It’s been a while since my last Back to Basics post here, so I’m going to provide an example of one SEO task that can be a lot of fun if done right.
It’s an exercise in Mind Mapping, and is the kind of thing that can be done in a group. It involves getting something to write upon (ideally posterboard paper and a mix of different colored magic markers), and thinking non-linearly, while filling that paper up with ideas.
The ideas don’t necessarily have to be completely on topic, and sometimes writing down an idea that is only tangentially related to the topic may lead to the exploration of ideas and keyword development that are more relevant.
One of the points of performing search engine optimization on a web site is to make it possible for the site owner to be found in search engines for information that is relevant to inquiries from the audience that will be searching for it.
Making lists is one fun way to understand the tasks and needs that a web site might have to offer.
Here’s a start to a list of targeted audiences that might be visiting a site to perform different tasks.
For a school, different audiences and associated tasks might be:
- Students looking for a school
- Students looking for a school in a specific location
- Students looking for a school that offers certain programs or classes
- Students looking for information about the place that a school is located
- Students looking for information about housing, about financial aid, public transportation, and about other practical matters that don’t primarily involve classes and education.
- Students comparing more than one school
- Students who have decided upon a school and want to apply
- Parents or guardians of students looking for a school (locations, housing, financial aid information, etc.)
- Parents or guardians of students comparing more than one school
- Parents or guardians of students who have decided upon a school and want to apply
- Students (or their parents or guardians) who have been accepted by the school and want to know what to do next
- Returning students
- Parents of students who are presently attending the school and want to know the latest news about the school
- Students or parents looking for services or contact information while attending the school
- Alumni looking for people they attended a school with
- Alumni attempting to provide some money to an endowment fund
- Alumni trying to get transcripts or some other documentation
- Alumni looking for news about their alma mater
- Potential employees
- Vendors for the school
- Present day teachers and administrators of the school
- Previous teachers and administrators who are attempting to find someone that they worked with, or taught
- Sports fans attempting to find out schedules of the school’s teams
- Teachers and administrators comparing what the school has to offer to their own schools’ offerings
- Conference attendees visiting a conference or seminar held at the school
- People looking for specific information about a location on campus
- People looking for specific information about a program on campus
- Students and alumni and potential employers looking for a jobs placement office
I could go on with adding audience members and tasks for a while, but I might limit the size of this list and start looking at some existing school web sites to see which audience members they addressed, how those sites met information needs, and how they prioritized those needs. I would probably have quite a few audience members and tasks listed, and the task of listing them all might need more structure.
Before my lists get too large, I would want to start thinking about different ways that I could categorize some of these audience members and some of the tasks.
Some categories might ideally be best organized by audience members, and the nice thing about that is that if the structure of your web site echoes the categories that you create, you’ll be creating sections of a site that visitors can easily understand are for them. Separate sections for students, alumni, staff, and visitors might make some sense.
Other categories might better be organized by topics, such as different school departments, information about the physical layout of the campus, and classes offered.
I mentioned looking at other school sites. That should be done not to imitate any of the other schools, but rather to see some of the possible variety of approaches, and to find gaps that might have been missed with your mind map above, as well as possibly identifying things that other schools might have missed that could help you stand out.
As I look through those other pages, and think about the site that I am working upon, I ask myself a number of questions. For instance, are there pages or sections for each of these different audience members?
Some tasks are more important than others, and need to be prioritized. How might that be shown on the pages of the sites?
Do the pages use words that these audiences might use to search for those pages? Are those words being used in page titles and in the navigation of the site?
Is it easy for each of these audiences (and others that I might have missed), to find the information that they need, or complete the task that they set out to do when arriving at the home page, or any other page of the site?
This approach is one that could be used in anticipation of conducting keyword research, and in constructing the hierarchy of a site.
It can and should be augmented with information from the school about what they offer, but the process of thinking about the site in terms of audience and tasks is a step towards building a site that delivers the objectives of the site owners to the audiences that they want to focus upon.