In this fifth and final article in our series on creating an SEO strategy we will tackle the topic of community. Websites are not like the “field of dreams” — if you build it, they won’t necessarily come. Certainly if you do everything right up to this point: write good content, use appropriate markup and install the right Drupal modules, the search engines will index your site. However, when you start receiving quality inbound links is when your organic search results will increase exponentially.
The first weeks after you open to the public can be one of the most daunting aspects of building and launching a Web site. You’ve already contributed lots of time, money and effort to get your site up and running (or you’ve done it for a client) and undoubtedly a stakeholder asks “Why isn’t it at the top of Google?”
The answer is that it takes time! However, if you develop a community strategy to drive traffic to your site and garner inbound links, you will stand a pretty good chance of seeing your site rise in the search results ranking.
What do we mean by community strategy?
Your Web site does not exist within a vacuum. There are other sites that operate in the same sector, or cover the same topics as yours. You have site visitors, and content contributors. All of these make up the community around your site, just as in a small town there are people you know well, and some you don’t. In every category there are the people who are “influencers” — the folks that people trust for information or recommendations. These are the people you want to find first, in order to build relationships.
In a recent post about social marketing Social Media blogger and consultant Beth Kanter suggests finding the “six or seven people – the key influencers in your topic area or discipline.” This concept can be extended to every aspect covered in this article. Find the right 6 or 7 blogs, the right 6 or 7 Twitter Users, the right 6 or 7 forums, the right 6 or 7 social bookmarkers. Through these people you will be able to extend your reach and in turn improve the SEO of your site through increased inbound linking. Before launching a site you should develop a list of the influencers, both individuals and websites, that are in the community you are entering. Develop a strategy to reach out to them, push your content in their direction and garner in bound links that will drive traffic, and credibility both with your users and the search engines.
There are a number of sites that you can use to help drive traffic to your site that fall into the category of “social media” which many people have come to explain as the intersection between user generated content, media and conversation. For the purpose of this article we will focus on “social media” and go into detail on a few specific technologies and sites explain a few strategies for how you can use them.
The content on your site should exist within a larger conversation to have the greatest impact. This truism is important to understand. It is not enough to just publish content. That is the key point we are making in this post. So, as you are developing your SEO strategy you should identify key blogs in your “market” or “sector”, read them regularly, comment on their posts, and provide links to relevant content on your site. You should also reference and link to posts from these blogs where appropriate in your own content. It is a good idea to set up a “listening program” using tools like Google Blog Search and Google Reader, or Technorati to “listen” for conversations that you should be a part of.
It is not enough to read blog posts on other blogs, you must engage in the conversation by posting comments on other people’s blogs. And similarly, when people post comments on your blog, you must engage them. Avinash Kaushik covers this in his “10 More Tips From a Novice Blogger, to summarize:
- Respond to questions posted in your blogs comments
- Email people who comment on your blog to thank them
- Reply to email comments that you get
When commenting on others’ blogs, contribute to the conversation. What I mean is, add value! It might be flattering to get comments like “Great point!” but it is valuable to get comments that provide additional information, useful and relevant links, or even criticism and disagreement (provided that it is respectful). Don’t be afraid to leave a critical comment, as long as it is valuable. The audience for your comment is not just the author of the original post, but everyone else reading that post. Most blog commenting systems allow you to leave your name, and your website, I recommend always using your real name, and always leaving your website. This way other readers can find you, and read your original content.
Twitter is the popular microblogging site. Posts, which an be made via the web, SMS, or a variety of desktop clients are limited to 140 characters. Users can follow each other and reply to each other. While Twitter was founded on the question “What are you doing?” many users post a variety of other content. One blog post about Twitter that I read suggested that people should think about answering the question “What’s got your attention?” as great way to drive traffic to your site, and develop more inbound links. It is worthy to note that some users may frown upon these types of posts, if they don’t expect links. A good rule of thumb is to set expectations with your own audience.
Delicious.com is a social bookmarking site. Users share their bookmarks with “the world” and often add value to those bookmarks by adding tags and descriptions or notes. Many CMSs have plugins that will allow viewers of an article or page to submit it to Delicious if they are a user of the service. Users can then browse Delicious or search Delicious to find links that other people have posted. This type of search is, in some ways, “smarter” than normal search engines because humans are involved and are adding meta data in the form of tags. Posting your own pages to Delicious is a great way to generate some additional organic traffic and improve SEO.
StumbleUpon is another social bookmarking site, and frankly, I have never really be able to get too engaged in it, but I’ve heard wonderful things about the way some non-profits have used it to their benefit and even seen clients use it successfully. Danielle Brigida of the National Wildlife Foundation presented a case study at the NTC in 2008 using social media to increase website traffic which focused specifically on StumbleUpon and Digg.
Forums often exist in focused communities of interest. Whether they be demographic, geographic or topic based, forums or message boards tend to have passionate users who in some cases are prolific and rapid in their posting. Before diving in to forums it is important to understand the norms of the particular forum, and also have a good idea of how much time you are willing to dedicate to participating, and how much may be required of you. Bottom line is most forums are not for the faint of heart. I recommend “listening” for at least a week to determine who the important posters are, and get a sense of the rhythm and flow of the forum before posting. When you do post, it is important to pay attention to replies and remain engaged in the conversation.
Shilling for your website in a forum is usually frowned upon, so again, it is important to really engage in the forum, and if you are not prepared to engage, then I recommend not pursuing a strategy that takes you into forums.
Plenty has been written about FaceBook and how organizations can use it to their benefit, I have also heard many folks talk about how they were disappointed in the results of their Facebook strategy. I think that the signal to noise ratio has decreased on Facebook (meaning more noise to less signal) and I am not sure that it is super effective for increasing traffic or inbound links to your site. It feels to me like much of the traffic on FaceBook remains on FaceBook through their groups and causes.
In this series we have covered how to make your content better and optimize it for search engines, how to make your code or HTML Markup more optimized, and how to configure your Drupal site — all of the previous articles covered things that you are completely in control of and that exist on your site. In this article we talked about how to engage with the world around you online. Once you step off the grounds, things can get infinitely more complicated. As you develop your SEO strategy it is important to have a common understanding and within your organization of how much time will be dedicated to engaging online, listening and contributing to conversations. You should even consider developing a time budget for your staff who will be engaged in these efforts.
Engaging in the community is absolutely important for a successful SEO strategy and it is an ongoing process that requires a long term commitment of resources as well as the ability to learn and change tactics over time as new tools and websites emerge. Many of the sites listed above did not exist a mere 4 years ago, we don’t know what will emerge 4 years from now. The most important takeaway is that you must engage in conversations where they are happening, and meet the community where it is in order to invite people back to your site.
If you plan to attend DrupalCon in Washington DC (March 2009) please take a look at my Drupal SEO session proposal and consider voting for it.
Read other blog posts in this series: