Everything You Need to Know About Mobile App Search

Posted by Justin_Briggs

Mobile isn’t the future. It’s the present. Mobile apps are not only changing how we interact with devices and websites, they’re changing the way we search. Companies are creating meaningful experiences on mobile-friendly websites and apps, which in turn create new opportunities to get in front of users.

I’d like to explore the growth of mobile app search and its current opportunities to gain visibility and drive engagement.

Rise of mobile app search

The growth of mobile device usage has driven a significant lift in app-related searches. This is giving rise to mobile app search as a vertical within traditional universal search.

While it has been clear for some time that mobile search is important, that importance has been more heavily emphasized by Google recently, as they continue to push
mobile-friendly labels in SERPs, and are likely increasing mobile-friendliness’s weight as a ranking factor.

The future of search marketing involves mobile, and it will not be limited to optimizing HTML webpages, creating responsive designs, and optimizing UX. Mobile SEO is a world where apps, knowledge graph, and conversational search are front and center.

For the
top 10 leading properties online, 34% of visitors are mobile-only (comScore data), and, anecdotally, we’re seeing similar numbers with our clients, if not more.

Mobile device and app growth

It’s also worth noting that
72% of mobile engagement relies on apps vs. on browsers. Looking at teen usage, apps are increasingly dominant. Additionally,
55% of teens use voice search more than once per day

If you haven’t read it, grab some coffee and read
A Teenagers View on Social Media, which is written by a 19-year old who gives his perspective of online behavior. Reading between the lines shows a number of subtle shifts in behavior. I noticed that every time I expected him say website, he said application. In fact, he referenced application 15 times, and it is the primary way he describes social networks.

This means that one of the fasting growing segments of mobile users cannot be marketed to by optimizing HTML webpages alone, requiring search marketers to expand their skills into app optimization.

The mobile app pack

This shift is giving rise to the mobile app pack and app search results, which are triggered on searches from mobile devices in instances of high mobile app intent. Think of these as being similar to local search results. Considering
mobile searcher behavior, these listings dominate user attention.

Mobile app search results and mobile app pack

As with local search, mobile app search can reorder traditional results, completely push them down, or integrate app listings with traditional web results.

You can test on your desktop using a
user-agent switcher, or by searching on your iOS or Android device. 

There are slight differences between iPhone and Android mobile app results:

iOS and Android mobile search result listing

From what I’ve seen, mobile app listings trigger more frequently, and with more results, on Android search results when compared to iOS. Additionally, iOS mobile app listings are represented as a traditional website result listing, while mobile app listings on Android are more integrated.

Some of the differences also come from the differences in app submission guidelines on the two major stores, the Apple App Store and Google Play.

Overview of differences in mobile app results

  1. Title – Google uses the app listing page’s HTML title (which is the app’s title). iOS app titles can exceed 55-62 characters, which causes wrapping and title truncation like a traditional result. Android app title requirements are shorter, so titles are typically shorter on Android mobile app listings.
  2. URL – iOS mobile app listings display the iTunes URL to the App Store as part of the search result.
  3. Icon – iOS icons are square and Android icons have rounded corners.
  4. Design – Android results stand out more, with an “Apps” headline above the pack and a link to Google Play at the end.
  5. App store content – The other differences show up in the copy, ratings, and reviews on each app store.

Ranking in mobile app search results

Ranking in mobile app search results is a
combination of App Store Optimization (ASO) and traditional SEO. The on-page factors are dependent upon your app listing, so optimization starts with having solid ASO. If you’re not familiar with ASO, it’s the process of optimizing your app listing for internal app store search.

Basics of ASO

Ranking in the Apple App Store and in Google Play is driven by two primary factors: keyword alignment and app performance. Text fields in the app store listing, such as title, description, and keyword list, align the app with a particular set of keywords. Performance metrics including download velocity, app ratings, and reviews determine how well the app will rank for each of those keywords. (Additionally, the Google Play algorithm may include external, web-based performance metrics like citations and links as ranking factors.)

App store ranking factors

Mobile app listing optimization

While I won’t explore ASO in-depth here, as it’s very similar to traditional SEO,
optimizing app listings is primarily a function of keyword targeting.

Tools like
Sensor Tower, MobileDevHQ, and App Annie can help you with mobile app keyword research. However, keep in mind that mobile app search listings show up in universal search, so it’s important to leverage traditional keyword research tools like the AdWords Tool or Google Trends.

While there are similarities with ASO, optimizing for these mobile app search listings on the web has some slight differences.

