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SEO Fitness Workbook by Jason McDonald Book Review
Teaching search engine optimization (SEO) to public relations and marketing students is an essential part of our jobs as PR and marketing professors. In this post, I review the SEO Fitness Workbook by Jason McDonald. Whether you teach SEO in a writing class or in another course, this book offers opportunities to build lessons in SEO keyword research, offer instruction on best practices for writing SEO-friendly website content, and more.
In the first post in this 2-part series, I introduced why I taught PPC advertising in my Writing Across Platforms Class. I discussed the Mimic Intro PPC ad simulator by Stukent, which is a classroom simulator for teaching search engine marketing.
These past few semesters we have witnessed the rising importance of paid as part of the PESO model when it comes to PR. With that, I’ve been seeking ways to bring paid into my classes. It is hard to do this, of course, without a class client and a budget. And sometimes that isn’t reasonable given the structure of a class.
This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for details.
At some point, I bet you’ve wondered – Why did you name your blog Social Media Syllabus?
No, it is not a syllabus. It is a way to help my target audience find me. Let me explain.
Several posts ago, I discussed introducing students to SEO and writing for search in my Writing Across Platforms course (though it could be taught in a social media course or a PR, marketing, or other course). This included an activity with Google Trends where students get an opportunity to see the importance of understanding how people search the web.
I want to use my blog name as an example to extend this to another great tool we should be teaching our students: Google Adwords Keywords Tool, a very popular tool used to conduct SEO keyword research.
Competition: Considerations for naming a blog (or a post, or post content, for that matter!) When I decided to start blogging a few months ago, I needed a blog title. I began with SEO in mind. I did a ton of research on Google Adwords Keywords tool for search terms related to social media education. I know my primary target audience is educators interested in teaching or using social media in the classroom. Clearly I’m not the only one out there writing on this subject, and there are many related subjects. So how to differentiate myself?
You see, Google’s Adwords Keyword tool can be used to assess keyword competition.
Keyword competition is simply the idea that if too many people are using the same keyword in their web content, then competition to be the top search result will be fierce and the chance of ranking high in search is more difficult.
Google Adwords Keywords tool’s primary purpose is actually for writing search engine marketing ads on Google. People bid on keywords for ad placement on Google searches and the highest bids show up. But many folks use it for keyword research for SEO as well.
Pulling from our example from the Google Trends post last week, imagine you’re writing web content about an automobile brand. You may have found in Google Trends that “fuel economy” and “safety rating” are more popular than “cup holders” or “park assist” what people are searching for a new car. But you don’t know how many of your competitors are creating content with these terms. If they are, your chances of showing up on search results are diminished.
To find this out, people use Google Adwords Keywords tool. The theory is that if competition is high on Google Adwords, it is likely high on organic content as well. So, in the simplest sense, a high search volume and low competition are though to be ideal.
It is of course more complicated than that. We also must think about specificity and context. Is what people are searching for what your content is about?
Here’s an example. If people search for “drums” they may be searching for brake drums, gallon drums, musical drums, etc.. Drums then is non-specific. It is a bad keyword – because it is not specific and lacks context.
If you’re writing about break drums, of course your content will have the words break drums in them. But what else?
We must be creative in coming up with “long-tail” keywords – those longer phrases that get less search volume, but have less competition and that a very specific target audience is searching for. Should you use “cracked break drum”? “brake drum issues”?
This is not an easy task. But it is something that is becoming more and more important. Our students need to learn it.
Why name my blog Social Media Syllabus? What I’m trying to do in positioning my blog, is figure out what a social media educator / person wanting to use social media in the classroom is going to search for.
When I did my research, I found I was in competition with a lot social media education programs – such as online courses, certifications, etc. That’s not my niche (which is again, social media educators) – but we share search terms. There are, of course, also articles about social media and higher education. These seem to span from examples of how it is being used by universities rather than by educators, to higher education recruiting, and other related topics but not what my target audience is looking for. Again, not my target audience – but related search terms that similar audiences are searching. Many of these have medium to high competition and not a ton of searches (click image to enlarge – sorry it’s my template).
