Courtesy and relevance are vital to creating content that search engines favor. This week’s SEO how-to focuses on using keywords effectively to ensure that your webpages, blogs, and social media posts are connecting with stakeholders looking for what your Neighborhood Council has to offer.
What not to do: Black Hat SEO
Black Hat SEO is unethical and deceptive, but mechanically functional. There are many Black Hat SEO techniques; most of them use keywords like a hunter uses leaves to cover the mouth of a pit full of sharp stakes. The keywords are a masquerade, disguising poor quality or tangential content so it appears more relevant than it really is.
Black Hat SEO seeks to manipulate the way search engines work to unfair advantage. It would be like switching the East and West signs at an entrance to the 10 Freeway, to try and divert some of the traffic heading for the beach to an event in Palm Springs. Even a tourist unfamiliar with the area would probably begin to suspect they were heading the wrong way, once Joshua Trees started appearing on the roadside. Very little – if any – of that beach traffic would make it all the way to Palm Springs. Tactics like these might fool people for a time, but they ultimately don’t deliver the results you want.
At best, Black Hat techniques are inefficient and bad for your reputation. At worst, they can get you banned by search engines, as search engines are always striving to create algorithms that will filter out results that appear to be using Black Hat tactics.
Neighborhood Council members care about their stakeholders, and aren’t going to use Black Hat SEO on purpose. But the problem is, your content can accidentally resemble Black Hat material, if it isn’t written correctly, and this can damage your visibility online, and alienate your audience.
One common issue is accidental keyword stuffing. When they’re judging page quality, search engines give a great deal of consideration to keyword density – the number of times keywords and phrases appear on a page or post. If the proportion of keywords is too high, it looks like your content is trying to game the system, rather than serve the user, and search engines will penalize you.
By contrast, content that sounds natural and which uses keywords in context is ranked highly by search engines. A quick way to tell if what you write is search-engine and stakeholder-friendly is to read it out loud. If it sounds awkward or artificial, it will do you more harm than good with both search engines and your audience. Of all the government bodies in Los Angeles, Neighborhood Councils are the most accessible. Your audience is counting on you to not be a faceless bureaucracy.
Avoiding black-hat SEO: Be helpful and relevant
When creating content, remember that you’re making friends, not trapping beasts. One easy way to create content with the right tone and keyword density is to write as if you were speaking to someone at a party. This person is interested in what you have to say, but doesn’t know what a Neighborhood Council is, so you have to fill in a little background. How would you tell them about an event your board has coming up? How would you respond if they asked what your committee does? You’ll naturally speak in the right friendly, informative tone, and use the right keywords in the right amounts, if you write for this imaginary party guest.
Including keywords that reference the communities your Council serves is an easy way to increase the relevancy of your content and ensure that you’re connecting with stakeholders who need your services, but have never heard of Neighborhood Councils. An easy way to do this is to imagine that the party you’re attending in the prior example is in another part of LA. You’d automatically talk about the areas your Council serves, if you were at an event in another neighborhood.
In our next SEO Basics articles, we’ll talk about how to write key content for SEO, such as a meta-description for your Council’s website, and how to partner with your web vendor for outstanding SEO results.
Outreach Tip Of The Week is an ongoing series on using communications, branding, marketing, and public relations to build better relationships with your stakeholders. Send your outreach questions to firstname.lastname@example.org for the chance to be featured in a future Outreach Tip article.