media efforts can positively impact your SEO.

  • Quality Inbound Links: The number of quality inbound links to your site is an important ranking factor in Google’s algorithm. Creating content that gets shared by others both socially and through links on other content (like blog posts) can positively boost your SEO as well as your overall brand recognition.
  • Local Ties: One of the most valuable aspects of social media promotion (especially if you use paid, promoted posts) is your ability to target your content to a specific geographical region, either by paying for targeted posts or by contributing to a location-specific conversation using region-specific hashtags or by interacting with local events or leaders. Local targeting is likely to become increasingly important during the next few years as smartphones, with built in GPS tracking, continue to rise in popularity.
  • It’s not all about Google: Yes, Google is the considered THE authority in search. However, after years of a near monopoly, competitors are starting to take back some ground from the giant. For example, according to recent data, Google accounted for less than 75% of U.S. search traffic for the the first time ever last month.  Bing, which is now the second most-popular search engine, DOES use social media signals as part of its ranking algorithm. As a result, building up a robust social presence can positively impact your search results for visitors who don’t use Google.

While the relationship between social media and SEO remains murky, the fact remains that they are two intertwined tactics that should remain important parts of your marketing playbook.

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Competitive Analysis Tips and Tricks

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Well.. I hate to admit it, but I fell behind my goal of publishing one blog entry a month. In July, I started a new job as a Digital Account Coordinator at Northwoods Web Solutions, continued to work part time at my previous job and wrapped up wedding planning, leaving me with limited free time and my blog on the (unattended) back-burner.

However, in the spirit of the new year and resolutions, I’m going to start blogging again. With my new role and experiences, these posts will move toward topics and experiences related to digital marketing.

As part of my (fairly new) current position, I have conducted a variety of detailed digital analyses for a handful of our clients. As part of the analysis, I consider everything from SEO and website traffic to backlinking opportunities and social media landscapes.

While I think there is value in hiring an expert to conduct a competitive digital analysis (an outside perspective is invaluable!), there are also some steps you can take to conduct an analysis on your own.

Below are some tools, ticks and tips to get started:

  • Get familiar with GA: Setting up a Google Analytics account, and studying data about the visitors to your site, is the most important part of conducting a digital review.
  • Evaluate your competitors’ website traffic using Similar Web: This free tool provides an estimate of website traffic as well as how it arrived at the site (ie through search, referrals, social, etc.). I’ve compared the data provided by Similar Web to the data provided by Google Analytics and while it’s not exactly the same, it does provide an estimate that can be used as a baseline.
  • Check up on your SEO using WooRank: Conducting a quick SEO check up will identify trouble spots that may be negatively impacting your search traffic and (usually) bring to light some actionable items that can be tackled right away.
  • Keep tabs on social buzz using BuzzSumo: Using a simple keyword search, BuzzSumo identifies popular (industry specific) content shared on social media sites. BuzzSumo also provides insight on how the content traveled through the social space by reporting the number of shares on specific social networks.
  • Identify influencers using Topsy: Topsy, a free tool from Moz, allows you to identify influencers in your space by searching Twitter biographies for specific keywords. Reviewing what they share is a great way to determine what type of content gains traction within your space.

While the tools and tips outlined above won’t provide you with the same type of detailed competitive analysis I’ve been conducting lately, it’s a great way to get a bird’s-eye view of the digital landscape within your space.

Finally, if you want more information and you’re in the greater Milwaukee or Chicago area, check out my company’s free workshops covering many of the topics outlined above.

Designing My Own Wedding Invitations

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When I started this blog, I intended to keep it strictly professional: no venting about a long day at work, no sharing pictures of my puppy (which I do without shame on my other, less professional social media pages). However, with this entry, I am going to dip my toes into the waters of my personal life to make a point about my professional one. (Really, there is a link, I promise.) WEDDING INVITE 2

I’m getting married in September, and, when my fiance and I got engaged last March, I decided I wanted a big wedding. Not a “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” big wedding, but a “make sure all of our extended family members and family friends and their kids are invited” big wedding. As a result, I’ve had to hire vendors for a variety of services that, two years ago, I just assumed individuals did themselves while planning their weddings.

However, one of the services I promised I would not pay for was invitation design services. Sure, websites like VistaPrint, Minted and even Etsy make it easier (and cheaper) than ever for brides to purchase customized invites, but I use InDesign and PhotoShop nearly every day (gosh darn it!) and I don’t need to pay for design services. In an effort to get the creative juices flowing, I looked at hundreds of  sample invites and designs, ranging from classical to modern. While I was ultimately able to design my own invites, it made me realize that I need to improve my graphic design skills in an effort to truly become a more multi-faceted, modern communicator. Luckily, I was able to put a message out to my Twitter followers asking for advice on how to improve my skills, and got some great results:

  • Tuts+: A great site that seems to offer how-to advice on nearly every topic under the sun, including photography, web design, graphic design, and more.
  • You Suck At PhotoShop: This video series provides a great visual on how to effectively use PhotoShop– great for visual learners!

With these resources, as well we others I’ve stumbled upon through my own Google searches, I plan to begin improving my graphic design skills on my own time, much like I am with coding.

 

Mobile Integration, The Cloud & Instagram.. Oh My!

