Digital Branding and SEO 101
Digital branding for scientists often involves blogging, and blogging involves SEO or search-engine optimization. Whether you write for a personal blog, for your lab’s website, or for an online publication, you need a basic understanding of SEO and its impact on discoverability.
While I’m not an SEO expert, I’ve learned some basic tricks and tips from researching blogging. Anyone can use these simple techniques to improve the SEO of their blogs, publications on websites, and other online writing.
SEO Begins with Keyword Research
SEO begins with keyword research. Keyword research begins with “user intent,” sometimes called “search intent.” When users open a browser to search for information related to your discipline, research, or lab website, what keywords will they type into the search bar? If you have some sense of that answer, then you have some sense of user/search intent.
Let’s say you run a lab website about your research on AI and robotics. You write a blog post about the videos of Boston Dynamic’s dancing robots. Your post is titled, “Embodying Entertainment in Human-Machine Interactions: An Ethical Perspective.” The post links to several webpages on your lab website, driving people to learn more about your work. You hope people will see your blog post alongside the viral videos when they search for them.
Good luck. No one looking for videos of dancing robots will compose a search remotely related to your title. What keywords should you use instead? Off the top of my head, I suggest: “Boston Dynamics; Dancing Robots; Artificial Intelligence (AI); Video; Ethics; Do you love me?”
You don’t have to rely on your instinct, though. There are numerous keyword research tools available. Google itself and the website Answer the Public are easy free keyword research tools often recommended by bloggers (though the latter has a daily search limit).
Type a keyword phrase into Google, pause, and observe what “auto-complete” recommendations come up. Those are keywords other users inputted when searching for the phrase you used. Thus, those are keywords you ought to incorporate into your blog post. If I type “Boston Dynamics” into Google, then Google suggests completing the search with “stock,” “robot dog,” “robots,” “dancing robots,” and “robot dog price,” among others.
Type in a keyword or phrase at Answer the Public, and the tool tells you what related phrases people use when searching the internet for that topic. If I type “Boston Dynamics” into Answer the Public, then it returns a list of 65 questions and statements related to that phrase. “Are Boston Dynamics robots remote-controlled?” “Are Boston Dynamics robots autonomous?” “Are Boston Dynamics robots CGI?” “Boston Dynamics will kill us all.”
Armed with this research, you might write a title like, “The Boston Dynamics Dancing Robot Dog Is Not CGI, Remote-Controlled, Entertaining, or Ethical.” Is it elegant? No. Is it academic? No. Will internet searchers be more likely to see stumble across it? Definitely.
Good SEO Uses Keywords Naturally
Google’s business depends on providing search results that meet people’s needs. Would you keep using Google if your searches rarely turned up information relevant or helpful?
Google’s algorithm detects “keyword stuffing” to prevent people from repeatedly using the keyword to boost the webpage’s search ranking. The algorithm penalizes such pages and rewards the pages that actually help people.
Of course, you must use your keywords or else Google won’t know your website provides information relevant to people using those keywords. The solution is to use the keywords with a certain frequency but also naturally. Try to incorporate the keywords into each of the first few paragraphs of your post, the primary headings, and the first paragraph under each heading.
Notice that I use “digital branding” and “SEO” in this post’s title and the first sentence. Then I use “SEO” repeatedly in the first two paragraphs and in each primary heading. Next, I use “keywords” in multiple headings and in the first paragraph under them. I favor “keywords” when the content shifts and cramming in “SEO” would be unnatural.
I brainstormed and revised the post’s title, opening sentences, and headings with SEO very much in mind.
Good SEO Uses Keywords in Headings
Google weights keywords in headings more than keywords elsewhere. Most blogging applications, or text-editors, allow up to six levels of headings.
H1 headings are usually reserved for the title of the webpage. Good SEO always incorporates the keywords into the H1 heading because this will become the preview in Google’s search results and the name of the window or tab in the browser.
H2 headings are typically used for primary headings throughout the webpage. It’s important to include keywords in these headings as much as possible. H3 headings can be used for subheadings. H4, H5, and H6 headings aren’t as important to SEO.
If your lab website makes neurological research accessible to the public, then you may want to capitalize on interest in Elon Musk’s neuralink prototype. A little keyword research leads us to “neuralink stock,” “neuralink human trials,” “neuralink chip,” and “neuralink brain chip.” Your title, then, might be, “Neuralink Human Trials Remain Far Off.”
After your post’s introduction, in which you talk about Neuralink human trials, you could use H2 headings such as “Approval Process for Human Trials,” “Implanting Neuralink in Human Brains,” or “Expect Neuralink Human Trials in 2030.”
SEO and Managing Metadata
Why is it so important to incorporate SEO keywords into your title and first paragraph? Google scrapes this content as metadata. Your post’s title becomes part of the URL that Google reads and displays. Your first paragraph becomes the content preview that Google shows in its search results. The metadata affects how your page ranks, but it also influences the decision to click.
Most bloggers, myself included, rarely think about their post’s metadata and customizing it for SEO. Most blogging applications, however, enable you to view and manage the metadata for precisely this purpose. Typically, you will click “settings” and then “SEO settings.” You’ll then be able to see what Google sees and change it if you’d like.
I’m working on making a habit of managing metadata because it frees up the introductions of my blog posts. I can write what I want and then change the metadata for SEO purposes later.
If you need to lay some groundwork about ethics before diving into the Boston Dynamics robots or human trials of neuralink, then you can take your time getting to the robots or neuralink but still ensure that Google and its users see a keyword-rich content preview.
Backlinks: The Holy Grail of SEO
Google rewards webpages that serve users well. How does Google’s algorithm know which webpages contain valuable content for users and which fall short?
How many people link back to a webpage? If a webpage has tons of “backlinks” from other pages, then Google takes that as a sign of the quality of the page’s content. Google trusts users who find enough value in a website to include links to it on their own website.
To get backlinks, you can blog for other sites (like Edge for Scholars!) and include a link back to your own website, a particular webpage or blog post, or to other relevant sites. Often, this can be as simple as including a link in your bio or a “learn more” section.
But please don’t misunderstand me. Do. Not. Link-bomb. Your. Posts. Include links to your own work if it’s relevant to your post and its readers.
Even better, produce great content for your intended audience and promote it within your professional network. If your lab website is the go-to resource on robot ethics or neural interfaces, then other people writing about those topics will link back to it. If people in your network, who are likely doing similar work, write about related topics, then they may include links to your content as support for their ideas.
Summary and Resources for SEO
Basic SEO is well within your reach.
- Think about user/search intent relative to your website or blog
- Spend a few minutes getting search suggestions from Google, Answer the Public, or other free keyword research tools
- Consider keywords while drafting and revising your title, headings, and content
- Manage the metadata to ensure Google scrapes your keywords
- Produce great content on your website and others to earn back-links
As I said, these are basic tips. To learn more about SEO, I recommend the following resources:
- MOZ SEO Guide
- Wix.com Blog – How to Do Keyword Research
- Wix.com Blog – How to Write a Strong SEO Title Tag that Google Will Love
And if you learned from this essay, you might also benefit from:
- Digital Branding that Beats Social Media Algorithms
- Use Schema to Stop the Audience’s Scroll
- 5 Authors Who Turn Twitter Followers into Fans
Follow me @eric_sentell and ericsentell.medium.com.
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