Search Engine Optimization (SEO) isn’t always cut and dried. While you may have a well-defined brand and set of products and services, sometimes the larger culture and your prospective customers may define you differently. As a result, you may have to modify your SEO efforts in order to reap the benefits. Let me give you one example.
I work for a non-profit organization which provides vocational training and employment services to adults with developmental disabilities.
Now, look at the term “developmental disabilities.” You might not be familiar with it because it has come into use rather recently. A term you might be more familiar with is “mentally retarded.” But that term has fallen out of favor and is seen as more of a derogatory term.
This is where it gets difficult. On our website, we don’t want to use the term “mentally retarded” because it is outdated and carries a lot of baggage. But, since there are still a lot of people who use this term, and might not be as familiar with newer phrases like “developmental disability” or “intellectual disability,” what do we do?
Why You Should Let Culture & Customers Drive SEO
If you look at Google Trends, which is a great tool for keyword research, you’ll notice that while “mentally retarded” is getting used much less in Google searches these days, it is still getting used. And we don’t want to miss out on not being able to reach those people. It’s also important to understand it’s not just a matter of being crass or ignorant. It’s often a function of age and culture.
And in your business situation there may be similar terms that the public uses, that you have moved beyond. Within an industry, we tend to be ahead of the curve when it comes to changes in terminology, and yet we need to account for some measure of public lag.
So here are a few steps you can take to make sure you are getting the SEO value out of situations like this:
- Understand that YOU don’t fully define your brand – you may manufacture widgets, but the general public might refer to them as “thingamabobs.” It might be out of ignorance, or it might be that it is a function of their age and culture. I drink “soda.” Others drink “pop” or “Coke.” But they are words that are often used to describe the same thing.
- Know how others are describing you and your products and services – Listen to your customers and prospective customers so that you can outguess them with your SEO. You need to know all of the different words and phrases being used by them to find you. In addition to the phrases I listed earlier, people also use phrases like “special needs” or “mentally challenged” to describe those we serve. There are many ways to do keyword research but in the end it’s all a matter of listening, regardless of whether the words they use are right or wrong.
- Find ways to incorporate that knowledge into your website SEO – We don’t want to use the term “mental retardation” on our site because it is outdated, carries baggage, and runs the risk of making us look insensitive to the very people with whom we work. But, there are ways to incorporate certain keywords on your site in an educational way. For instance, in certain places on our website when we refer to “Developmental disabilities” we also throw in a parenthetical “what was once referred to as mental retardation.”
In this way we get the keyword value without looking bad, and we are educating our public on top of that!
The times change, cultures change, and the terminology we use changes. And our SEO might need to reflect not just the world as we see it, but the world as our customers see it, so that we don’t miss out on a wider range of prospects.