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In an effort to stay current on emerging trends within the realm of digital communications, marketing and public relations, I read a variety of articles, blogs and news sites, from both “experts” and “average joes,” about once a month. Doing this not only benefits me as a communications professional, but allows me to better serve my District and our families. According to my latest round of research, here are some things communicators (including marketers and PR professionals) should be aware of as we head into the second half of 2014:

  • The Shift to Mobile: I cannot agree with this more. Although school PR/communications is a niche segment in the greater PR/marketing/communications stratosphere, the reality is that, given many of the recent legislative changes, families are school shopping, and have more educational options available, than any other time in American history. As such, websites and social media pages need to mobile friendly so that any parent (or other consumer for that matter) shopping during his/her lunch hour has the ability to quickly, easily and effectively get the information needed to make a decision. Landing on a web page that isn’t mobile friendly could cause a potential parent (or customer) to give up on your school, company or brand entirely.
  • “Join Our Cloud:” Although this trend doesn’t directly impact school districts looking to attract new students/families, it can be used to assist  employees. A cloud space for teachers can be a great way for them to store work and share collaboratively, a major plus given the amount of work many districts are facing as they work to rollout and implement the Common Core State Standards.
  • A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Words:  Instagram is exploding with popularity, and its use of hashtags are a great way for companies, organizations and brads to interact with potential new customers and show-off their products. Instagram (I’ve used Instagram hashtags to search for everything from centerpieces to wedding dresses throughout my wedding planning process.)  However, the value of photos doesn’t end with Instagram: Pinterest continues to be popular, and, somewhat surprisingly, some articles I’ve read suggest that an individuals’ photo is one of the most important parts of a LinkedIn profile. (Confession: after reading that, I instantly updated my LinkedIn profile photo.) I’ve continued to expand my district’s Instagram page in throughout the past year, and will continue to do so moving forward.

*Photo from http://heidicohen.com/. 

SEO

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As I mentioned in my last post, until I began my post-college life, and started investigating coding on my own, I had limited web design abilities and skills. While I was fortunate enough to receive some website design instruction in school, I didn’t receive any SEO (search engine optimization) instruction, and, quite frankly, I don’t even remember it being mentioned. (To be fair, it could have been, and I could have just forgotten all about it.)

However, because I am always looking to improve my website design skills, and improve my district’s site, I decided to take a free SEO workshop at Northwoods Software last week.

Just a few minutes into the workshop, I was quickly blown away. Until then, I was utterly unaware of how SEO works, the dedication that goes into developing and fine-tuning keywords, and how important it really is for your search results and marketing your district, business, or organization. (Needless to say, I highly recommend taking a Northwoods workshop if you’re in the greater Milwaukee area.)

Since the workshop, I’ve been gobbling up a variety of readings on SEO. Below are some of my favorite:

In addition to reading about SEO, I’ve also been looking at the code words for almost all of my favorite websites. Some of the sites, like Brooks Running, haven’t surprised me (keywords: running shoes, running gear, best running shoes, top running shoes, best running gear, brooks sneakers, Brooks tennis shoes, trail running, running apparel, track spikes, road running, cross country flats, running accessories Brooks Running) while others have, mostly because they don’t seem to be directly using SEO techniques at all– this was especially true when I looked at the websites of other public school districts. (You can view the code words of any site by looking at the source code of any site.) 

I think this is a big mistake, particularly for Wisconsin public schools. In Wisconsin, we have an Open Enrollment law, which allows students to enroll in any public school, even if they don’t live within the District’s boundaries. While this is an important (albeit slightly controversial) law designed to give families a choice about where they educate their students, especially those families that are unable to afford a private education if they’re unhappy with the District they live in, it also presents unique challenges; namely, in an era of declining enrollment, how can you promote your District so that families chose your school, even if they don’t necessarily live within the boundaries of your District?

This is where I think SEO can come in. It allows a district to promote itself for free, so that potential parents can easily find your site and hopefully enroll in your schools. I recommend that all school district communications/PR professionals learn what they can about SEO, add it to their arsenal of tools, and use it frequently.

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*Photo from looksmart.com

Coding, coding and more coding

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As a 21st century communications professional, website design, maintenance and management are three important components of my job.

I’m lucky enough (or unlucky, depending on which view of the millennial workforce you subscribe to… I’ve heard arguments casting the millennial job market in a positive light, as well as those casting it in a negative light… but that’s a topic for another day) to have received some website coding instruction while I was in college… but it was basic, providing me with the skills to build a simple website that would have been cutting age in the mid 1990s (something like this). To be honest, I didn’t pay much attention, or think much of, my coding instruction while in school; at the time, it seemed unnecessary. Today, however, I realize I was wrong; I think basic knowledge of how to build a website from scratch, or at least understand how to make custom edits if using a content management system, is an important skill and tool for public relations professionals and communicators to have. I also think it will pay off in the long run; within ten years, possibly sooner, I anticipate that will be expected that professional communicators have a base knowledge of coding and I have recently read a few articles about teaching coding to future communicators while in college.

Because of this, I have been doing some work on developing these skills on my own, outside of the office and when I can find time between nighttime School Board meetings and puppy training (which could almost be a full-time on its own). At the recommendation of one of my friends who is an actual developer, I have been using CodeAcademy, which I have found to be easy, helpful, and to the point. HTML Coding

I recognize that the majority of individuals interested in a career in public relations or communications aren’t going to study computer science while in college or have a lot of interest (or time to spend) in developing their coding skills on their nights and weekends. However, I do think a solid foundation can benefit communicators and think it’s important, where possible, to carve out an hour or two each week developing the skill.