Engaging audiences by letting them find you when they search

The search engine audience is quite important

A large portion of your audience will find your content through search. And like any business, search engines exist to make money. They do this two ways – they sell space on their results pages for advertising. They also sell placement in search. Both of these require that the engine get human eyeballs to look at the ads. And they do this by being good. Users choose sites that have value and aren’t a pain to use. And search engines use rules to simulate or act as a proxy for the user to determine what he or she will find useful.

But search engines are not users. They proceed through a site from top to bottom, and although getting smarter, are still kind of dumb about what they see.

Here is what has changed: Search engines used to work by matching the user’s search with words on the page – what we’d call key word or pattern match searching. As of late 2013, semantic search became possible. Here’s the difference: with keyword searching, you might search for car repair. A strict key word would return car plus repair, but might not return vehicle repair or automobile repair. Semantic search guesses better what the user means. If the user types car repair, the engine has learned from experience, it’s likely that his or her car is broken, and he or she wants a place to get it fixed that is well-regarded and close enough to drive a broken car to. So those kinds of sites will return high on the page.

Tips for doing well in search 

There are many, many things that go into ranking well in search. Here are a couple of things worth paying attention to:

*Create content that people want. Ultimately, this is what users want, and so this is what search engines will try to privilege. 

*Create content regularly. Sites that are updated regularly rank higher.

*Cite and link to sources and use ones that are popular and high quality.

*Make sure your page is well-organized. Have a title for the page that has meaning for your users, and put things into clear categories that are easy to follow. If you are not on the technical side, this is a conversation to have with your developer and your information architect.

*Make sure your page is fast. Forty percent of users give up on a page when it doesn’t load in 3 seconds. Make sure images are small files, that you use a fast server, and that extra code like javascript is at the bottom of the page where-ever possible. Again, if you are not technical, this is a great conversation to have with your developer. Point him or her to Google and Bing’s webmaster tools and guidelines as resources.

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