SEO is Dead. Long Live OAO.

9 tips for implementing online audience optimization strategies now.

For content publishers, search engine optimization—which we’ve all come to know as SEO—is dead. Rising from its ashes is OAO—online audience optimization.

SEO was the art and science of creating web pages that generated traffic and high rankings in the search engines. It relied on keywords, links, page rank, and site structure to work its magic, and it has always been a bit of a moving target for webmasters. Search engines, wishing to stay ahead of SEO spammers who might use the knowledge to game the system, have kept their algorithms secret, constantly tweaking them to prevent their exploitation.

As publishers have gotten more sophisticated in their online presence, they have chafed under perceived restrictions of optimizing pages for search. The use of keywords in content has seemed at times antithetical to good journalism. Keeping Google and its cohorts in mind when creating web content has seemed to some like pandering. And the spammy tactics of less-reputable SEO wizards casts a sleazy pall over the entire process.


Enter OAO
OAO is the collection of techniques that online content publishers use to rise above the pack of sales sites, catalog sites, or sites that live through shady SEO practices, generating cheap clicks that cause unwary web surfers to stumble upon their pages. OAO allows online publishers to leverage their greatest assets—their wealth of high-quality content—to create a consistent web-wide presence, and generate consistent new and repeat visitors. OAO uses the best practices of SEO, along with social media, content sharing, engagement mechanics and branding, to build and optimize loyal and targeted audiences for online content publishers.

OAO is an emerging discipline, but savvy publishers can begin to put its elements in place in their online strategies right away. Here are some tips to get you started:

1. Focus on the brand. Sharpen up your editorial mission and communicate it. Words and phrases that are important to the brand should be shared with your webmaster, your social media strategist, and your SEO team. Every phrase used by them in headings, captions and anchor text should display dual relevancies: to the searcher and to the product.

2. Be consistent and clear about your strategy and purpose, both online and offline. If your print product is serious and practical, your online presence can be playful and whimsical—but everyone involved must understand the reason. Is your online audience different from your offline one? Do you have different goals for your site versus your print product? And if so, how is the duality managed? Where do the approaches dovetail?

3. Cast a wide net. Today, social media provides one of the strongest correlations with high search engine rankings. Build out your presence on social media and content sharing sites, but focus especially on Google Plus, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest.

4. At the same time, cast a targeted net. Your goal is not to bring the maximum number of visitors to your site. It is to capture potential audience members. Working to increase site traffic is pointless if the visitors who land on the site don’t stay. With that in mind, search for and connect with those people who need the content that your site offers. Stay away from empty promises in both SEO and SEM.

5. Encourage audience participation. Time on site and bounce rate are two of the main indicators that search engines use to evaluate sites and, hence, two of the main factors for site searchability. There are few metrics more significant in building and maintaining your audience and your presence in the search engines. Build audience engagement through polls, quizzes, reader-submitted content, sharing and comments.

6. Employ engagement mechanics and gamification techniques. You don’t have to put games on your site to use the techniques that make games so rich, immersive and interactive. While points, badges and leader boards make up the the low-hanging fruits of gamification, they represent only a beginning to the engagement mechanics publishers can build into their sites to encourage audience participation and build site interactivity.

7. Integrate your mobile strategy. Optimize your mobile and desktop sites, not only for search engines, but for social sharing, local and national apps, and personal assistants.

8. Don’t obsess about keyword density. Practices having to do with keyword density are increasingly irrelevant, and in fact can result in content that looks like spam to the new Google updates. In keeping with Google’s long-time strategy, the search engine’s recent updates look, above all, for the natural use of language in web content. Use your keywords in your titles and captions, and don’t worry so much about using them in the body of the text.

9. De-emphasize metatagging. It’s been a long time since Google took those tags seriously, and from a Google-centric point of view there isn’t much point in them today. (However, don’t abandon metatagging entirely—as other search engines will still pay attention to tag contents). The exception is the description metatag, which still has a role to play.

OAO integrates effectively with all the media strategies of online publishers. It enables them to do the thing that continues to be of paramount importance—to build an ongoing relationship with their audience members.


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