What is SEO? What does it mean?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. But actually, SEO is about optimizing pages to show up in search engines, like Google, where our audiences are looking for them. In practice, it's a way of writing and structuring your pages for two outcomes:
- Your pages are visible in search engines, like Google
- Your audience wants to click on them and spend time on them
Search engines like Google need to understand what a page is about in order to show it in a search. There are certain fields on a page that give Google that information (jump to learn more about those fields).
But this also means that you should understand how your audience thinks and talks about a topic, because that's how they use Google to find more information about that topic. If you can anticipate how your audience might search in Google, you can make your page more appealing and get more clicks.
Your audience might use their computers, phones, or even smart home devices to search the internet and find your pages. If you can write in a way that your audience understands and structure your page so that Google also understands, you'll get lots of visits to your pages without having to promote it.
In addition to the list of links you might be familiar with in a Google search, there are lots of newer elements to a Google search result page (images, video, tweets, answer boxes, related searches, and other elements added all the time) where a page can be discovered. Your audience might get to your page after clicking on an image, watching a video, clicking an answer drop-down or clicking on a link.
What makes people want to click on a page in Google?
People make split second decisions when they click on a result in a Google search. People are more likely to click on a page if it appears to have the answer that they are looking for and is an authoritative source.
How do they know? Think about something you recently googled. What made you click on a particular page? What stood out to you? Were you right, or did you have to go back to Google and try again? The key is having a good understanding of what your specific audience is looking for, and then providing them with that information. (Jump to how to do some quick initial research on your own.)
What do we get from search?
of revenue is from natural search
of web traffic is from natural search
of clicks are on the first search result
of people access the internet on mobile devices
How to write and structure your pages for visits from Google
Before you start drafting, you need to know who your content is for. There are several audiences that TNC content reaches, including:
- Mindful Mover: Lives TNC's values through personal action, including education, volunteering, and donating
- Members and Prospects: Actively supports TNC's mission through donations, pledges, and events
- Change Agents: Advances TNC's goals at scale through policy, business, media and community involvement
- Ultra-High Net Worth Donor: Actively or potentially supports TNC's mission through significant donations
- Youth: Younger than 35 years old and those in education who grow the next generation of conservationists
- Workplace Givers: Work for large companies that match employee donations
- Corporate Partners: Companies that partner with TNC and promote our initiatives
- Managed & Major Donors: Actively supports TNC's mission through significant donations, often to specific projects
What counts as a question?
Some searches aren't phrased exactly like a question, but more like a statement. Example: "invasive species in Florida" or "climate change solutions". But these are still questions!
Keep your specific audience in mind for this next part. How do they use Google? Most Google searches are people looking for an answer to a question. Some people know exactly which website they want the answer from. Examples of these types of searches are "nature conservancy carbon footprint calculator" and "nature conservancy locations". We'll pretty much always be visible in Google for anyone who looks for us. Hooray!
But most people won't care which website has the information they need. Some examples of these kinds of searches are "what is a carbon footprint" and "questions about climate change". These people might click on multiple pages before they find the best one. We want to be the best one!
SEO is a way of attracting these types of searches and keeping those readers on the page rather than bouncing back to Google to look at other pages.
So we know that people are looking for answers, now what?
The hard truth is that most visitors will only skim a page to find the answers to their questions and they will leave if the information is not readily available. This is why journalists employ the inverted pyramid approach:
How to use the Inverted Pyramid
Follow this formula to help your readers get what they need and stay engaged with your pages.
MAC FY24 Goals
and raise revenue
Give your readers the best possible experience through:
- Original information, reporting, research, or analysis
- A meaningful description of the topic and thoughtful analysis beyond the obvious
- Substantial value compared to other pages on the topic
- A headline/page title that gives a descriptive and helpful summary (and avoids exaggeration or shock)
- Would you bookmark this page or send it to a friend?
- Would you expect to see this page referenced by a printed magazine, competitor website, or news publication?
- Does the page serve the genuine interests of readers?
