Tag Archives: SEO

The SEO Volunteer: Volume 2

Having signed up with two charities last summer to help them with their digital marketing and complement my SEO, PPC and social media training from Salford University and SEMPO, my learning has definitely moved on. The following is a mega-post, but if you’re looking to build work experience in this field by helping a charity, it may prove useful.

Digital marketing isn’t a fixed process that will be the same for every business or organisation out there. Plus, it’s a two-way street: an organisation will have to change how it works, not for the sake of a web crawler hosted at Mountain View but for the sake of customers, partners and others who are proactively seeking useable information via the web (including mobile). However, voluntary organisations can involve stakeholders and gatekeepers that may prevent the kind of rapid change that you would see from an online enterprise eager to seize upon any and every advantage.

From 2 Charities to 1

It may not have been the most sensible thing to try and work with two charities while still in a full-time job, trying to find a new job post-redundancy, and with a new family to look after! So, I committed to working with just the one, ICA:UK, a charity based in Manchester that sells facilitation training to corporate, public and third sector clients. Facilitation training is a competitive marketplace and the goal was to improve their ranking for that very term – facilitation training – amongst others, and see what other issues could be resolved.

I was lucky in that analytics and technical issues were being dealt with by my main contact in the charity, and he “got” the notion that it wasn’t about increasing the quantity of traffic, but the quality. However other areas, such as opportunities for new content and linkbuilding, were shared amongst stakeholders and therefore trickier to negotiate. Due to funding constraints the site was volunteer-built and they were struggling with a version of Joomla in need of update, really, which made implementing potential page and site changes harder and in some cases not possible – perhaps another skill area I’d do well to explore.

As an aside, their facilitation workshops are an excellent tool for agencies, whether niche or full-service, in the project discovery stage, as they provide techniques to allow groups – say the marketing DM and their colleagues within a client business – to progress on concepts and achieve consensus. And you can even swap that energy-sapping flipboard or whiteboard for one of their rocking Sticky Walls.

What was done

  • A visit to Hubspot. Not a pro-SEO’s site of choice possibly, but running the url through Hubspot’s Website Grader (now called the Marketing Grader) helped point out a few things, such as the homepage having too many images without alt text to be that bot-friendly, or human-friendly, for that matter.
  • Analytics and backlinks were reviewed. Going over Google Analytics with the charity soon identified pages with the highest bounce rate, while a quick run through Open Site Explorer from good old SEOMoz identified existing sources of links that could be expanded upon further, and the odd irrelevant inbound link to be dealt with.
  • The indexing basics: I quickly made sure the site was submitted to Dmoz.org and the Yahoo! directory.
  • A Keyword Glossary was composed. By working with the AdWords Keyword Tool, I discovered some new potential terms but more importantly had a metric on monthly local search volume and competing sites for terms. I then used the “classic” KEI formula, squaring the search volume before dividing it by the number of competing sites. The higher the result the higher the potential efficiency, roughly. I then asked the charity to rank the most efficient 20 terms from 0-1 for relevance, ie what they would believe are most likely to convert. This is a rough, ready and knowingly flawed way of working with keyword discovery and efficiency. For example the Keyword Tool and similar databases can’t be trusted 100%, and there are more complex ways of defining efficiency that take PageRank and other factors per competing site into account. However, as a starting point it was sufficient.
  • PageRank flaws were identified. A whole page of outbound links lacking nofollow attributes, for example, was quickly remedied.
  • Domain and IP checks, and other technical tasks: the site was accessible both at a www. and non-www. version of the URL: a quick call to the hosting company to set up a 301 redirect on the non-www version was all it took to solve that. Were CSS and Javascript files stored separately, not coded on the pages? Check. Search engines like verified IP addresses, so has a reverse DNS been performed? Check. Is it a static IP, rather than a dynamically generated one? Yep.

What wasn’t done

  • Technical tasks Version #2: I wanted to, but didn’t, get stuck into meta tag errors, Meta Robots tags, xml sitemaps, creating a custom 404, and identifying server errors with Webmaster Central or similar.
  • Analytics Ninjtsu: key conversions and EOI on the site were identifiable but not being measured – and you can’t improve what you can’t measure. This was another area I needed to cover, especially to figure out attribution and attrition – what was originally prompting visitors to drop by, and why might they drop out?
  • Link acquisition: a potentially time-consuming task, but essential and well worth the investment in terms of time and effort. Which I couldn’t, and regret not being able to make the time. However, there’s also a key point of learning here: volunteers and staff within the charity were asked to think of their own contacts with a web presence who might provide a link – especially those such as academics, for example, who add content to a high-authority site such as a .ac.uk domain. Some balked at doing this which was a shame – I’d personally say there’s no harm in asking for this, but some people involved perhaps believed it to be too commercial a thing to be doing.
  • Content: there was a wealth of relevant content full of ready-made search terms in their quarterly newsletter, which while available as a PDF online and therefore crawlable, I could have repurposed for blog posts and editorial. While I had multiple time pressures, in hindsight I’ve learned a lot about managing time and rethinking what key tasks might actually be, and how to budget time. The charity’s CEO, in the meantime, became social media born-again and is now a voracious tweeter, and traffic deriving from his activity was immediately noticeable.