Differences between ASO & mobile app SEO targeting

  1. Titles – While the Apple App Store allows relatively long titles, they are limited to the preview length in organic search. Titles should be optimized with Google search in mind, in addition to optimizing for the app store. Additionally, several apps aggressively target keywords in their app title, but caution should be used as spamming keywords could influence app performance in Google.
  2. Description – The app description on the App Store may not be a factor in internal search, but it will impact external app search results. Leverage keyword targeting best practices when writing your iOS app description, as well as your Android app description.
  3. Device and platform keywords – When targeting for app store search, it is not as important to target terms related to the OS or device. However, these terms can help visibility in external search. Include device and OS terms, such as Android, Samsung Note, iOS, iPad, and iPhone.

App performance optimization

Outside of content optimization, Google looks at the performance of the app. On the Android side, they have access to the data, but for iOS they have to rely on publicly available information.

App performance factors

  • Number of ratings
  • Average rating score
  • Content and sentiment analysis of reviews
  • Downloads / installs
  • Engagement and retention
  • Internal links on app store

For iOS, the primary public metrics are ratings and reviews. However, app performance can be inferred using the App Store’s ranking charts and search results, which can be leveraged as proxies of these performance metrics.


The following objectives will have the greatest influence on your mobile app search ranking:

  1. Increase your average rating number
  2. Increase your number of ratings
  3. Increase downloads

For app ratings and reviews, leverage platforms like
Apptentive to improve your ratings. They are very effective at driving positive ratings. Additionally, paid tactics are a great way to drive install volume and are one area where paid budget capacity could directly influence organic results in Google. Anecdotally, both app stores use rating numbers (typically above or below 4 stars) to make decisions around promoting an app, either through merchandising spots or co-branded campaigns. I suspect this is being used as a general cut-off for what is displayed in universal results. Increasing your rating above 4 stars should improve the likelihood you’ll appear in mobile app search results.

Lastly, think of merchandising and rankings in terms of 
internal linking structures. The more visible you are inside of the app store, the more visibility you have in external search.

App web performance optimization

Lastly, we’re talking Google rankings, so factors like links, citations, and social shares matter. You should be
conducting content marketing, PR, and outreach for your app. Focus on merchandising your app on your own site, as well as increasing coverage of your app (linking to the app store page). The basics of link optimization apply here.

App indexation – drive app engagement

Application search is not limited to driving installs via app search results. With app indexing, you can leverage your desktop/mobile website visibility in organic search to drive engagement with those who have your app installed. Google can discover and expose content deep inside your app directly in search results. This means that when a user clicks on your website in organic search, it can open your app directly, taking them to that exact piece of content in your app, instead of opening your website.

App indexation fundamentally changes technical SEO, extending SEO from server and webpage setup to the setup and optimization of applications.

App indexation on Google

This also fundamentally changes search. Your most avid and engaged user may choose to no longer visit your website. For example, on my Note 4, when I click a link to a site of a brand that I have an app installed for, Google gives me the option not only to open in the app, but to set opening the app as a default behavior.

If a user chooses to open your site in your app, they may never visit your site from organic search again.

App indexation is currently limited to Android devices, but there is evidence to suggest that it’s already in the works and is
soon to be released on iOS devices. There have been hints for some time, but markup is showing up in the wild suggesting that Google is actively working with Apple and select brands to develop iOS app indexing.

URI optimization for apps

The first step in creating an indexable app is to set up your app to support deep links. Deep links are URIs that are understood by your app and will open up a specific piece of content. They are effectively URLs for applications.

Once this URI is supported, a user can be sent to deep content in the app. These can be discovered as alternates to your desktop site’s URLs, similar to how
separate-site mobile sites are defined as alternate URLs for the desktop site. In instances of proper context (on an Android device with the app installed), Google can direct a user to the app instead of the website.

Setting this up requires working with your app developer to implement changes inside the app as well as working with your website developers to add references on your desktop site.

Adding intent filters

Android has
documented the technical setup of deep links in detail, but it starts with setting up intent filters in an app’s Android manifest file. This is done with the following code.

<activity android:name="com.example.android.GizmosActivity"
android:label="@string/title_gizmos" >
<intent-filter android:label="@string/filter_title_viewgizmos">
<action android:name="android.intent.action.VIEW" />
<data android:scheme="http"
android:host="example.com"
android:pathPrefix="/gizmos" />
<category android:name="android.intent.category.DEFAULT" />
<category android:name="android.intent.category.BROWSABLE" />
</intent-filter>
</activity>

This dictates the technical optimization of your app URIs for app indexation and defines the elements used in the URI example above.

