SEO Update

August 4, 2010

With the new website design launched late last year, we’ve really taken some time to focus again on search engine optimization (SEO) the past several months. Reformatting text to adapt to the new template was an excellent opportunity to take a closer look at our language and ask whether we were following our own rules for web writing.

The new template for first-level landing pages forces a very brief, simple explanation of a program. This really helped us to keep top-level pages short and to the point. The boxes allow us to introduce content that isn’t static, to keep our pages fresh. We’re using better headings and subheads. The new design also allows us some flexibility for a page title – the title within the page can be different from the title in the navigation, which can help with context. We also now have deeper levels of navigation.

We’re not done reworking all of our higher-level pages yet, but the difference is already stark. They feel cleaner, crisper – we’re taking the guidelines for writing for the web to heart.

But how does this affect our search engine optimization?

Common wisdom would suggest that our SEO has improved tremendously – good web writing? No brainer.

And in most cases it has: our language is clear and focused. There is less “jargon.” The new design also includes an automatic cookie trail, which frees up our Page Title Tag. The introduction of sidebars has increased the ease of movement within our website — and links. These are some of the best things we can do for SEO.

But there are a couple of cases where this new format has had some unexpected consequences.

The Capacity Building Fund, one of our programs that’s traditionally the most difficult to explain, now has this new landing page template implemented. It’s clear and concise. Its children pages are more easily accessible in the navigation, and their content will be rewritten this fall. There are case studies being developed. It’s an exciting time to be working with CBF.

Yet its search ranking has plummeted. For programs like training and fiscal sponsorship, the most important keywords are obvious and limited. Nonprofit training opportunities is pretty self-explanatory. Executive transition and executive search are also simple to identify.

The Capacity Building Fund, however, is more difficult to describe. The relevant search terms are more varied, harder to define. Suddenly, they don’t all fit onto this new landing page. The old page was very long, especially for the web. But it encompassed so many of the search terms that it did well in search engines. Breaking down that content and spreading it amongst the children pages has had a detrimental effect on the landing page’s rank.

We’re looking at more traditional SEO methods to help the Capacity Building Fund move back up in the rankings, but have any of you encountered this dilemma before? How did you handle the balance between good, clean web writing and SEO for abstract concepts? What ideas do you have to share?

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