Moving up in natural search

Wednesday, June 24, 2009 | 10:18 AM

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At a recent non-profit training held in our D.C. office, I got the chance to teach a group of issue campaign managers the basics of "search engine optimization" (SEO), or how to earn a spot for your content that is closer to the top of Google's natural (left-hand side) search results. It was a rewarding experience because we were able to take what's often a technical conversation and make it feel like something everyone could (and should) do.

Indeed, when most people hear the words "search engine optimization," they figure it's too technical for them or that it doesn't apply to them. But if you're running a long-term education or awareness campaign, you need to know how to improve the chances that interested users will find your information through natural search results. It's just as important as learning how to use your Google Grant effectively.

Fortunately, much of what you can accomplish with SEO doesn't require any programming or technical skills, but it does require a big-picture awareness of your issue. Because ultimately, you're not trying to rise to the top of any one search results page, but rather to make your site more relevant to the whole search picture, which means designing your site, sections, and sub-pages with the most high-demand search terms related to your issue in mind.

Here are a few other things to keep in mind:

  1. Doing well in high-demand search results pages requires that you first know what search terms or keywords are most popular. Take concepts and terms you discuss on your site and test them against related terms using tools like Google's Keyword Tool and Insights for Search. Make sure you're developing individual pages centered around what people are looking for, using the language they use.

  2. Use these high-demand keywords where they accurately describe your content, especially in page titles, section headings, and in URLs. If you have lots of images or interactive graphics, make sure your most important content appears in text too, because the Googlebot doesn't read images.

  3. Finally, understand that the number and quality of other sites that link to your content determines much of your ranking in search results. Make sure you know the other online players on your issue, and encourage them to link to you. Starting a blog or Twitter feed is a great way to keep users abreast of the latest updates to your site and encourages them to link to you too.
If you're interested in learning more, check out the slides from the recent training below, watch some helpful videos from Google's SEO expert, Matt Cutts, or feel free to dive into our full Search Engine Optimization guide. There's a lot to learn, but keeping in mind the fundamentals will help you go a long way toward improving your ranking.