Where do Professional Organizations Draw the SEO Line?

An image depicting a woman viewing the Bean Institute webpage

By AJ Shurr, Communications Specialist

Websites have two audiences: users and search engines. And their needs do not always match up.

The best example of this conflict is recipe pages on blogs. Often you must scroll past paragraph after paragraph before getting to what you want: The recipe. That is not to say all information before a recipe is unneeded. Some dive into tips-and-tricks, ingredient substitution options, and variations. But some go into detail about barely relevant – and sometimes completely unrelated – information. Why the unnecessary text? Search engine optimization (SEO).

Longer content is a tried-and-true strategy for ranking higher in search results. The shortest word length recommendation, from an SEO perspective, is 300 words. One SEO-focused company writes, “If you publish a bare recipe, the likelihood is that nobody will see it.”

It is imperative to find the delicate balance between performing well on search engines and appealing to users. Hitting the coveted first page on Google will not be beneficial if users exit without exploring the content or do not trust information. On the other hand, having a website perfectly tailored to your user is irrelevant if they can’t find it.

So, as a professional organization, how do you find that balance between the needs of your users and your SEO strategies? Here are a few tips:

  1. Domain
    Your domain name should make sense. If you are the Missouri Blueberry Council, a logical progression would be missouriblueberries.com or www.moblueberry.org. A domain with keywords, like www.missourihealthfood.com, might help you rank in search results but will confuse users and hurt your credibility.
  2. Structure
    A cornerstone of any website is it being easily navigable. This helps users access the content they are seeking and is a tenet of a good SEO strategy. All pages should be accessible – if the content can’t be found, search engines can’t index it and it won’t show in results.

    When building your website, keep in mind how fast each page will load. If the page loads too slowly users will quickly exit which will hurt your ranking in search results. Overall, user-friendliness benefits all. To that end, internal and external links on each page will help you perform better with both users and search engines.

  3. Content
    When it comes to content, SEO strategies should be used as guides, not rules. You should not compromise the authenticity and credibility of your company/organization to rank higher in search results.

    Consider keyword optimization. It is an SEO basic and utilizing trending phrases can help improve ranking in search results. Yet, implementing those words or phrases could have a negative effect on your reputation depending on who your users are. For example, if your audience is researchers and you are sharing content on foods that improve cognitive function, switching the language to the trending “brain function” may hurt your scientific credibility. But if your audience is general consumers, the trending phrase may be beneficial to include.

    Consider word count. Write until you have covered the topic to your satisfaction, aiming for at least 300 words. If it is longer, great! But don’t fall into the trap of adding unrelated filler to reach a word count.

For some websites, like the recipe creators mentioned in the example above, gaining more clicks generates more revenue and can be worth sacrificing user experience. But as a professional organization focused on reputation, that decision isn’t as straightforward. There is value in optimizing your website for search engines but do not lose sight of your users along the way.