Picture this. You’re a community manager and you’re setting up or have already set up your community. It’s getting some traffic and new members, but the numbers aren't reaching your community goals.
Have you ever thought about optimizing your community for search engines? You’ll find guidance here on how to make your community more visible in Google, Bing or Yahoo. Welcome to SEO for communities.
What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
Search Engine Optimization, in short SEO, is a marketing discipline focused on optimizing your website to gain more visibility for business-relevant keywords in the SERP.
The SERP, you ask? It’s the Search Engine Result Page displayed after a search query is entered in search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo. This discipline is focused on the organic, non-paid results. Every click on an organic result is for free, contrary to the search ads.
There are many, many aspects that affect your rankings in search engines; this includes the keywords you use on your page, the speed of your site, the way other sites link to you, and so on.
Roughly, we could categorize more than 200 SEO aspects into three groups: technique, content, and link building. Every SEO optimization effort is focused on improving rankings, increasing awareness, and driving traffic in the end.
If you want to learn more about SEO, we highly recommend diving into the beginner's guide made by Moz.
3 reasons why your community should focus on SEO
More than 90% of all web traffic is driven by search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Thus, a search engine is the primary starting point for almost every web user. This should already be an important reason for you to focus on SEO and improve your visibility in search engines.
But there are three other specific reasons for online communities like yours to focus on SEO.
If search engines cannot find your site or content, you miss out on incredible opportunities to drive non-paid traffic to your site.
Why is focusing on SEO important for an online community (also if your community is part of your more important business site)?
- Online communities primarily consist of user-generated content. An engaging community generates a lot of discussions, shared images and videos, and written blogs on a daily basis. And Google loves that!
- As a result of the above, communities always have fresh content. That gives you extra SEO scoring points as well. It shows you're active and relevant to your target group. It also gives Google a reason to send a web crawler to your community (to check your SEO quality).
- The content in communities has a high level of shareability. This means other websites are more likely to link to content in your community; mostly because the content is useful for people outside the community as well. All of these incoming links give your community an authority status on the web, which is an important ranking factor for search engines.
5 SEO tips to dominate search engines
Ok good to know, but where do I start? Which community pages are interesting to optimize? The best type of content to focus on is blog posts or news articles (pages with a lot of valuable content) and landing pages (pages where visitors are entering your community if they are looking for something specific).
According to many SEO consultants (including ours!), SEO isn't just about building search engine-friendly sites. It's about making your site better and more useful for people too.
That's why we want to give you five SEO tips that will make your online community more friendly for both search engines and users/members.
- Make your community and its content easily accessible to search engines. What does this mean? First, make sure your community has public content so that it's accessible to search engines (e.g. via robots.txt), otherwise, you don't have any chance to be visible. Second, the community should be well structured. All topics, all content, and all important pages have to be linked to each other in a logical and easy way. This means you have a structured menu at the top and from there on it's easy to dive deeper into your community. The best moment to think about the structure is before you go live with your online community. But no worries, it's also possible to structure it later on. That could be even better because after a period of intensive usage you might have another vision for the structure.
- Focus on answering search intents. Web users are always searching for a reason. They are looking for something. We call this 'search intent'. Every subject will be searched for with different intents. Everybody wants to know something different about a subject. If you are writing a blog on your community, keep these intents in mind. The more intents you answer in your content, the more Google will love your content (and ranks it higher in the search results). Use tools like Answer The Public for inspiration to answer search intents with your content.
For example, you have a community about dogs, where everybody can share a story about taking care of dogs. You want to write a blog post about grooming your dog. To get inspiration and to get insights into the questions people could have about this subject, you head over to Answer The Public. You search for 'dog grooming' and see that there are more than 90 strongly related questions. Of course, not all of them are relevant for your blog post. But many of them are, for example: why is dog grooming important, how can I groom my dog, how much does dog grooming cost, can you learn dog grooming online, what dog grooming equipment is needed. Just some examples. Try to answer all these search intents in your blog post, then you are as relevant as possible for your public, which is really important for Google to rank you in the top of its search results.
- Focus on long tail keywords. As a result of the second point, the way web users use search engines has been changing over the last years. Nowadays, the search queries are longer. We even use complete sentences and questions as a search query. And that's really positive for communities. Because that's exactly how e.g. discussions are built in communities. A discussion is mostly focused on a question, problem, or challenge. Thus, use the most important long-tailed keyword in your unique title and meta description, and the well-crafted URL. Do also mention the directly related question(s) in the first paragraph of your content and heading later on (if possible).
- Track your internal search queries. Do you need any inspiration for writing new content? Analyze the internal search queries first. Search queries made in your own community will help you to figure out what types of content the community members/visitors are looking for. Why is this useful for SEO? It gives you possibilities to create new content and gives you visibility for new business-related keywords. People are interested in it, otherwise, why would they be searching for these subjects in your community? Be aware: this is only possible if you have a search option in your community and a Site Search set up in e.g. Google Analytics (in any case, it's recommendable to implement an analytics tool like Google Analytics, also for other marketing activities).
- Track your rankings with a keyword ranking tool. If you thought about optimizing your community for keywords, then you have to monitor their rankings as well, of course. You have to know if your optimizations have done the job. The easiest way to monitor this is by using a tool like Moz or SEMrush. There are plenty of them out there. Mostly, these tools are monitoring other SEO results and are constantly providing advice on how to improve. Really helpful!
Below is a screenshot from Moz. You can see i.e. how the rankings developed over time and the growth or fall per keyword.
Just by following these tips, you'll already see the impact of your more SEO-focused community. But keep in mind, this blog post really only contains some SEO basics. There are a lot more factors that can have an impact on your rankings in Google.
It’s best to see this as a starting point to make your social community more visible in search engines! If you have other tips and dos or don'ts, please add them in the comments below. Good luck!