An SEO strategy for a place where I won't be working


Last week, with great disappointment, I withdrew myself from consideration for a social media copywriting position for a large nonprofit organization. Before that happened, I'd been scheduled for a second interview in which the supervisor wanted to talk about SEO (search engine optimization). I didn't know whether she would be most interested in my mastery of technological tools or in my overall thinking about SEO. But once the appointment was set, my wheels started turning.

What are the agency's goals for the SEO effort, I asked myself, and what strategies will best achieve those goals? If I were presented the open-ended question "What will you do so people will find us online?" how would I respond?

Below is my hypothetical response. By the way, the potential employer was an organization that serves people with disabilities and their families. I'll call it The Agency.

I understand that as state budgets tighten and foundation dollars are harder to come by, The Agency needs to attract more fee-for-service clients whose payments will help fill the gap. The families of these potential clients may be the most important social media target audience: if they're going to come to The Agency for services, it will be because they've heard that The Agency can help. It's all about word of mouth. The good news is, word of mouth is what social media engagement is all about.

Tackle the branding challenge

I've known about The Agency for years. Through the grapevine I'd learned that it serves children with cognitive disabilities. But it would never have come to mind if I needed services for a family member with any other sort of disability. The Agency's name would not have tipped me off, and when I search for such services online, The Agency does not pop up in search results.

If The Agency is going to appear in the search results of potential clients and their families, we need to know what they are looking for most and how they ask for it. Keyword tools can help, but they're not the place to start in the strategy I'm thinking of. Selecting keywords is like grabbing the right bat as you step into the on-deck circle. First you need to know where the ball game is being played.

This is where listening comes in. Here's an example. The Agency has a program that helps adolescents with disabilities transition to adulthood. Who answers the phones in that department? Let's ask her to keep track of what callers ask for, and to take down as best she can the words they use when they ask. We're going to find out what callers need to know most, and we're going to be able to answer their questions in terms that they would use themselves.

This strategy will help us decide what to blog about (we'll be in the right ballpark), and it will point us in the right direction for keyword phrases (we'll use the best bat). If there's a way to connect place names with questions people are asking, this gives us extra keyword punch: hypothetically, "Parents in Logan Square are worried about transitional services for their teenagers after a city mental health clinic in the neighborhood closed." By the way, that's another strong SEO tactic: blogging about issues in the news, especially if they directly affect consumers of your services.

Deliver desperately needed answers

I have a child who has a disability, and let me tell you, it is very difficult to find information online when I need to evaluate options or determine next steps to take. If a local organization's blog can describe various options to me and give me a good sense of their advantages and disadvantages, or if it can outline the steps toward a particular goal, the organization will have won my confidence. When my family needs services, I'll know exactly where to start.

For each person who talks to the receptionist in The Agency's transitions program, probably hundreds more are—like me—looking for answers online. Blog content with solid answers, explained in the callers' own terms, are going to rise in search results on the strength of their relevance. You will get found when your content is what people are looking for.

Cultivate brand ambassadors and build authority

Google likes web content that is well-written, unique, authoritative. If you hire an excellent, seasoned writer and editor, the content will be well-written. And if you're tailoring the content to your constituents' needs and addressing questions for which it is difficult to find answers, the content will be unique. But will your content be authoritative?

Digitally you establish authority when people are interacting with your content online. They are responding to it, sharing it, and linking back to it. Well-written, unique content is inherently authoritative to some degree, but there are some things you can do to give it an authority boost.

One of the best ways to give content an authority boost is to cultivate brand ambassadors. Here's another example. Another organization that serves people with disabilities and their families has a resource page listing community businesses that are especially effective at working with children with disabilities. Is your child who has autism terrified of getting her hair cut? Here's a hairdresser with a calming manner who makes the most frightened children comfortable. Does the spasticity caused by your son's cerebral palsy create a special challenge for dentists? Here's a pediatric dentist who's figured out some helpful techniques.

The Agency's blog could feature one such business each month, with a video clip that shows the facility and captures the owner talking about the business's approach to serving children with disabilities. Guess who's going to share that article far and wide? Yep: the owner, everyone who works there, and parents who are happy with the business's services and would like to recommend it to others. By featuring these businesses, The Agency would not only be improving its search results. It would be building buzz in the offline world and creating a resource library for families who need what the businesses offer.

Again, you will get found when you deliver what people need.

A lot more can be done to cultivate brand ambassadors and increase the authority of The Agency's blog. That will be the topic for a later post.