  • The <intent-filter> element should be added for activities that should be launchable from search results.
  • The <action> element specifies the ACTION_VIEW intent action so that the intent filter can be reached from Google Search.
  • The <data> tag represents a URI format that resolves to the activity. At minimum, the <data> tag must include the android:scheme attribute.
  • Include the BROWSABLE category. The BROWSABLE category is required in order for the intent filter to be accessible from a web browser. Without it, clicking a link in a browser cannot resolve to your app. The DEFAULT category is optional, but recommended. Without this category, the activity can be started only with an explicit intent, using your app component name.

Testing deep links

Google has created tools to help test your deep link setup. You can use
Google’s Deep Link Test Tool to test your app behavior with deep links on your phone. Additionally, you can create an HTML page with an intent:// link in it.

For example
:

<a href="intent://example.com/page-1#Intent;scheme=http;package=com.example.android;end;"> <a href="http://example.com/page-1">http://example.com/page-1></a>

This link would open up deep content inside the app from the HTML page.

App URI crawl and discovery

Once an app has deep link functionality, the next step is to
ensure that Google can discover these URIs as part of its traditional desktop crawling.

Ways to get apps crawled

  1. Rel=”alternate” in HTML head
  2. ViewAction with Schema.org
  3. Rel=”alternate” in XML Sitemap

Implementing all three will create clear signals, but at minimum you should add the rel=”alternate” tag to the HTML head of your webpages.

Effectively, think of the app URI as being similar to a mobile site URL when
setting up a separate-site mobile site for SEO. The mobile deep link is an alternative way to view a webpage on your site. You map a piece of content on your site to a corresponding piece of content inside the app.

Before you get started, be sure to
verify your website and app following the guidelines here. This will verify your app in Google Play Developer Console and Google Webmaster Tools.

#1: Rel=”alternate” in HTML head

On an example page, such as example.com/page-1, you would add the following code to the head of the document. Again, very similar to separate-site mobile optimization.

<html>
<head> 
... 
<link rel="alternate" href="android-app://com.example.android/http/example.com/page-1" /> 
...
</head>
<body>
</body>
#2: ViewAction with Schema.org

Additionally, you can reference the deep link using Schema.org and JSON by using a 
ViewAction.

<script type="application/ld+json"> 
{ 
"@context": "http://schema.org", 
"@type": "WebPage", 
"@id": "http://example.com/gizmos", 
"potentialAction": { 
"@type": "ViewAction", 
"target": "android-app://com.example.android/http/example.com/gizmos" 
} 
} 
</script>
#3 Rel=”alternate” in XML sitemap

Lastly, you can reference the alternate URL in your XML Sitemaps, similar to using the rel=”alternate” for mobile sites.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8" ?>
<urlset xmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9" xmlns:xhtml="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml"> 
<url> 
<loc>http://example.com/page-1</loc> 
<xhtml:link rel="alternate" href="android-app://com.example.android/http/example.com/page-1" /> 
</url> 
... 
</urlset>

Once these are in place, Google can discover the app URI and provide your app as an alternative way to view content found in search.

Bot control and robots noindex for apps

There may be instances where there is content within your app that you do not want indexed in Google. A good example of this might be content or functionality that is built out on your site, but has not yet been developed in your app. This would create an inferior experience for users. The good news is that we can block indexation with a few updates to the app.

First, add the following to your app resource directory (res/xml/noindex.xml).

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?> 
<search-engine xmlns:android="http://schemas.android.com/apk/res/android"> 
<noindex uri="http://example.com/gizmos/hidden_uri"/> 
<noindex uriPrefix="http://example.com/gizmos/hidden_prefix"/> 
<noindex uri="gizmos://hidden_path"/> 
<noindex uriPrefix="gizmos://hidden_prefix"/> 
</search-engine>

As you can see above, you can block an individual URI or define a URI prefix to block entire folders.

Once this has been added, you need to update the AndroidManifest.xml file to denote that you’re using noindex.html to block indexation.

<manifest xmlns:android="http://schemas.android.com/apk/res/android" package="com.example.android.Gizmos"> 
<application> 
<activity android:name="com.example.android.GizmosActivity" android:label="@string/title_gizmos" > 
<intent-filter android:label="@string/filter_title_viewgizmos"> 
<action android:name="android.intent.action.VIEW"/> 
... 
</activity> 
<meta-data android:name="search-engine" android:resource="@xml/noindex"/> 
</application> 
<uses-permission android:name="android.permission.INTERNET"/> 
</manifest>

App indexing API to drive re-engagement

In addition to URI discovery via desktop crawl, your mobile app can integrate
Google’s App Indexing API, which communicates with Google when users take actions inside your app. This sends information to Google about what users are viewing in the app. This is an additional method for deep link discovery and has some benefits.

