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After a brief summer hiatus I am back. Over the next few blog posts I will touch on some of the interesting PR debacles from the summer, but in this post I want to focus on something I am desperately trying to get through to my students (as well as some clients I consult for)…. search engine optimization (SEO).

Understanding Searches

First, let me discuss something that I recently discovered during my consulting — some clients have no idea how people search for them. Many clients also don’t understand the difference between Web browsers and search engines. In layman’s terms Web browsers are the software/platforms we use “get on” or connect to the Internet. They also help us link to or get information from the Internet. Here is a graphic of the most popular Web browsers.

Most popular Web browsers

Web browsers are able to link us to different sites if we know the site address. If we don’t know the site address or what we are looking for we need to use a search engine and type in what ever term/concept/company/person we are searching for. Search engines generally use algorithms to find items that are similar to the search terms we have typed in. Here is a list of the top 15 search engines. As you can see, Google far outranks all the others so I will be discussing Google for the remainder of this post.

You don’t have to be a genius or understand how Google’s algorithm works, but you do have to understand how people search. A client I am working with (for privacy reasons I will change organization/names/specializations) is in the medical field. Let’s say their specialization is OBGYN. I recently found out via their business manager why they don’t show up on a Google search. She claimed they did and then proceeded to type in the name of one of the doctors as well as the full name of the practice into Google. Of course, both times the practice showed up. DUH!

Now, I don’t know about you all, but I have NEVER searched for the exact name of a medical practice or the full name of my OBGYN. To be totally honest, I couldn’t name the last five medical practices I have been to or any doctors who have inspected my lady parts. To find a doctor I usually type in the specialization and the city I think they are located. Example, OBGYN Baton Rouge, LA. By doing this type of search their practice didn’t show up on the first three pages.

Here are the reasons search is so important: 1) 62.5% of individuals don’t go past the 1st three results at the top of the page, 2) 89.8% of individuals don’t go past the 1st page of results. So, basically your potential customers are going with the organizations who are the top 3 results on the 1st results page — and you are not one of them:(.

Why SEO is so important.

Understanding Keywords

Another key aspect of understanding searches in knowing what type of terms or keywords people are using to search for you, your competition, and organizations similar to yours. One tool that can help you find out which keywords to use on your website (so you can be easily found during a search) is GoogleAdwords. Their Keywords tool (located at: https://adwords.google.com/o/KeywordTool), based on your own search term, will give you keyword ideas, a ranking from low-high of the competition for this keyword (the idea is to use words that are low/medium instead of those that are high), and the numbers for global and local searches for the keywords (use keywords that have higher search figures here).

For example, by inputting OBGYN, Baton Rouge, LA as terms into the Keywords tool it shows that the organization should use the terms physicians, healthcare, obstetrics, gynecology, and infertility on their site as these are all terms that their customers use to find their organization (and their competition).

Another useful Google tool is Insights for Search. This tools will tell you interest in your search term over time (with links to relevant sources that have reported on your topic), regional interest in your search team, the top search terms and the rising search terms related to yours.

By inputting OBGYN into the Insights for Search tool you can see that interest in OBGYN has steadily increased since 2004, is most searched in the United States, and that the top three search terms used at OBGYN, OBGYN associates, and OBGYN doctors.

Putting it all Together

Now that you know what keywords to use on your website you need to put them where they will “be found” by the search algorithms. Most search engines look for keywords in the headline and first paragraph. Google’s search algorithm reads top-down and left to right (just like we read). So keywords at the top of your pages and at the beginning of sentences work best. In addition, you should link your keywords to relevant Internet pages outside of your website. Searches analyze how many Web links come to your site — so the more linked you are to the outside world the better.

Use the tips presented here and not only will you “be found” but your total visits, average time on site, and percent of new visits should increase — while your bounce rate, or the number of people who came to your site and then went somewhere else, will go down.