…and there’s most likely a hell of a lot more besides. There are a lot of charities and third sector organisations in need of this kind of support, and it can present a lot of opportunities to develop skills and insight for the would be digital marketer, whether you’re on the more technical or creative end of the spectrum. However, you have to balance out a good opportunity – and mine certainly was – against organisations less able to effect changes, either to their site or their activity, that might reduce what you can do, learn, and have to show to future employers.

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The SEO Volunteer: Volume 1

In pushing on with building on my SEO and digital marketing course from Salford University and SEMPO, I’ve hooked up with two charities as a volunteer to help them with their online presence, and they’re both very different, but the basic issues in terms of online presence are the same.

The first, The Ethical Computer Company, is an IT re-use enterprise in Stoke-on-Trent, taking unwanted or outdated IT from businesses and individuals, refurbishing it and either selling it in the community, sending units on for use in the developing world, or disposing of the waste correctly. From a small charity project started ten years ago bootstrapped themselves to having two shops, diversifying into vegetable oil recycling and operating as a UK Online training centre, with the staff having been previously long-term unemployed.

The second, ICA:UK, is the UK branch of an international charity specialising in facilitation training: the process that enables volunteer and community groups to work together well, make decisions and take action. They offer training courses to charity and community sector clients, and also provide training and support projects for young people and youth groups in and around Manchester.

Traditional SEO advice assumes that you’re working in e-commerce, and that the site you’re aiming to optimise has one focus – selling a specific group of products or services, giving the site an easily-defined overall theme. Very few charities, especially if they function as social enterprises as in the case of these two, will possess such a site. If you’re doing something similar to build your skills with other charities, don’t be quick to criticise your charity for not being single-theme in their web presence: it’s common for charities, especially the smaller ones short on resources, to have a less focussed site, and may have a predetermined CMS-based site that they can’t radically alter.

This is the case with the two charities I’ve been working with, but there’s still plenty that can be done – backlinks can be checked and pursued, alt text added, keywords researched, identified and refined down for effectiveness, and effective tracking of conversions applied via Google Analytics: all, crucially, cost-free except for time, if you’re willing to give it, and see what you can gain from it. So far it’s been a source of sanity as the winding down of my current employer continues, with all the grimness and frustration that brings.

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Online trends: using the web for media careers advice

One thing I wish I’d figured out five years ago, back when I worked for Media Training North West, was this: when trying to attract people who need media careers advice, market the outcome – media jobs – not the service. In hindsight I feel pretty stupid to have only come to this conclusion more recently: a classic case of when working non-commercially, and at the beck and call of funders, one can easily fail to see the wood for the trees. However, that burial in detail has some value in knowing what is good media careers advice, compared to where users online are trying to find it.

Here’s a table comparing search volume on Google for “media careers” (blue line) and “media jobs” (red line):

Google insights chart of media careers v media jobs search volume, UK, 12 months

Roughly speaking, there’s ten times as much search interest in “media jobs” over “media careers”, and that’s just over the last 12 months. The top 5 SERPs for the first term aren’t, from my experience, necessarily the places where you’re sure to find the relevant jobs – indeed, it’s a sector where the majority of jobs aren’t advertised, particularly if we’re talking about broadcast and film.

Google is overwhelmingly used by the under-informed  so we can assume that a considerable chunk of those querying “media jobs” would value media careers advice and resources – even if it’s just to conclude that the industry isn’t for them. If you’re an organisation providing that service, your site would do better to be optimised along those lines. Providers of advice might argue that I’m misunderstanding what they do, but uptake has to be taken into account as a primary performance indicator.

So how are organisations out there doing on this? Here’s just a couple:

Skillset – the skills council for the creative and digital industries (whatever that means…)

Not bad in some areas – for more outcome-oriented keywords, say, “film jobs” or “tv jobs”, they’re usually within the top five of first page Google SERPs. They also claim to cover the games industry, and this is a sector which desparately needs realistic careers advice to be disseminated. On this point they fail hard – number three on the second page of results for “games design jobs” might as well be nowhere. Skillset’s domain is 13 years old and they’re inundated with good quality inbound links (such as a wealth of .ac.uk domain referrals) , so there’s no real reason why they shouldn’t rank well on this theme (hell, #1 on page 1 isn’t unrealistic). My guess at the problem? The content.

Prospects – the official graduate careers website

And a .ac.uk domain, to boot! They’re not a site specific to media, but keep in mind that the graduate talent pool is a major resource for all industries vaguely definable as “media”. They don’t rank on the first page for “media careers” or “media jobs” but if you pop “graduate” into the middle either of those phrases there they are. This makes sense, given their business as a big graduate recruitment portal, used by students, universities and recruiters alike, but it could be too small a niche given the flood of graduates out there that won’t include that extra term in their job searches. (And it’s worth noting from a legal point of view that you can’t exclude non-graduates from “graduate” recruitment: if the individual fulfils the criteria, with or without a degree, they can apply).

This is just a run-through of search visibility – landing-page user experience, and the quality of advice, is another matter. I’ve got a hunch that online is consistently under-used, and the massive potential for careers advice and CPD via the web is untapped. I think that’s in part because attempts to do so still think of it as a 1-2-1 or 1-to-many service, rather than taking a step back at the bigger picture of how individuals are sourcing advice and opportunities using the web.

I’ve not yet mentioned the high-ranking jobs portals that pWned the SERPs discussed above – places like totaljobs, Guardian Jobs, Mediaweek and Careermoves. It’s a mixed bag in terms of quality and relevance that needs further poking about, so I guess that’s the Part #2 of this post planned!

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