The primary benefit is the ability to appear in
autocomplete. This can drive re-engagement through Google Search query autocompletions, providing access to inner pages in apps.

App auto suggest

Again, be sure to
verify your website and app following the guidelines here. This will verify your app in Google Play Developer Console and Google Webmaster Tools.

App actions with knowledge graph

The next, and most exciting, evolution of search is leveraging actions. These will be powerful when
combined with voice search, allowing search engines to take action on behalf of users, turning spoken language into executed actions.

App indexing allows you to take advantage of actions by allowing Google to not only launch an app, but execute actions inside of the app. Order me a pizza? Schedule my meeting? Drive my car? Ok, Google.

App actions work via entity detection and the application of the knowledge graph, allowing search engines to understand actions, words, ideas and objects. With that understanding, they can build an action graph that allows them to define common actions by entity type.

Here is a list of actions currently supported by Schema.org

For example, the PlayAction could be used to play a song in a music app. This can be achieve with the following markup.

<script type="application/ld+json">
{
"@context": "http://schema.org",
"@type": "MusicGroup",
"name": "Weezer", "potentialAction": {
"@type": "ListenAction",
"target": "android-app://com.spotify.music/http/we.../listen"
}
}
</script>
Once this is implemented, these app actions can begin to appear in search results and knowledge graph.

deep links in app search results

Overview of mobile app search opportunities

In summary, there are five primary ways to increase visibility and engagement for your mobile app in traditional organic search efforts.

Mobile apps in search results

The growth of mobile search is transforming how we define technical SEO, moving beyond front-end and back-end optimization of websites into the realm of structured data and application development. As app indexing expands to include iOS, I suspect the possibilities and opportunities associated with indexing applications, and their corresponding actions, to grow extensively. 

For those with Android apps, app indexing is a potential leapfrog style opportunity to get ahead of competitors who are dominant in traditional desktop search. Those with iOS devices should start by optimizing their app listings, while preparing to implement indexation, as I suspect it’ll be released for iOS this year.

Have you been leveraging traditional organic search to drive visibility and engagement for apps? Share your experiences in the comments below.

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Illustrated Guide to Advanced On-Page Topic Targeting for SEO

Posted by Cyrus-Shepard

Topic n. A subject or theme of a webpage, section, or site.

Several SEOs have recently written about topic modeling and advanced on-page optimization. A few of note:

The concepts themselves are dizzying: LDA, co-occurrence, and entity salience, to name only a few. The question is
“How can I easily incorporate these techniques into my content for higher rankings?”

In fact, you can create optimized pages without understanding complex algorithms. Sites like Wikipedia, IMDB, and Amazon create highly optimized, topic-focused pages almost by default. Utilizing these best practices works exactly the same when you’re creating your own content.

The purpose of this post is to provide a simple
framework for on-page topic targeting in a way that makes optimizing easy and scalable while producing richer content for your audience.

1. Keywords and relationships

No matter what topic modeling technique you choose, all rely on discovering
relationships between words and phrases. As content creators, how we organize words on a page greatly influences how search engines determine the on-page topics.

When we use keywords phrases, search engines hunt for other phrases and concepts that
relate to one another. So our first job is to expand our keywords research to incorporate these related phrases and concepts. Contextually rich content includes:

  • Close variants and synonyms: Includes abbreviations, plurals, and phrases that mean the same thing.
  • Primary related keywords: Words and phrases that relate to the main keyword phrase.
  • Secondary related keywords: Words and phrases that relate to the primary related keywords.
  • Entity relationships: Concept that describe the properties and relationships between people, places, and things. 

A good keyword phrase or entity is one that
predicts the presence of other phrases and entities on the page. For example, a page about “The White House” predicts other phrases like “president,” “Washington,” and “Secret Service.” Incorporating these related phrases may help strengthen the topicality of “White House.”

2. Position, frequency, and distance

How a page is organized can greatly influence how concepts relate to each other.

Once search engines find your keywords on a page, they need to determine which ones are most
important, and which ones actually have the strongest relationships to one another.

