Community SEO: SEO best practices

  • 25 October 2017
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High ranks on SERPs not only depend on the quality of the meta tags. Ranking higher or lower in the SERPs depends on the relevance that search engines attach to your content.

This relevance is best known as Page Authority. For search engines pages with higher authority are pages which provide higher content quality against a specific search query. Pages with low authority are those which are deemed as unfriendly to users: this occurs with link farms, pages with duplicate content, pages with hidden content, with an excessive repetition of keywords and other unfriendly practices.

There are three key elements that will grant authority to your community:
  1. Content quality optimization
  2. Incoming link optimization (link building)
  3. Shareability
This section discusses each of these elements separately and explains how to ensure your community is optimized for all of them.

Content quality optimization

Choosing the right keywords and placing them in the right places in your content is essential to increase your community’s SEO value.

Headlines, sub-headlines, public tags and styling

All these content elements have SEO value for search engines. They should all be used wisely and optimally throughout posts (See Appendix: Keyword volumes and competition). In a community this may raise two important questions:

If our moderators or content managers post topics and replies everyday, they can’t possibly search for unique keywords every time they do this?

They can’t and they shouldn’t. Instead this is what a community’s moderation team (led by the community manager) should do.
  1. Identify the 10 most popular topics/themes in your community on a monthly basis (make sure to filter according to country and language)
  2. Use a keyword planner to check the current search volumes of keyword groups related to these topics/themes
  3. Based on the keyword planner’s results focus on no more than 5 of these keyword groups
  4. Make sure all moderators and content creators know these keyword groups
With this information in place the community is now ready to optimize its content for the following month. Below are 5 best practices that ensure your content has high SEO value:
  • Make sure that all topics (user generated or internal) contain public tags that always include at least 1 of these keywords (preferably more).
  • Make sure that all content created by the company uses at least 1 keywords (preferably 2 or 3)
  • Make sure that 20% (1 out of 5) topics created by users contain at least 1 of these keywords
  • Make sure that the body of your company’s created topics contains at least 1 of these selected keywords in bold or italic styles
  • Make sure that the body of your topics or replies contains these keywords either in H2 and H3 format
With these best practices in mind you may still be wondering: does this mean that all user content is sub-optimal or has no SEO power?

Not all content needs to be optimized through keywords (see Optimization for long tails below) and most importantly, content should always be easy for humans to read and understand--so not only meant for search engines to understand.

With regards to user generated content optimizing 20% of headings will have an impact on your SEO rankings, without appearing as too intrusive for your users--in fact if the 1 in 5 rules raises complaints by users, limit it to 1 in 10. Next to this however, there is also the possibility for long tail optimization.

SEO for long tail keywords

Long tail keywords is a term used to refer to search queries that are related, from a thematic point of view, but which individually have only small search volumes. When a vertical entails a very large portfolio of possible products, which are B2B and B2C, which have a lot of specifications and are complex in nature, the amount of different search queries can be potentially enormous. In these verticals, optimizing content for long tail keywords is often the best option.Example of long tail keywordsSuppose you are the owner of a second hand car retailing venue in New York and you have just created a website for your company. You want to optimize your website to ensure you rank high for your relevant SERPs. You asked your content manager to come up with the best keywords in terms of volumes and competition (see Appendix for details on how to choose keywords based on volume and competition).8 Your content manager comes back to your office, disappointingly looks at you and tells you that he has struggled to find better keywords than these three:
  • car sales (with 5 million queries and 90% competition)
  • cheap cars (with 100K queries and 90% competition)
  • car dealerships (with 500K queries and 85% competition)
Given the competition levels your second hand dealership has virtually zero chance for winning those rankings. What can you do? The answer is long tail searches. To do this you hire an SEO consultant, who comes back to your office and tells you he has found a solution for your company. He proposes that instead of focusing on short queries, with very high volumes, you focus on winning long tail search queries. He gives you the following potential options:
  • second hand Toyota dealer in NY (with 2.5K searches and 5% competition)
  • cheap Toyotas, GMs and Ford in New York City (with 1.8K searches and 1% competition)
  • best deals on 2012 Toyota Landrover (with 3K searches and 10% competition)
  • best deals on 2014 Toyota Camry (with 2.5K searches and 2% competition)
  • second hand Camry, Focus, Civic Prius in New York State area (with 2K searches and 3% competition)
Next to this he gives you an additional list of 10 queries all of which add up to a total search volume of 200K. Your SEO consultant tells you that it is easier for you to dominate searches around these keywords because of their low competition, rather than any of your previous keyword choices, no matter how high their volume, given their very high competition.The next step for you is to use all these long tail keywords in the copy of your website. In this case the amount of copy planned for your website may limit your ability to properly optimize for so many keywords. To be able properly optimize for long tails your company will have to use the content of its blog and FAQ page. In fact the more content you can optimize for the better. The key of long tail optimization lies in having large content volumes that drive engagement. For the latter communities present an unmatched channel for companies to be able to win in the SERPS of many long tail keywords.

Additional tips for community content optimization

Applying tags and marking answers as being ‘right’

Each forum topic can be given any amount of public tags to specify the general subject(s) treated in the post. The use of tags in different topics creates different pathways towards a topic.

In a similar way to ‘tags’, marking right questions as such can help search engine bots understand the themes or subject of a webpage and help them contextualize different forms of content.

When a question (topic) receives a right answer, this answered topics will have the benefit of including all relevant information (both question text and answer) in the top of the page. This enables bots to understand the relation between different replies and between question and answer. This will highly increase the chance of search engine queries being matched to the community’s content, if a related question is asked through a search engine.

Curating your content to improve SEO

Once a community grows, content volumes increase on a daily basis. However, a consequence of increasing topic volumes quality topics tend to be quickly buried in the rest of your archive, and hence forgotten. To reduce this effect, it can be effective to curate your most popular content. You could, for example, create a series of “Frequently Asked Question” topics, which are set as sticky topics for each forum. Not only will this help your users find answers faster, but it will also help boats locate quality topics within your community.

Incoming link optimization (link building)

SEO power is to a certain extent transmissible: this means that the content authority of another page can be sent to your page (use your blogs, websites to place links to your content). If you have blogs, social media channels, wiki pages, etc., or if your company publishes in third party channels the SEO power of this pages will be passed to your community when you use links within their copy that direct users towards your community (back or forward links). The more links you have and the better ranked the pages where you place these links are, the more SEO power will be transmitted to your community. The practice of implementing a strategy that directs links towards your site in order to increase its SEO power is called link building.

The best practices to keep in mind here are:
  •         Most of sharing happens in social media so the effort needs to focus there (post popular topics and send people from social media to the community)
  •          Open a topic in social media or blog and open the forum for discussion making sure right links are placed
Ask your developers to help you make your content easy to share (using open graph protocols).

Additional tips to improve the SEO value of your community

  •         Check content rankings within your own community
  •          Use the social media post titles that have resonated better
  •          Use similar keyword ideas across content channels and make sure they are all integrated (blogs, forums, website)
  •          Use exit surveys to ask people what they want to know more about

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