- Is it obvious that the information comes from a well-trusted or recognized authority?
Parts of the page that are most important for Google
All of the text-based content on the page is important, but Google pays extra close attention to certain parts of the page when determining what your page is about:
- External search results title (SEO title): This field is in page properties, in the SEO tab. The title in this field is what you see in a Google search, and it's also in the tab when the page is open in a browser. Not only is this title very important for Google, this is the part that convinces people whether or not they should click on the page from a search. Make the most of it by using the most important, descriptive words here.
- Page title: This field is in the hero component, and is the actual title, or header, on a page, seen by everyone who reads it. Tip: The SEO title and the page title should be different but related to increase the odds that Google and readers understand your page.
- Subheaders: If a page title is like a book title, subheaders are like chapter titles. Just like the page title, these should also be descriptive of the section to come. Both Google and readers find subheaders helpful! There are 6 levels of subheaders, H2 through H6. (Why isn't there an H1? Because the page title is the H1, which is the most important header!)
Did you notice that all of these elements are also really important for readers? That's by design! Ideally, Google and your readers would be able to understand the page's topic and structure by reading only these parts, like an outline.
What about photos and videos?
If you have non-text-based information, such as images and videos, that you'd like Google to know about, you can use alt text and captions.
- Photos and other images: Google reads alt text to learn what a photo is because Google doesn't see images in the same way most people do. Think of alt text as describing the image to someone on the phone: you would tell them what's most interesting or important about the image.
- Bonus: Image search is a main part of Google search, so being descriptive can help bring even more visitors to your page.
- Important tip: Always end alt text in a period! Punctuation benefits people who use assistive devices to read your page.
- Video and audio: Transcripts, video captions, and even subtitles inform Google what a video or audio is about. When Google has a good understanding of a video or audio, these can also be discovered in search results for that topic, bringing people to your page in multiple ways.
- You can upload a full transcript for your video or audio file so both Google and visitors have complete understanding of the information you're sharing.
- Bonus: With transcripts, people can choose to watch with captions on (perhaps they are hard of hearing or forgot their headphones) rather than skipping your video entirely.
Structure Pages for Mobile Readers
If you plan to promote your page on social media, text messaging or email, chances are many of your visitors will visit your page on a phone. Planning your page for mobile readers also benefits desktop readers. Everyone like to read pages that are easy to understand with lots of visual breaks!
Did you know that Google primarily sees the mobile version of our website? At TNC, we use our desktops to create pages and it's easy to forget about the mobile experience. Fortunately, what we show to people on mobile devices is the same as what we show to people on desktop devices, though the format might be a little different. Content is resized or moved on smaller screens, but the same text, images, and videos are shown to all.
However, people who use mobile devices often behave differently than those who use a desktop device. Though any reader is likely to skim a page regardless of device, mobile readers have less patience for scrolling through long, text-heavy pages. If the page doesn't immediately help or engage them, they are much more likely to leave and redo their search than keep scrolling.
How to do your own SEO research using Google
Keep your audience in mind. Your job is to answer their questions and keep them interested in and engaged with your content. This means you need to know the words they use when they talk about (and search for) a topic.
Different audiences talk about topics differently. For example, a Change Agent who is well versed in local policy might use more academic or political language than a Mindful Mover who has heard about a bill but doesn't know its name. Follow these steps to find out how your audience talks about a topic.
1. Don't hit enter (Google autocomplete)
When you're confident you have it close enough, hit enter and take a look at the first few results. Are most of the pages, images, links, and resources similar to the one you'll build? If yes, great job! This is your main topic and you'll find related questions and other searches as inspiration for sub-topics. If not, click through to some of the related questions, searches, and results and try to refine further.
2. People Also Ask box
It's also a great way to see what other websites are doing. Click on a few. Can you do this better?
3. Related searches
If not, these might be great inspiration for a new page that's related. This could be the start of a mini content hub: one "main" page about the topic that provides a general overview and 2-3 "sub" pages that go into greater detail on one specific aspect of the topic.