Three primary techniques for communicating this include:

  • Position: Keywords placed in important areas like titles, headlines, and higher up in the main body text may carry the most weight.
  • Frequency: Using techniques like TF-IDF, search engines determine important phrases by calculating how often they appear in a document compared to a normal distribution.
  • Distance: Words and phrases that relate to each other are often found close together, or grouped by HTML elements. This means leveraging semantic distance to place related concepts close to one another using paragraphs, lists, and content sectioning.

A great way to organize your on-page content is to employ your primary and secondary related keywords in support of your focus keyword. Each primary related phrase becomes its own subsection, with the secondary related phrases supporting the primary, as illustrated here.

Keyword Position, Frequency and Distance

As an example, the primary keyword phrase of this page is ‘On-page Topic Targeting‘. Supporting topics include: keywords and relationships, on-page optimization, links, entities, and keyword tools. Each related phrase supports the primary topic, and each becomes its own subsection.

3. Links and supplemental content

Many webmasters overlook the importance of linking as a topic signal.

Several well-known Google
search patents and early research papers describe analyzing a page’s links as a way to determine topic relevancy. These include both internal links to your own pages and external links to other sites, often with relevant anchor text.

Google’s own
Quality Rater Guidelines cites the value external references to other sites. It also describes a page’s supplemental content, which can includes internal links to other sections of your site, as a valuable resource.

Links and Supplemental Content

If you need an example of how relevant linking can help your SEO,
The New York Times
famously saw success, and an increase in traffic, when it started linking out to other sites from its topic pages.

Although this guide discusses
on-page topic optimization, topical external links with relevant anchor text can greatly influence how search engines determine what a page is about. These external signals often carry more weight than on-page cues, but it almost always works best when on-page and off-page signals are in alignment.

4. Entities and semantic markup

Google extracts entities from your webpage automatically,
without any effort on your part. These are people, places and things that have distinct properties and relationships with each other.

• Christopher Nolan (entity, person) stands 5’4″ (property, height) and directed Interstellar (entity, movie)

Even though entity extraction happens automatically, it’s often essential to mark up your content with
Schema for specific supported entities such as business information, reviews, and products. While the ranking benefit of adding Schema isn’t 100% clear, structured data has the advantage of enhanced search results.

Entities and Schema

For a solid guide in implementing schema.org markup, see Builtvisible’s excellent
guide to rich snippets.

5. Crafting the on-page framework

You don’t need to be a search genius or spend hours on complex research to produce high quality, topic optimized content. The beauty of this framework is that it can be used by anyone, from librarians to hobby bloggers to small business owners; even when they aren’t search engine experts.

A good webpage has much in common with a high quality university paper. This includes:

  1. A strong title that communicates the topic
  2. Introductory opening that lays out what the page is about
  3. Content organized into thematic subsections
  4. Exploration of multiple aspects of the topic and answers related questions
  5. Provision of additional resources and external citations

Your webpage doesn’t need to be academic, stuffy, or boring. Some of the most interesting pages on the Internet employ these same techniques while remaining dynamic and entertaining.

Keep in mind that ‘best practices’ don’t apply to every situation, and as
Rand Fishkin says “There’s no such thing as ‘perfectly optimized’ or ‘perfect on-page SEO.'” Pulling everything together looks something like this:

On-page Topic Targeting for SEO

This graphic is highly inspired by Rand Fishkin’s great
Visual Guide to Keyword Targeting and On-Page SEO. This guide doesn’t replace that canonical resource. Instead, it should be considered a supplement to it.

5 alternative tools for related keyword and entity research

For the search professional, there are dozens of tools available for thematic keyword and entity research. This list is not exhaustive by any means, but contains many useful favorites.

1.
Alchemy API

One of the few tools on the market that delivers entity extraction, concept targeting and linked data analysis. This is a great platform for understanding how a modern search engine views your webpage.

2.
SEO Review Tools

The SEO Keyword Suggestion Tools was actually designed to return both primary and secondary related keywords, as well as options for synonyms and country targeting. 

3.
LSIKeywords.com

The LSIKeyword tool performs Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) on the top pages returned by Google for any given keyword phrase. The tool can go down from time to time, but it’s a great one to bookmark.

4.
Social Mention

Quick and easy, enter any keyword phrase and then check “Top Keywords” to see what words appear most with your primary phrase across the of the platforms that Social Mention monitors. 

5.
Google Trends

Google trends is a powerful related research tool, if you know how to use it. The secret is downloading your results to a CSV (under settings) to get a list up to 50 related keywords per search term.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

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SEO Teaching: Should SEO Be Taught at Universities?