I did a number of other searches and considered a number of things but finally settled on Social Media Syllabus. It has low search volume – but again, I’m targeting a fairly small niche – but someone searching for a social media syllabus is clearly looking for what my blog is primarily about, teaching social media. And, I have the syllabi they are looking for on my site. So, theoretically speaking, I should fulfill their need (click to enlarge).
I hope this explanation offers an example of 1 way of going about thinking about the role search plays in content today, and how we can try and differentiate ourselves with specific terms.
Is it working? Having moved from Posterous to WordPress (free version), I no longer have Google Analytics, which I miss dearly. Without robust stats it is more difficult for me to be sure my plan is working, as often WordPress doesn’t tell me the search terms that brought people to my site (reading “other search terms” or “unknown search terms). However, it has stated on a dozen or so occasions that people arrived to my site from searching ‘social media syllabus.’ As my blog is fairly new, I should be building authority over time that will help me in search results.
Final Thoughts: Once the right keywords are chosen, they are used in writing headlines and high up in the body of text of your content. You then want to monitor your web traffic to see what keyword searches are driving traffic to your article. Monitor and adjust. For example, you may find that people are finding you using keywords you hadn’t anticipated, or that people are searching for something off topic and finding their way to your site. Likely, these people are not hanging around as your site’s content is not what they’re looking for.
I hope that brief intro was helpful. There is much more that could be discussed. I will post a class activity for students using Adwords Keywords tool in a future post.
What did I leave out? Other considerations? Educators; Have any resources to share to help students understand SEO? Readers and I would love it if you shared!
As one way to introduce my students to SEO and keyword research, I use the below in class exercise with Google Trends (formerly, Google Insights). Google Trends allows users to see and compare trends on what Googlers are searching for, by showing search volume across time. Users can break down trends by category, such as geography.
We also discuss keyword research via Google Adword Keyword Search Tool. But I like to talk about Google Trends first because it is easy to use and a bit more approachable with its visual layout, including interactive maps.
Google Trends Activity and Discussion (Time: 15-20 minutes). Note: Lecture notes at bottom of blog post.
In class, I explain how search engines like Google seek to rank content based on relevancy and credibility so they can deliver the best content to searchers. The algorithms for ranking content are complex and constantly changing. But the question for anyone seeking to get their content in front of the right eyeballs remains the same:
How can we optimize our content to increase the chance people will find it online?
I explain how Google Trends can be used to see what characteristics or features of a topic people search for (you can see the slides below). I ask students to imagine they are writing content for a new Volkswagen. How can they know what features of the new car to highlight in their content?
I use this example because Google already has a great video explaining the results of a keyword search topic. So after we discuss some popular features, I show them the video example.
I then give them an in-class activity with a similar scenario asking them to find out what people search for most regarding a particular topic. I prompt with:
Imagine you work for a client who wants to promote a new gym. What do people seem to be most interested in?
Look specifically at Maryland. What do they search for in Maryland?
How could you apply this knowledge to target user interest?
Students go to the following Google Doc (http://bit.ly/WAP_GTrendsEx) and follow the instructions and visuals to walk them through the steps on Google Trends.
This brief activity is followed by discussion of what they found, and their thoughts on how this information could be used.
In my experience (I taught this in a social media class in the past), students at this point are excited about this tool and want to compare a topic they are interested in – maybe ice cream flavors, celebrities, brands, etc. I’ll ask students to make predictions on what topic is being searched for most and why. Often, we are surprised by what we find, which makes for a great discussion. We have lots of fun spending a few minutes doing this kind of exploration!
I end by emphasizing that one way to use Google Trends is to see what people care about the most when they search for a topic, whether it be cars, gyms, et cetera.
From there, we move on to discussing Google Adwords Keyword tool, which I’ll save for a future blog post.
Check out the associated slides for this class and the class before it where I explain SEO and linking below:
What is SEO and link building and why do they matter?
Keyword Research Activity: Google Trends and Adwords (relates directly to above blog post)
What do you think? How do you teach your students about keyword research and search engine optimization? Would love to hear your exercises and thoughts below.
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