The Changed Landscape
In today’s technology driven world, people search for information in ways never thought possible even from just a few short years ago. Now, instead of looking to printed resources or personal relationships, many people search online or reach out to their online social networks for advice, information and answers to their personal and professional questions. With the ease that information is available at people’s fingertips, you need to ensure your association can be found online and remain your industry’s trusted authority. To achieve that objective you’ll need to develop and implement a marketing plan that has elements of search engine optimization (SEO) and social media marketing in it.
Search Engine Optimization Tips
Unfortunately, optimizing your website for search engine marketing can be daunting at first because there is no secret formula or exact process to make sure your website displays in search engine results pages. Search engine companies, like Google, have guarded their ranking algorithms with secrecy for fear of people exploiting the system. As a result, marketers have relied on general advice and guidelines developed through much trial-and-error.
So, where do you start? First, start with keyword research. You need to know what terminology your members and prospective members are using to speak about your organization – or are using to find information related to your industry or area of influence. A simple task that is guaranteed to provide tremendous insight is to ask new members how they found your association or what terms, phrases or questions they asked to arrive at your organization for a solution. Additionally, use free tools available like the Google Adwords Keyword Planner or Google Trends. Another quick trick is to use terms you think people may be using and see what suggestions, variations and combinations the engines suggest in the search bar or at the bottom of results pages. Use your imagination because you’ll be surprised at some of the terms people use to find the information they seek.
After you’ve done some solid keyword research, use these keywords throughout your website. Create pages specifically made for certain phrases by including the keywords throughout the copy – especially in the main headline tag, use the keywords in the URL extension and place the keywords in the meta-title tag. Another best practice is to use a meta-description that thoroughly summarizes the page and would convince a visitor to learn more. That description will likely be seen on a search engine results page so don’t forget to spend time optimizing it.
Lastly, develop an inbound linking strategy for the main pages of the site. Links to websites have long been used by search engines to determine domain and page authority – the rationale was that the more links, the more authoritative a page must be. As of late, link building has become a controversial topic among marketing practitioners, but if you follow trusted and moral guidelines – like avoiding paying for links – you shouldn’t be penalized.
As an association, you’re probably the authority in your industry so your homepage will probably receive a number of natural links. Try and develop inbound links to pages you want to improve by utilizing tactics like generating news and press coverage, or through sponsorships, scholarships and contests. Provide your members a career center or online job board and it will receive links. Submit your website to relevant and trustworthy directories, write for other websites and publications, and include links to your site in your bio or content.
Social Media Marketing Tips
With the massive and explosive growth of high authority networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and the creation of Google+, social media is becoming a ‘must have’ pillar of a successful online marketing strategy. In fact, many experts believe that a social following has become the ‘new link.’
One reason social is important is because social media profiles get indexed and displayed in search results by search engines. That means if you have an active Facebook account your profile will show when people are searching for your brand. Also, Google+ is now deeply ingrained with Google services. Many marketers believe that an active Google+ account will actually make your website rank higher – even for unbranded terms. When creating social media accounts be sure to use important keywords and correct information for your association’s name and address.
An additional benefit of a social media following is visitor traffic. Unlike normal linking building – where links may point to your site but not be used – an active account with a strong community behind it will receive clicks to the content it shares. Often this leads to inbound links and as an added bonus, when a new webpage is created and then shared on social media, search engines can discover it more quickly after it receives a volume of clicks.
Remember, social media accounts may be free to set up but they require resources to maintain. Too often groups with limited staff resources create accounts across all the major networks and do not update them regularly. Sometimes this can do more harm than good. Develop a strategy for each network (that includes what you’ll post, who will do it and how often) and if you’re a smaller association or membership-based group, start small with one of two networks, like Facebook and Google+.
Putting It All Together
It is important to look at your association’s marketing activities as a whole and not as separate channels. As evidenced by the link between search engine optimization and social media, each tactic works better as part of a larger strategy. Depending on the size of your associations staff you may not have the luxury of a full time marketing resource – that’s not an excuse to be invisible online. Put together a plan that includes the basics and do a few things well and you’ll start to see increased traffic to your website. Ideally, you’ll turn that traffic into improved results all around for your association.