Posted by Carla_Dawson

SEO is a concept that has been around for years and some universities have incorporated it into the curricula. A while back, I posted
this question on Moz and noticed some very strong opinions on the idea that SEO should be part of formal education. Search Engine Journal also posted an article on the idea that SEO should not be taught in universities. We (I co-wrote this post with Aleksej Heinze, who also currently teaches SEO) obviously believe SEO should be taught in higher education and got together to discuss how it benefits the SEO industry and how SEO can be incorporated in higher education. Aleksej teaches SEO in the U.K.; I teach SEO in Argentina.

Before I get started with the pros and cons, I want to share with you some opinions from people in industry on the topic of SEO in universities.


Wil Reynolds (Founder – Seer Interactive)

1. Do you believe universities or higher education institutions should equip students with the skills to meet industry needs?

Yes, people take BIG loans to go to the university in the U.S.; we should at least make sure when they graduate they have the skills that are in…demand in the workplace.

2. Are SEO skills something you believe are lacking in industry?

Not sure. “SEO skills” is a broad phrase.

3. Do you think teaching SEO in universities gives credibility to the profession?

Not really, I think the profession has credibility. Teaching SEO in universities gives a student a great platform to learn and to be prepared for one of the industries that is in desperate need of talent.


4. Do you think teaching SEO in universities benefits the industry?

Yes, but I think SEO is too narrow, according to many definitions. If you think about it, SEO is as much about technical as it is about link building [or] keyword research. To teach the broad definition of SEO you’d need a pretty multi-disciplinary group to teach it. Maybe we’d just teach it as part of a digital marketing rotation.

Stephen Lock (Head of Content & Inbound Marketing, Linkdex.com)

1. Do you believe universities or higher education institutions should equip students with the skills to meet industry needs?

Yes, it makes sense that universities, where appropriate, offer courses that are based heavily on industry demands, especially if the course/institution has been marketed as…tailored for employers.

2. Are SEO skills something you believe are lacking in industry?

They definitely are. There is a real shortage, and due to the fast-moving nature of the field, knowledge is quickly outdated, meaning even experienced practitioners aren’t always great candidates.

3. Do you think teaching SEO in universities gives credibility to the profession?

I believe it does, although it is one of those fields where it’s common for people to…come from a broad range of backgrounds. The skills required are so diverse that it’s also understandable that people who have studied one field can adapt. From experience, employers are more interested in the person, their attitude and capacity to learn. However, SEO in universities can only be a good thing for the industry.

4. Do you think teaching SEO in universities benefits the industry?

Teaching SEO, I believe, would benefit the industry, as the skills shortage is so acute and it is so common for entry-level candidates to come from many different backgrounds. My final thoughts are that SEO is so broad as a discipline that calling it just SEO may not do it justice.


What we can see from these and other opinions we received for this article is views are still mixed since SEO education is not clearly defined. Where do you start with a subject area that touches such a broad range of disciplines, including technical, content and engagement? However, the vast majority of our respondents were
positive about the need to integrate SEO in higher education!

Pros to teaching SEO in universities

Eli Overbey wrote a great article on this topic
here, but me and Aleksej took some of the ideas one step further. Basically, we identified problems in industry and how teaching SEO in universities might help the industry.

How teaching SEO in universities may benefit the industry

Industry Problem How SEO in higher education might alive the problem?
Long sales cycles – Selling SEO is a lot about educating your potential client. Today’s student is tomorrow’s potential client.

Students who learn SEO formally (and not just on the job) are likely to have a broader understanding of its benefits, and therefore, be able to “sell” it more effectively to clients.
Lack of Credibility – Most SEOs learned SEO on the job, or through reading great books like “The Art of SEO” and reading great articles on the internet. However, few formal institutions recognize it as a valid marketing technique. SEO is not taught in many marketing related programs. Creating an educational standard for SEO increases the credibility of the field. Treating the discipline as if it was law, engineering, etc., would elevate SEO to a discipline seen as requiring a significant period of study before it can be practiced.
Everyone says they know SEO. Without a recognized standard for the field of SEO, anyone and everyone can say they know SEO.
Clients with bad experiences don’t trust SEO companies.
Showing clients you have a certified person on your team may alleviate this situation.
Long recruiting cycles. Recruiters currently have to give SEO tests to verify that the job candidate in front of them really knows SEO. A certification or a degree does not guarantee you know the subject (this is true for lots of fields), but it is an excellent filter and a great starting point.
SEO is constantly changing, making it hard to keep up. Law, medicine and most other subject areas are also constantly changing, and content and concepts are updated accordingly. The same can be true for SEO in universities.
Clients challenge your techniques (ex. “Why don’t you use the keyword meta tag?” or “Why are you using parallax scrolling when it is not SEO-friendly?”)  This happens in all industries and being able to reference an independent institution and a high-quality article will probably reduce discussion time.
There is a high demand for SEO skills. Below you will find articles that mention demand for SEO skills in industry. Universities are in the business of creating professionals and satisfying workforce demands.Higher education institutions are often criticized for their lack of relevant educational courses that will equip students with the skills to meet specific industry needs.

