'Searchability': Making your online content easier to find

Two savvy MIT community members share tips for improving your content’s searchability.


Whether you’re focused on social media, blog posts, photos, or videos, there are things you can do to make your content easier to find. Here are some simple tips from Stephanie Hatch Leishman of Communication Production Services and Amanda Justice of Academic Media Production Services.

Social media

“Every social network has a different way of increasing the searchability of its posts,” Leishman says. “There’s no one rule for the big umbrella of social media.” That said, hashtags — keywords preceded by the # symbol — are a common approach. Just as webpage tags get indexed by search engines, hashtags are searchable on many social media networks, but unlike webpage tags, hashtags are included as part of the text: "Don't be fooled by email that says you've exceeded your MIT #WebMail quota. It's a #phishing attempt!"

If you tweet about a subject but don’t mention that subject explicitly, you can add it as a hashtag at the end to improve the tweet’s searchability: "Evernote = awesome. The @Evernote blog is cool, too. http://ow.ly/3hleKN #productivity"

A good tweet requires a balance between engaging text (content strategy) and hashtags (searchability). The tweet has to be attention-grabbing and coherent to make readers want to click on the link, but you still need hashtags to help people find the tweet.

Since popular link shorteners such as Ow.ly or Ht.ly remove keywords from URLs, it’s important to reintroduce those keywords as hashtags. Leishman suggests using one to three hashtags, a nod to both social-media etiquette and the 140-character limit for tweets.

Google+ assigns hashtags to your posts for you, making content on a Google+ page more searchable automatically. You can still add your own hashtags.

You can also include hashtags in Facebook posts, though they aren’t widely used. Facebook has its own powerful in-house search engine, Graph Search, to handle precise queries. But on Facebook, searchability isn’t always a positive: You may want to limit who can access your profile.

Blogs

When it comes to searchability, blog posts behave more like web pages. A blog post’s title becomes part of its URL: “Secrets of Searchability” may be expressed as Secrets-of-Searchability in the URL. So be sure to use the most important keywords in the title.

Hashtags are not part of the equation here. WordPress and Blogger — the two biggest free blogging platforms — have fields for categories and tags. But overtagging a post makes it less findable, Leishman warns. Search engines register a long string of tags as overkill and lower that post’s rank.

WordPress suggests 5 to 15 relevant tags per blog post. Says the WordPress web site: “If you use more than 15 tags and categories (total), your posts will not appear on tag pages (because you don’t want to see irrelevant content showing up there, and neither do we).”

It’s also important to upload new content. If a blog is not updated for a long time, its ranking in Google drops.

Instagram

Instagram, the popular photo-sharing site, has a basic search interface that only lets you look for users and hashtags. Since hashtags play such a critical role in finding content, you can include a lot more of them here than is socially acceptable on other social networks. Most of the hashtags should come after the caption, although it’s fine to include one or two in the caption itself.

You can also search photos by location through geotags powered by FourSquare. For guidance on adding hashtags and location information to your Instagram photos, see the Editing Photos tutorials in the lynda.com course “Sharing Photos with Instagram.”

Video

Amanda Justice of Academic Media Production Services knows a thing or two about improving the searchability of videos. She notes that YouTube videos usually come up first in Google searches, and Vimeo videos appear farther down the list. While MIT TechTV and MITvideo have their own search functions, videos hosted on MITvideo also show up in Google.

Many tips for making your videos searchable echo those for tweets and blogs.

  • Make your video’s title compelling to get a better click-through rate. Be sure to include topic keywords first; the department or web site name can come at the end. In a similar vein, YouTube gives search preference to videos whose filenames include topic keywords (e.g., Secrets_of_Searchability.mov).
  • YouTube, TechTV, and Vimeo all offer the ability to add metadata — categories, tags, and a description. Be sure to fill in these fields when posting your video.
  • If your video has closed captions (highly encouraged), YouTube and Google both index the caption file.
  • Uploading new videos enhances searchability. To search engines, freshness indicates relevance, at least to some degree.
  • If you create a YouTube channel, as many MIT departments have, viewers can subscribe to it and receive updates when you add new videos.
  • Links to your video from other web sites will improve its search rank. If you mention your video in a blog post or on other social networks and include its URL, most sites will automatically embed the video.

Explore more

Beyond these basics, you may want to explore strategies for social media optimization (SMO) — providing ways for individuals to share your content across a range of social channels. Social sharing plays an important role in how today’s content gets seen.


Topics: Social media, Communication Production Services, Facebook, Twitter, Video

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