Another guest article from our friend Laura Packard with PowerThru Consulting! This time she’s talking about Search Engine Optimization, but you can also check out her past Epolitics.com articles. This piece first appeared on the PowerThru Consulting blog, and you can also learn more about the topic in the Online Politics 101 chapter on SEO.
Simple Search Engine Optimization Techniques for Non-Profits and Political Campaigns
Say you’re launching a new political campaign or organization. What’s the first way people will try to find you? They’ll go to their trusty search engine and type in your name. It’s critical that your official website shows up in the first page of results, in the top few choices above the fold if possible. How do you make that magic happen? Here are some search engine optimization tips that will help you land at the top of the heap.
To step back a bit, Moz has a great in-depth guide to how search engines work and how to optimize your results. This post is a much more abbreviated work.
Search engines use several factors to determine the ranking of results, but these are the main ones you can control:
- Use keywords in your URL(s)
- Use keywords on your pages
- Get as many quality links to your site as possible
- Tell Google about your site, so that it is completely indexed
Also remember that search engine optimization is a process. There is no magic bullet that will capture you the #1 slot in a day. For that, you’re going to need to spend some $ on Google Adwords to get in front of your audience. (This is a good idea anyways for most campaigns and organizations, but especially if your search results are not where you want them to be.)
The most important thing you can do at the start is secure a good URL. An ounce of search engine preventative work will save you a pound of trouble later. Read my previous post on starting up a political campaign online, there’s lots of tips in there about securing good URLs. Use as many keywords in your URL as possible – i.e. your candidate’s full name or organization name (if it isn’t too long) as opposed to just your first or last name or acronym. Also secure good URLs using your keywords at Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn (if relevant) — because these sites will usually have a very good search engine ranking without you needing to do much work.
The reason for this is because quality inbound links are such a key factor in search ranking. And which sites have the most inbound links on the web? Sites like Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, New York Times, Politico etc.. Also this is one of the reasons why Rick Santorum is never going to be able to shake his particular unfortunate results.
Make sure your content is as search engine optimized as possible. There’s a fantastic free plugin for WordPress that we swear by. It makes it easy to determine how your site and individual pages will look to search engines and when shared via Facebook by letting you configure the meta description and title for the page. It also lets you solve the common problem in WordPress of your content showing up with many different urls thanks to categories, tags, and date archives. In fact check the LunaMetrics guide for SEOing your WordPress site for more tips. If your site is built in NationBuilder, be sure to configure the SEO settings for each page and for the site as a whole. Here’s a guide for how to search engine optimize for Drupal.
Keep in mind that you want the meta description for each page AND the content on the page itself to match up with what people are searching for. So use keywords on the page itself (you can even pack keywords into alt tags for images), but in a way that makes sense. Everybody’s seen websites that are so keyword heavy that the sentences aren’t even readable anymore. Google is starting to crack down on that kind of blatant keyword packaging. Also keep in mind that search engine optimization will bring people to your house. You still want them to come inside, and not scare them away with a wall of unintelligible text.
And finally, make sure you are using permalinks on your site with keywords in them, i.e. your posts look like joesmith.com/why-i-oppose-keystone-xl instead of joesmith.com/?q=27
One of the reasons why I emphasized having your landing page ready when you launch a political campaign so heavily in my previous post is this: when you launch, it’s the one time that newspapers, blogs etc. will link to your site. You need that search engine juice badly in order to do well in search.
But say you missed the boat for whatever reason – you launched with no url or a different URL. Then you’ll need to do the hard work of getting as many sites out there as possible to link to you.
Running for office? There are a ton of websites out there that track candidates. Make sure they list your URL. You may have to do a lot of emails initially to make this happen, but it will help over time.
New organization? See if you can get other friendly sites to link to you.
Don’t forget all the places where you can post your own URL. Huffington Post or DailyKos account? You can list a URL on your profile there. You can put a URL on your Twitter profile, on your Facebook page (don’t forget the “short description” section, so it will show up to viewers of your timeline), YouTube channel too. Google+ as well (will cover that in more detail later).
Also don’t forget about Wikipedia, which naturally will score very high in search. Maybe you or your organization are already listed. If so, make sure your URL is in the external links section. If you’re notable enough but not in wikipedia yet, then have somebody create a page for you. Note that wikipedia has all links as “nofollow”, so it theoretically won’t help you with boosting your own search results. But they are pretty much guaranteed to own one of the top positions on search for your terms, so it’s important your site links are in there so people can find you. Same applies for Facebook/Twitter, which may disguise links with their own shorteners etc. but are still how people will look for your site.
Don’t forget about the “quality” part. If you get a lot of search engine spam type emails, these are the folks that use black hat techniques like spamming the content section of websites (or even hacking websites) and packing in paid-for URLs. Google can and will delist you entirely if you use black hat techniques. So, just like buying a questionable email list, DON’T DO IT.
Finally, don’t forget about the “anchor text” — the text you use to describe the link on a page. For example <a href=”link”>this is anchor text.</a> You want to make sure the anchor text for the quality inbound links matches up with how you want the search engines to think about the link itself. This is a good place to utilize keywords you want to rank for. <a href=”link”>my campaign website</a> is not as good as <a href=”link”>joe smith for congress campaign website</a>.
One of the first things you should do as you launch your site (after you have set up an SEO plugin and/or made the appropriate SEO adjustments to your pages) is to tell Google to come crawl it. There are a few different ways to do this.
Make sure you’re set up in Webmaster Tools. Did you know Google thinks of www.joesmith.com and joesmith.com as two separate sites? You can tell Google in webmaster tools which is the canonical version to use. You can link webmaster tools to Google analytics for the same site, for an even fuller picture of traffic to your site, what search terms are driving people etc. Under the Search Traffic tab, you can also tell which sites link to you (and see what’s missing). Under the Crawl tab (Fetch as Google), you can tell Google to go index your site right now. You can also submit a sitemap to make sure every page is indexed.
That brings me to Google+.. Google+ is like a way directly into Google’s brain. If you want something indexed, +1 it or share it on Google+ and it tells Google instantly to go fetch. Also if you +1 content, it will show up higher when the people you are linked to in Google+ do Google searches. So you can manipulate the search results of your Google circles. (THESE are the reasons why your site should have +1 buttons, and if you like a newspaper article you should +1 it.)
One final cautionary note: just because you’re telling Google to crawl your site, doesn’t mean you’ll show up in search results. Be sure to check your robots.txt file, to make sure you are allowing search engines to crawl your site! Read more about robots.txt files.
Do all these steps above, and you will eventually rank well for your search terms. Like I said before, unfortunately seo is not an instant process. If you get a bunch of quality inbound links to your website, Google still needs to go out and crawl all those pages etc. Since the age of your site is taken into account by search engines, your search results should improve over time.
Thanks Laura! For more on SEO, check out the Online Politics 101 chapter on Search Engine Optimization.