The jar labeled “Pimento Parmesan Cheese” sat on my kitchen windowsill for weeks. It contained brownish granules. I didn’t remember leaving it there myself and couldn’t figure out how it got there. I couldn’t imagine how pimento parmesan cheese had gotten brown but didn’t dare to open the container.
Ready to throw it out today, I looked a little more closely and realized that it contained finely chopped walnuts – a kind neighbor had brought over some of his surplus so I could use them in baking.
The essence of search marketing lies in two related concepts: First, label your content properly so that the reader can quickly understand what it contains. Second, make sure your content passes the “sniff test.” This post will give you two tips for labeling and sniff-proofing your content.
Why Search Engine Optimization?
As marketers, we tend to think of search engine optimization (SEO) as a way to drive more traffic to our websites. From a customer perspective, search is about helping readers find the content that they value – quickly. As much as we have qualms about how much information Google collects, it does a good job of serving up relevant search results. That’s because Google and other search engines are constantly trying to improve the way their searches perform from the perspective of the searcher. In the process, they reward honesty.
This is good news for marketers who suffered for years in a business environment that viewed content as a commodity. Your content needs to be informative, accurate, and helpful; your readers are your customers. Just as you “pay” money for goods, you “pay attention” to content.
An ethical and efficient approach to SEO makes search results advertise your content in a compelling but fair way.
Labeling Your Content
The Headline Before the Headline
A search engine result includes a page title and a description. This is the first part of your content a reader will see. It’s like the lid of my walnut jar – they will read this headline before they click.
So, make sure your page title and your description (in HTML, the title and meta tags within the page’s <HEAD> section) describe your content fairly. If you don’t create a description for your content, search engines tend to pull out the title or the first paragraph; someone searching for a walnut-based parmesan cheese recipe might be sorely disappointed if they find this post. (If you’re one of those HTML geeks who right-clicks to “view source,” you’ll notice I haven’t done that with this post yet. To make up for this failing, here is my favorite vegan walnut parmesan recipe).
Alt Tags in Images
An image ALT tag (short for “alternate”) helps tell the story behind the images to visually impaired audiences, including search engines and humans who happen to be looking at your content with images turned off.
If you hover over an image in a browser, you’ll see the ALT tag – try it with the image of a magnifying glass.
Because search engines look for text strings, ALT tags can help them by presenting valuable information about the content of a page. For this reason, many an intern wasted the late 1990’s stuffing alt tags with keywords. The honest SEO will make sure that the alt tags describe the images fairly and in a way that is useful to humans and search engines.
This doesn’t mean that the ALT tags must describe the images literally or refrain from presenting extra information; your alt tags can contain some keywords relevant to your topic or your marketing goals. For example, the alt tag in the image used with this post is not simply”magnifying glass sketch” — I used “Magnifier image advertises that the topic of this post is ‘search.'”
Here’s how to add ALT tags in WordPress and regular HTML, along with more information about how to use ALT text properly for a visually impaired audience.
Passing the “Sniff Test”
You’d best believe I sniffed the walnuts before sprinkling them on my cereal. Similarly, you should check your content before publishing, and make sure it meets two important criteria.
Actually Answer the Question
Are you ready to vote for a politician because he understands your pain? Has this misled you into thinking he will actually solve your problem?
Make sure that your content actually answers the question that your title and description promises. These days, where “content is king,” too many people are cranking out low-quality fluff designed to attract visitors to their site.
It’s true that you can’t sell aspirin unless your audience has (or thinks they have) a headache. But if they still have a headache after they’ve bought the aspirin, they won’t be back for another bottle.
Give your page an honest reading and ask yourself if it answers the questions or solves the problem that you are posing at the beginning. If it doesn’t, hold off on publishing the page until you have done some more homework.
Don’t Put Everything Behind a Form
If you’re a marketer, you are accustomed to writing content aimed at getting people to provide you their names and email addresses so you can continue to market to them.
There is nothing wrong with “gating” content behind a form. But do consider that if someone clicks on “23 Ways to Melt Belly Fat While Growing Your Career and Improving Your Love Life,” he is going to want to read at least two or three of them, and perhaps even test them, before subscribing to your marketing offers.
The same holds for anything else that interrupts the user’s ability to read the content she has been promised by your search engine results. Live chat windows, survey invitations, and ads are all okay as long as they don’t get between your user and the value you offer. Consider adding a delay of 60 seconds or more before popup windows appear, and make sure that the popups don’t detract from the credibility of your content.
After All, It’s All About Trust
If you take this approach to search, you will begin earning your audience’s trust right away. The more your content is worth what your audience “pays” for it, the better chance you stand of inspiring their curiosity, arousing their interest, and gaining their loyalty.