Saturday, August 22, 2009

Like magic, marketing speak makes your documents disappear...Poof

Search engine visibility and optimization for PR and marketing professionals

Early in my career I worked for a small start-up company with really smart executives. The first time I met them I thought, "Wow, I must work here so I can learn from these people." Along with that intelligence came a large vocabulary and a desire to infuse every marketing document with the richest language. The CEO was regularly rewriting my press releases trying to pack more and more into each paragraph. We were in a new space so we were inventing language for everything we did. This brewed a thick marketing-speak mess that journalists didn't appreciate. After sending out one of these hyped-up press releases, I received an email from an editor at one of the largest business newspapers congratulating me on winning their Buzzy award. He and a group of other editors had calculated the ratio of real words to marketing words in my release and I had the worst score of any other release that week. Obviously, I was embarrassed. The good news is that I was finally able to convince my truly smart team that simple, real language is much better than jargon.

Today, the consequence of using marketing-speak in marketing documents is much worse than getting the Buzzy award. Marketing speak can actually make your documents invisible to people using search engines. People rarely search for those terms and those words push down easy-to-understand descriptions of your solution. With 90 percent of web sessions starting with a search, visibility in search is critical for marketing and PR professionals who want to create pull for their documents.

How can you increase the visibility of press releases, Web copy, marketing documents and the company? Here are a few techniques:

1. Use natural language - Strongly avoid industry jargon, acronyms and other abbreviations that the average person who buys your product would not use.

2. People search for headache, not aspirin - When people search, they probably start with the problem and not the solution. When someone has a headache, that is what they will search for. They probably won't first search for aspirin. Your documents must prominently mention the problem - preferably in the headline. This point is expanded in Edelman's position paper titled Search Engine Visibility. (Disclosure: Edelman is my employer)

3. Use online tools to rank and test words - Search engines make it easy to discover what people are searching for. They do this because they want you, as an marketer, to buy those search terms. Lee Odden at Top Rank has a great list of these tools in his blog post titled How to Choose the Best Keywords for Optimized Public Relations.

4. Publish or perish - To create strong pull for your products or services in online search, you simply must have content for people to find. You can increase your existing content by four or five times simply by re-publishing everything in many different formats. For example, if you do a written customer case study think about how you can create a short format video or podcast of the same material. Instead of taking notes, turn it into a video interview with Skype. If you plan from the beginning to produce content in multiple formats, you'll find that it costs almost the same amount as producing for just one.

5. My CEO makes me use big words - I understand your problem, I lived it. If showing them this blog post doesn't solve the issue, you can go ahead and use those difficult-to-digest phrases. Be sure to also include the average person words too. Put them higher in the document and fight hard for the headline. If your document or press release gets mucky at the end, that probably won't hurt your visibility. When you get the Buzzy award, put it in a frame and put it over your CEO's desk.

The good-news ending to the Buzzy award story is that I was able to develop a real relationship with that reporter and turned it into a small story in his paper. Now, when I encounter marketing speak, I tell this story and like magic I'm able to banish the big words.

Do you have other techniques or stories about search engine visibility? I'd love to hear it in the comments.