Beyond SEO: Online Audience Optimization

Shweiki Media teams up with Linda Ruth—CEO and president of PSCS Consulting and authority on marketing and audience development—to present content publishers with a webinar on the principles of online audience optimization.

Is SEO Dead?

Today, content publishers believe search engine optimization, or SEO, is dead. Linda Ruth announced the death of SEO a few years ago, because she found that many publishers disliked its concept. Rather than trying to explain how SEO was misunderstood and maligned, Ruth thought it would be better to develop a different concept that had all the principles of audience development. This concept is called online audience optimization or OAO.

SEO is a discipline that offers discoverability, findability and searchability; it’s the new newsstand. It’s also an online shop window and still very necessary.

However, in the eyes of publishers, SEO is seen as being quite limited. SEO, after all, is the art and science of creating web pages that generate traffic and high ranking in the search engine, and its reliance on key words, page length and strength, and site structure makes it a moving target for web masters. Search engines, such as Google, are always trying to stay ahead of spammers that might use knowledge of SEO to take advantage of the system. Therefore, search engines are always tweaking their algorithms to avoid exploitation.

Over the years, publishers have become more sophisticated in their online presence and, as a result, chafe under the perceived restrictions of optimizing pages for search.

Online Audience Optimization

In order to meet the needs of content publishers, Ruth developed the discipline of online audience optimization, or OAO. OAO is the collection of techniques that online publishers use to rise above the pack of sales sites, catalog sites, or sites that live through shady SEO and generate cheap clicks. It allows publishers to leverage their high-quality content to create a consistent, web-wide presence. It also generates new and repeat visitors.

OAO is using the best practices of SEO and Internet marketing, along with social media, content sharing, engagement mechanics and branding, to build and optimize loyal target audiences for content publishers. Although it is only an emerging discipline, OAO is already an important tool for not only bringing an audience to a publisher’s content and engaging with them, but also for converting that audience.

How to Get Started with OAO

Focus on the Brand: Publishers should sharpen their editorial mission and communicate that mission. Words and phrases that are important to one’s brand should be shared with everyone to make sure all are on the same page. These people include the web master, social media strategist, SEO team and even the social media intern. Every phrase in the heading and anchor texts should display dual relevancy to both the searcher and to the brand.

Clarify Strategy and Purpose: One should be consistent and clear about the strategy and purpose, both online and offline.

Cast a Wide Net: Social media shows one of the strongest correlations with high search engine rankings. Therefore, it is essential for publishers to build out their presence on social media and content sharing sites. It’s best to focus on Google Plus, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest.

Cast a Target Net: At the same time one is casting a wide net, they should make sure that the net is also targeted. The goal is no longer to bring in the total maximum number of visitors to the site; now the goal is to capture potential audience members. One wants to work on increasing site traffic, but not at the risk or the expense of the longevity of the stay of the visitors who land on the site.

It is pointless to bring in people who are going to bail right away. Therefore, one should search for and connect with people who need the content the site offers. Also, one should stay away from empty promises from both SEO and SEM and encourage audience participation.

Time on site and bounce rate are two of the main indicators that search engines use to evaluate sites and therefore are important for searchability and audience development.

Employee Engagement Mechanics and Gamification Techniques: Points, badges and leaderboards can be a part of the gamification, but they are only the beginning. Publishers build into their sites with all sorts of gamification practices to encourage participation and build interactivity.

Integrate Mobile Strategy: One should not forget to integrate their mobile strategy. It optimizes mobile and desktop sites not only for search engines, but also for social sharing, local and national apps, and also personal assistants.

Additional Resources: 

PSCS consulting

Exceptional  Women in Publishing;

Women in Digital Media:

Magazine Dojo:


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