There’s no denying that sometimes search engine optimization (SEO) gets a bad rap. At its worst it is seen as manipulative and dishonest, while others may find it just plain boring or are overwhelmed by the nit-picky details. However, SEO offers a world of possibility for screen media creators, especially if it is done with integrity and consistency as part of a larger engagement strategy. This week, From Search to Screen takes a look at some of the best practices for what I like to call “authentic” SEO and how it can be of benefit to a film, television show, web series or transmedia experience online.
Defining Authentic SEO
What do I mean by “authentic?” Search engine optimization is essentially about attracting a targeted audience from Internet search to your website, videos, images, social media presence and other online assets. When you use relevant language that people are already using to search, you are being authentic. When you do not misrepresent yourself and your project with that language, you are being authentic. When you provide real value to the audience you attract, you are being authentic. Because most screen media projects are not using SEO to its full extent (or often at all) this represents a HUGE opportunity for creators in this space to attract, keep and grow audience.
Authentic SEO Basics
Although the best practices detailed below are set out in a linear order, the process is often much more organic and fluid. However, authentic SEO should include all of these basic steps:
1. Set clear goals. Without clearly defining what you want to accomplish with your website, your YouTube channel, your Facebook page, it is difficult to plan an effective SEO strategy for each of these channels. Do you want to:
- Build a big audience for one project?
- Build an active, long-term community?
- Sell merchandise, video uploads & DVDs?
- Launch your career?
- Attract investors and advertisers?
- Make the world a better place?
Each choice above affects every step below.
2. Understand your success metrics. Once you have set clear goals, then you can start to define what success looks like, how you will measure it and how long these should take to achieve. Get specific. Will success mean a certain number of visits? Will it mean a specific percentage of return visits? More time spent engaging with your site? More video views? More memberships and signups? More sales? More fans and followers? More “shares” and “likes?” (I would NOT recommend search rankings as a success metric as they mean little in these days of personalized results.) Both goals and success metrics will also help you clarify who your audience is and what you want them to do. These are critical for shaping an authentic SEO strategy.
3. Find & use the right language. Broken record time, yep, it’s keyword research. This stage of authentic SEO is important to better define and understand your audience and the kind of language they use (your search market). It can also give you clues as to what to search for yourself to find your target market online. This in turn can give insight into how your potential audience thinks and what is important to them so you can provide them with the optimized content and opportunities for engagement they want.
4. Identify the right audience/target market. By understanding what you want to accomplish (goals), how this will be measured (success metrics), and the kind of search market you are targeting (keyword research) you can now focus on your audience with almost laser-like precision. And the more targeted, the more niche the better as you will have less competition and wasted effort. To paraphrase Scott Stratten of UnMarketing fame, instead of “push and pray” (casting a wide net that you hope reaches some people who are interested) you can build a “pull and stay” strategy (attracting a very relevant audience with whom you can engage effectively).
5. Authentic SEO and engagement. It may take significant time, effort and thought to practise search engine optimization with integrity, but it is worth the investment. The “pull” part of the strategy mentioned above has SEO written all over it. Instead of “pushing” out advertising everywhere, this kind of well thought out SEO allows you to connect with people who are actively searching for what you have to offer online through relevant search terms and “pull” them to your site, images, video, social media presence, etc. For the “stay” part of that equation, authentic optimization practices will help ensure you are providing the right kind of content and experiences. The following are examples of how SEO can inspire deeper audience engagement, using a film whose protagonist is an avid birdwatcher as the inspiration:
- Use the language the audience is already speaking/writing online (i.e. aves, ornithologist, finches, owls, etc.);
- Answer the questions they are typing into search engines (i.e. how do birds fly? why do birds migrate? etc.);
- Provide them richer, deeper content on the topics they are interested in (i.e. endangered birds, lists of birds, bird identification, etc.);
- Provide opportunities for engagement dictated by what they are searching for (i.e. bird watching forum, images of birds, bird sounds, etc);
- Even perhaps give opportunities to purchase relevant products (i.e. best binoculars for bird watching, spotting scopes for birding, etc).
6. Keep it real. SEO is great, but at the end of the day the most important thing to remember is that you are a real person talking to other real people. Keep this thought in mind and it will help you to be true your project, the audience you are targeting, and especially the one you are hoping will stick around and become an engaged community who will advocate for you through their online presence.
The Ultimate Advantage of Authentic SEO
Very few screen media properties do any kind of SEO. So the competitive advantage can be quite significant for those who do. But the biggest benefit is that authentic SEO provides an unbelievably strong online foundation, because it is real and based on providing value. You will be less likely to be negatively affected by big programming changes in the Google’s algorithm (like the infamous Panda update) and be a more welcome participant in any online conversation with which you want to engage your online community. So get ready, set, find and engage!
Do you have any other questions, resources, tips or insight about authentic search engine optimization? Please post below or send them via email to annelise(at)veria.ca or on Twitter @veriatweet.
Next Week: Say Cheese! A Global Transmedia Snapshot
Or Revisit Last Week: Search & Crowdsourcing: How to Find Community, Content & Cash Online