SEO is relevant today and will be well into the foreseeable future.

Cons to teaching SEO in universities

We do see some negatives to teaching SEO in universities, but we see them more as issues to be mitigated.
John Weber did a great job identifying the difficulties in teaching SEO in his article on searchenginejournal.com. We agree with several of the points in this article. However, we see them more as issues that can be alleviated through great program development.

Obstacles  Potential Solutions
Google makes changes to its algorithm constantly. This exact topic should be brought up in the classroom. Students get that what they learn in school is somewhat “academic” and may be slightly out-of-date, but is still useful.

(On a side note, laws change all the time, yet law is taught in school.) 
SEO is complex. It requires analytical and creative skills. Case studies are a great way to teach complex concepts and creativity. Law, perhaps, is similar to SEO in that it requires analytical and creative skills to be successful, and it is taught in universities.
No one absolutely knows “the magic formula.” This exact topic should be brought up in the classroom. This is true with many professions. Medicine is not an exact science and continuously evolves. Physicians often prescribe differing treatments for the same diagnosis. 

Current flaws in academia

We also see lots of flaws within the academic world regarding SEO, specifically the fact that if the subject is taught, it is mostly taught as an extension (vocational) course or optional part of an MBA program.

Here are some universities that offer SEO:

We feel SEO should be included as part of many other degree programs.

Please note that mentioning the concept and explaining it is not the same as teaching how to do SEO. In some cases, the concept should be mentioned and included, and in other cases, SEO should be fully taught. For example at Salford Business School, students are expected to plan, execute and evaluate live SEO campaigns and report on their results. This kind of SEO learning helps in job interviews where students can show their own artefacts and discuss what they have done and learned from their practical SEO experience.The academic world
has not incorporated the subject in a holistic manner.

How could SEO be incorporated into higher education?

Degree focus SEO Concept (not to be confused with course) to be incorporated in program Comments
Master of Business Administration (MBA) How to use SEO as a business strategy for long term sustainability of business? Not many MBA courses recognize SEO as a strategic tool for developing value for their business. Hence a number of businesses are missing growth opportunities in the online world.
Advertising How to use SEO with viral marketing and word of mouth as an advertising technique?

Is Inbound Marketing an advertising technique?
Television ads are no longer as effective as those created for YouTube with viral sharing in mind.
Web design/ computer science Designing for Search Engines – Is SEO part of web design? SEO is not taught in many web design or computer science schools. This has major issues/benefits for agencies that try to turn a non-SEO-friendly website into one that can be crawled by search engines.
Marketing Organic search engine results are an important marketing channel, and this concept does not have visibility in the educational system.

Many marketing programs talk about SEO as if it is something that’s useful to someone else. We are all individual brands who can learn and use SEO (e.g., integration of keyword research allows for better digital consumer profiling and learning about the digital personas to be engaged with in marketing mix).

Public Relations (PR) Synergies of online PR with content development strategies and long-term link building Many PR ignore the benefits of SEO and miss out on the mutual benefits that an integration of SEO and online PR could provide. 
Journalism Writing text for online readability and scanability (e.g., using headings, bullet points, etc.) Many journalism courses are still based on great headlines and catchy first paragraph, but these are great techniques when combined with SEO, too. Not thinking about the online audience means you miss a lot of reach with articles that are “thrown” onto the web without much consideration.

We argue for wider adoption of SEO at university teaching because of these three reasons:

Shaping the SEO industry

Starting with understanding SEO principles at the university-level, we are shaping the digital marketing professionals of the future. Recognizing the growing range of opportunities that digital marketing creates as a consequence of good SEO practices offers an invitation to the industry for new talent. Offering SEO at universities will not stop cowboy SEO practices, but at least it will reduce the use of such practices out of incompetence.

SEO is no longer a “dark art”

By demystifying the process of SEO, companies will be more likely to employ SEO professionals by recognizing and better appreciating the value they create. SEO is no longer perceived as a “black box” or “dark art” and individuals who might be supervising others will be more able to expect higher standards and discern whether someone is using unwelcome practices.

