I usually love training people on digital best practices, but I’ve often felt that I’ve met my match when trying to convince sometimes-recalcitrant print editors to embrace SEO. Fortunately, Google’s Hummingbird just made my life easier.
Experienced editors often resist SEO because they misunderstand it and feel threatened by it. They think that “marketers” — a four-letter word to many editorial types — have no right to be telling them what to do. They are used to having their judgment respected and not compared to metrics (not that they actually believe the numbers anyway). They also tend to think that the kind of straightforward language that plays best in page titles and online headlines is uncreative or even dumb. Yes, the word “dumb” has been used on me.
I learned my lesson quickly. These days, I explain how content discovery works before diving into execution. I start by discussing the ways users find content: social media, newsletters, search result pages (SERPs), etc. There are no brand or contextual cues like deks, subheads, or images here to explain what a piece is about. Instead, it’s up to the headline or page title to drive a user’s decision to click or not click.
Is your headline vague? If so, I’ve got no idea what you’re talking about, and no reason to click. Punny? Without context, it doesn’t “read.” No reason to click. Obscure? You have about 0.2 seconds to get me to react, and you didn’t speak my language. No reason to click.
Does your headline tell me exactly what the piece is about and how it will help me? Click. Did you tell me what specific benefit I would get from reading? Click. Did you make me laugh and promise more? Click.
In short, focusing on how headlines can meet users’ needs, answer their questions, and provide them with tangible value helps SEO training go down much more smoothly than just whipping out the Keywords tool and telling editors to USE. THE. EXACT. WORDS. that users searched for most.
Enter Hummingbird, Google’s latest search algorithm update. To provide what Googler Matt Cutts calls “Search Experience Optimization,” Hummingbird focuses less on exact keyword matches and more on what the user is looking for in a broader sense.
Oh, and they’ve retired the Keywords tool. Don’t get me wrong: this does not mean that keywords are going away entirely. It will be a while before even Google knows exactly what you want regardless of the words you use. What it does mean is that Google wants us to focus less on what keywords we think someone will use and more broadly on what we think the user wants. (It could also mean they want to stop providing keyword data for free, and will sell it to us later. But I digress.)
I’m sure it’s no coincidence that Hummingbird’s focus on “search experience” sounds a lot like the holy grail of “user experience.” Everything we create — content, products, tools, any experience at all — is designed reach actual people. To give them something. To teach them. To entertain them. To help them.
This is a premise editors can embrace. We created the content for actual people. We really want those people to find it. In other words, “optimizing content for SEO” is now sounding less like a calculated keyword exercise and more like the art of “helping the people we created our content for find it.” Editorial insight as the solution to succeeding with the new algorithm? My training sessions just got a lot easier.