Why SEO is really community engagement optimization

by Crystal Paradis-Catanzaro

SEO isn’t gross. Its reputation has suffered from years of being associated with hacky marketing pitches, but it is an invaluable skill set to draw upon when engaging any community online. SEO best practices these days simply mean writing, organizing and attributing content online that is easily indexed by search engines, so that it can be found by your target audience — the community you’re looking to engage as a community organizer.

SEO in Copywriting & Content Strategy

SEO used to mean keyword-stuffing and “black hat” (playing dirty) nonsense that tried to trick search engines into ranking pages higher by exploiting technical loopholes. So, it’s understandable if you think writing to SEO best practices will result in stiff, jargon-y drivel. But it’s not like that anymore. Promise. Learning and implementing SEO best practices, particularly when writing online content, is an absolute genuine engagement booster.

Search engines haven’t quite caught up to the way humans think, but they’re getting close. While content marketers are busy optimizing their content for search engines, the search engines are busy trying to figure out how to optimize their results for the people using them to find information.

By looking at SEO guidelines, you’re looking at the results of multi-billion-dollar research on what humans who use the internet find useful. Optimize for those best practices, and chances are you’re improving your content for your own communities. (Hi, communities, I’m here to engage you better!)

From UX factor to X factor

One category of guidelines that search engines use to prioritize sites is user experience, or UX, guidelines. Having good UX means that your site, page or post is easy to “use” — easy to read, watch or navigate, everything works like a visitor would expect and it contains all the things promised in the title or description that led a person (the “user”) to your content. Make your site function intuitively and your UX, and therefore, your SEO, improves. Make it easy to buy stuff, sign up to volunteer or use a calculator tool, and your community engagement improves. Coincidence? Nope.

Improving your technical UX factor isn’t the only thing that will help your SEO. There’s also the “X factor” of just plain usefulness to your community. To judge this, search engines look at historical behavior — meaning that they pay attention what people have done when the’ve found your content in the past. Rather than a set of defined of technical specs, this factor doesn’t care why people like your content, they just see that they’re loving it and esteem your content accordingly.

This means that no matter what tricks you use or what rules you follow, if people find your content relevant and useful, that in and of itself will boost your SEO value. And who knows, the nifty way you’re structuring your content may end up being a best practice that search engines recommend that others follow in the future. Look at that — you’re a trendsetter!

Writing to SEO best practices, therefore, also means improving writing for humans.

Humans are notorious for being the ingredients of communities — and they are the ones that community engagement campaigns are trying to, well, engage.

That’s why keeping your copywriting and content strategy up to speed on SEO best practices equals stronger community engagement. Because by optimizing for search engines, you’re really optimizing for the communities who use search engines — which is a huge part of how people find and consume info online.

Learn from best practices, then think ahead of them

Strong headlines, concise bullet points and smart paragraph lengths are all important tools to help your copy appeal to Google and Bing. Writing this way also ensures that content has maximum “scannability,” since that’s how people tend to peruse sites these days, too.

But don’t get lost in these structural best practices. Straightforward language helps search engines to effectively analyze and serve up your content in the appropriate results pages. And, bonus, it helps the people you’re trying to engage understand your message. Since search engines are learning from you, too, don’t be afraid to take risks and do things differently if you have a hunch that your community will find more value in it.

And that’s how search engine optimization is also community engagement optimization. So if you’re in the business of optimizing for community engagement, go ahead and call yourself a CEO — community engagement optimizer.

Acronym Key

  • IRL = In real life, or offline, without the the use of interwebs
  • SEO = Search engine optimization
  • UX = User experience, or how easy your online content is to use