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Good SEO practices will make our industry sustainable

By integrating SEO into wider advertising, digital marketing, journalism, web design, PR and MBA courses, we are able to create a better long-term future for SEO as a profession. Having SEO skills applies to many disciplines, and business would be prepared to pay for these skills as soon as they recognise the return on investment that good SEO can create. By teaching SEO in higher education, SEO will appear more professional, which will lead to long-term sustainability.

Is there demand in the industry for SEO skills?

Universities have often been criticized for offering courses not relevant to industry needs. Students invest in higher education to broaden their horizons, but also to obtain skills that equip them better for their chosen profession. The underlying principle is that universities have to offer “universal knowledge and skills” to improve innovation and skills of the world we live in. So if an industry demands SEO skills, then perhaps it is time for higher education to respond? Here are some articles that show workforce demand related to SEO. 

2012 – Conductor –
Demand for SEO Professionals Has Never Been Greater [Study]

2013 – Bruce Clay –
Studies Reveal SEO Analysts are in High Demand

2013 – Search Engine Land –
SEO Talent In High Demand — How To Hire An SEO

Here are some great stats from the articles above.

  • Studies show a 112 percent year-over-year increase in demand for SEO professionals, with salaries as high as $94,000, as reported by Conductor, an SEO technology company based in New York.
  • Search Engine Land surveyed the SEO industry and found that 93 percent of respondents expected their SEO business to grow by the end of 2013. It makes sense, then, that 82 percent of respondents also reported plans to hire additional SEO staff this year.
  • Digital Journal proclaimed “there is no doubt that a career in an SEO agency as an SEO professional can be an exciting and rewarding one. Stress levels would match the lows found in other online positions, while the employment opportunities in such a fast growing business are obvious … Mid-level strategist and management roles can earn from $60,000, while senior marketing directors can expect to approach six-figure sums.”

First-hand experience – Aleksej Heinze

Salford Business School is currently leading a European project, a Joint European Masters in Digital and Social Media Marketing (
JEMSS). This project aims to develop the digital marketeers of the future. JEMSS is a partnership between five European Universities and two commercial organizations, one of which is a digital marketing recruitment agency based in Manchester, the UK.

As part of this project, an extensive consultation with digital agencies and in-house teams has been conducted across five European countries. This multi-stage research project started with a brainstorming session that included ten UK-based agencies in December 2013. They were looking at the top
10 digital marketing skills for international business. The key skill identified as part of this focus group was Search Engine Optimization.

The views from the UK-based agencies were also inline with the online survey results from students and potential students regarding digital marketing courses. The list of 25 skills was developed through the initial focus group with industry practitioners. We can clearly see that SEO tops the table of skills needed when developing knowledge and skills in the area of digital marketing. This online survey was completed by 712 respondents across several countries. We were interested to look at five countries taking part in the JEMSS project: Bulgaria, Greece, Lithuania, Poland and the UK. At least 50 respondents for each of these counties were collected to have a representative sample group.

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Do people want to learn SEO?

Looking at the generic searches related to learning SEO/SEO courses in various parts of the world we see some interesting trends:

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This Google Trends screenshot shows some of the main terms related to the popularity of SEO courses. We can see there is a major difference between “SEO training” and “SEO courses.” This can mean most people are seeing SEO as a vocational skill and not an academic course. It is also interesting to note that the location for those interested in “SEO courses” tends to be in India, the U.K. and the U.S. More research should be done in to identify additional hot spots throughout the world.

First hand experience – Carla Dawson

My students are eager to learn about SEO. Many of them make comments like “Carla, we have been waiting for this class” or “This is the best class [in the] program.” In the SEO class, I notice that students pay closer attention than they do in other classes. Multiple requests have been made by my students to “offer a second course or a seminar” so they can learn more about SEO. It almost seems as if the SEO course has more value than some of the other courses. In class, I get questions like “where can we learn more about SEO?” “What sources are reliable?” etc.

Conclusion

Long gone are the days gone where
universities were run by nuns and monks and the main courses included Latin, metaphysics and theology. Most universities are becoming businesses that develop educational products, research and sell them.

If you believe that universities or higher education institutions should equip students with the skills to meet specific industry needs, then perhaps SEO or better yet “Search Marketing” is ideal for universities?

SEO touches so many fields and in our opinion it should be incorporated in various degrees not just offered as an extension course. We would love to hear the communities opinion on this topic so please comment below!

This article was co-authored with Aleksej Heinze from the University of Salford Manchester . You can find more information about Aleksej here.

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