No doubt communications professionals, whether in journalism, advertising or public relations, are used to working with a wide range of specialists – photographers, copy editors, designers, sales representatives, etc. But there’s a new position in many organizations that has grown out of a need to put professionally-produced content in front of new readers: the SEO.
Search engine optimization, commonly known as SEO, has evolved into a big business as search engines have become an integral part of accessing information on the Internet. Search is now accessible on most mobile devices, and even by text message. As a result, media companies have hired specialists in the field and some are schooling writers and editors on the basics of SEO. Some journalism schools are also trying to integrate SEO into coursework.
A 2008 study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project shows a steady increase in the use of search among Internet users over the past six years. From 2002 to 2008, the percentage of Internet users using search on a typical day increased from about one-third to 49 percent (10 percent more than look at news every day). According to Pew estimates, that means as many people may soon be using search as are using email on a daily basis.
With more Internet users turning to search every day, effective placement in search results is becoming increasingly important, both for brands that benefit from beating a competitor to the top spot and for news organizations whose profits are often tied to the number of users they can draw in.
Ruud Hein of Internet marketing company Search Engine People points out that search engines have significantly altered the way that many find information for several reasons. He writes: “… a side effect of using modern search engines is information reduction. That the information is ranked creates a perception of relevance which lowers our exposure to and engagement with the additional results even further.”
AOL released data from users’ searches in 2006 (they later apologized) that reinforced Hein’s assertion. Analysis of the AOL data showed few users went past the first page. On the second page, for example, the first result was clicked 0.66 percent of the time, compared to 42.3 percent for the first page.
Simply put, the farther down the search engine results page (SERP, as it’s often called) a piece of information is, the less it matters, so getting to the top has value. Getting to the top of the page involves two key tasks. The first is to optimize a site for search engines, which ideally pushes a site to the top of the list for relevant searches. The second is to close the deal by providing relevant text to cause a user to click on the result. So contrary to popular belief, a great deal of search engine optimization is optimizing for the human searcher.
Next week’s post will examine how news organizations are using SEO, and a following post will explore ways that universities are teaching SEO in mass communications programs.
With that in mind, how do professional communicators balance the need to write algorithm-friendly articles that are also written with the human user in mind? Will SEO by performed by specialists within organizations or will become part of the process from the bottom-up, employed by writers and content creators? Should SEO skills be taught to journalists and public relations professionals? As users become more comfortable with search, how will their changing habits affect current SEO practices?
- For general information on search engine optimization and how search engines work, see this Google page on the topic.
- To learn about SEO as it relates to news organizations, see this presentation (PDF link) from Tribune SEO guru Brent D. Payne, which discusses many of the technical aspects of SEO. His personal blog is updated often with SEO information.
- And to follow news about the search industry, visit popular industry blogs Search Engine Land or Search Engine Watch. Search Engine Land often covers search-engine developments as they related to the news industry.