SEO and Social Media: Don’t Tell Me Without Telling Me

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or without social media), you’ll immediately recognize this phrase:

“Tell me you’re a _______ without telling me you’re a ________”

For the uninitiated, this social trend is essentially an invitation to show any number of personal qualities through means of (usually) funny and witty imagery. People post a video or picture to proclaim their “I’m a ______”-dom. For example…

  • Tell me you’re an MCU fan without telling me you’re an MCU fan: photo of a life-sized replica of Mjölnir
  • Tell me you’re a gardener without telling me you’re a gardener: dirty, sweaty selfie
  • Tell me you have dogs without telling me you have dogs: video of a bed covered in dog hair and a floor covered with the guts of a throw pillow
  • Tell me you’re a Texan without telling me you’re a Texan: a drive-by shot of the Lone Star mural on the side of your home

You get the point.

It’s a really fun way for brands to jump into this trend to engage their fans*, but for organic SEO content, trying to “tell without telling” is a recipe for failure. Too many brands are so beholden to their voices, positioning, and descriptors that they end up not only confusing search engines, but they also confuse any new visitors that actually make it to their sites.

Google is as dumb as nails

My business partner loves to tell clients and prospective clients that “Google is as dumb as nails.” I don’t necessarily fully agree with that statement. Over the years, Google’s algorithm updates have made it about as intuitive, predictive, and representative of our search behaviors as it can possibly be. But he has a point.

Don’t believe him? Try this:

Do a Google search for “screwdriver” and tell me the results you get. I get recipes for the cocktail mixed among home improvement pages that sell the tool.

Search the word “orange” and there are even more options, including the color, the fruit, and the county.

In other words, if you want search engines to understand what you’re talking about – and ultimately if you want to attract customers to your site organically – you can’t leave anything up to chance. You have to tell people. Directly.

Here are three tips to making sure you are using the right words and phrases when optimizing your digital content for SEO.

1. Do keyword research

Did you know that in the United States, “outdoor furniture” is searched over 400,000 times per month while “exterior furniture” is searched less than 500 times? And “patio furniture” has an even higher search volume than “outdoor furniture”

When in doubt, using a keyword research tool to compare the search volume of different terms can help you find the most commonly-used terms for the service or product that you are selling.

pr advertising graphic

2. Stay away from jargon

I see this a LOT in the health and wellness field. So many hospitals, clinics, day spas, medical devices and other companies who provide anything at all related to medicine and treatments for humans use obscure medical and industry terms in their digital content.

How about this? Instead of “comorbidity,” try “conditions occurring at the same time.” Instead of calling something “idiopathic,” just say that it doesn’t have a known cause.

And for people who claim to be communication experts, marketing agency writers can also be pretty bad at this. Terms like “ecosystem orchestration,” “unified data,” and “radically-(anything)“ can make the agency seem sophisticated and clever, but they sure won’t help Google understand what you do or inform a lay-visitor who is simply looking for a good branding agency.

3. Intermingle your brand positioning terms with common ones.

A company selling lawnmowers would be pretty silly to call them “organic grass cutters,” right? Believe it or not, lots of brands try to stand out from the competition by creating their own category. This is cool and all and can certainly differentiate the brand in compelling ways. The problem is if the term is so radically (see what I did there?) obscure, then it’s going to be hard for Google to find you when someone is looking for a lawn mower.

Case in point: I once worked with a temp staffing agency that never wanted to call itself that. At every touchpoint – on their website, in their brochures and logo, and in their advertising – they would only describe themselves as “suppliers of qualified people power.” Great idea for your logos and email signatures, but terrible idea for your website content.

Put it this way, there are about 2,400 online searches for “people power” each month in America. By contrast, there are 110,000 searches for “temp agency” and 90,000 searches for “temp agency near me” per month. Which term do you think is going to bring the most people to the site?

If you sell Chinese food, “Beijing-inspired culinary delights” sound great, but if you want folks looking for Chinese food to find you, you better have that phrase at least a few times on your site and in your Google My Business profile.

The point is, you don’t have to shy away altogether from the cool, differentiating product categories your creatives have crafted. But if you want to be found by the more than 50 percent of people who begin their online journey with a Google search, you’d be smart to use the generic names more frequently, especially in titles and tags.

Bottom line: social media is certainly a great inspiration for keeping your brand relevant and timeless, but it’s not always the best strategy to copy when it comes to optimizing your content for organic search.

In other words, telling us without telling us will lead you to the bottom of the rankings.

*Back when I was a PR guy I gave a SXSW presentation titled “How to hijack someone else’s 15 minutes” and the basic idea was that there are always great opportunities for brands to enter the zeitgeist if their PR folks were paying attention. And some smart brand is going to leverage this trend to engage its most loyal fans (confidential to KU Athletics: Call me!).