Five SEO techniques internal communicators need to know
When internal communicators approach employee engagement with a marketing mindset, great things often happen. We naturally think of exciting concepts such as personalized targeting, smart segmentation, and inspirational colleague stories as ripe for pinching from the marketers' playbook, but are we guilty of overlooking another humble yet powerful technique along the way? Sure, SEO might not come across as the sexiest topic, but delivering a fantastic search experience puts perfectly crafted content directly into the line of sight of time-strapped employees. We uncover the SEO methods forward-thinking internal comms teams should be using to boost visibility and viewership.
SEO, the hero internal communicators didn't know they needed
The lesson was brought home to us at Unite 23 by a fantastic customer session with Anne-Marie Ferrara from engineering and design consultancy giant WSP.
WSP employees enjoy a fantastic search experience on their employee experience platform, Canopy, finding relevant content with impressive ease. Digging into the data, we found the platform holds the best average click rank of all Unily customers.
What does Anne-Marie put this enviable success down to? Donning the marketing hat and approaching internal search as ‘internal SEO.’
Unite 23 - Everything under one roof: Weaving together a global and regional digital experience
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According to a now-famous Mckinsey report, employees lose close to 10 hours a week searching for the information they need at work. Search and analytics engine Elastic takes this further, with a recent survey revealing that:
Nearly one in three of the professionals surveyed said that they would devote more time to expanding their professional skillset if they could spend less time searching for files and documents.... It’s clear that the inability to find information quickly isn’t just stealing employees’ time, productivity, and confidence — it’s quite literally stealing their opportunities to grow in their careers.
The right SEO tactics, used as intelligently and effectively as they are by WSP, can be a massive ally to the efforts of the internal comms pro in cutting out this major issue. So, let's drill down into some of the specific methods available to finesse internal search results, better engage employees and connect them with the right content every time.
No complex algorithm tweaking or in-depth technical knowledge required!
"If we were to create Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for a digital experience, search would be at the base. We need it to establish trust with our employees, and to wow them. It’s the first step."
#1. Be keyword savvy
Yoast, the SEO tool of choice for many of the world’s top marketers, defines a keyword as:
"A word or phrase that describes the content on your page or post best. It’s the search term that you want to rank for with a certain page.”
There are a few different ways internal communicators should be making full use of these powerful words and phrases for maximum search impact, striking a balance between using keywords to help employees find exactly what they’re searching for and what the company knows they will find valuable.
- Leverage popular keywords to your advantage. Looking at popular searches within the platform is a great first step in identifying the keyword or phrase you need to be using so your employees can find the right content. Consider a scenario where an organization's annual leave policy has undergone a recent overhaul. If your employees are in the UK, you may wish to use phrases like "annual leave" and "holiday", whereas for US employees they may be searching for "vacation policy". You may even have two separate policies for UK and US and using this within content is critical for search.
- Check your titles. It sounds basic, but is there any ambiguity in your titles? What you call a page is prime real estate for on-point keywords that leave no doubt as to what an employee will find there. Google instructs SEO pros to create ‘unique, accurate titles’ for webpages, and the same rule applies here. It doesn’t stop at page titles either, with subheadings, and section titles all contributing to the clarity.
- Extra information always helps. Categorizing content consistently and adding tags that include synonyms of the page title, for example ‘holiday’ and ‘paid time off’ on a page about annual leave makes the chances of it being surfaced when appropriate sky high.
"If content is well optimized, colleagues may well come across something they didn’t know they needed, but that is really valuable to them. It’s a way of sharing knowledge across the globe in a seamless experience."
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#2. Use crystal clear language
When writing for an external, general audience, it’s common sense for most of us to write clearly and unambiguously. However, when it comes to our internal communications, it’s all too easy to slip into ‘company-isms’, unexplained acronyms, and business or industry specific terminology without warning.
Whilst this may be understood by the seasoned old hands or technical wizards of an organization, it’s far from perfect for new starters clicking around a platform for the first time and trying to surface relevant information, and it’s an SEO disaster too. Very few people are going to use anything but the most straightforward words and phrases as search terms, so ensuring content meets them where they are is vital.
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"We use an app to book workspaces called Flowscsape. A new employee isn’t going to know what Flowscape is, so the name of our page for booking a workspace is ‘Book a Workspace’. We’ll integrate the name of the app into the page but in simple, normal English."
#3. Link it up
Ask any SEO professional about links and they’ll impress upon you how important they are. Whilst in their world the name of the game is gaining authority and ranking within Google (or Bing if that’s your thing!), and the links they’re interested in are both external and internal, there’s still a lesson for the internal comms team to learn from them here.
In SEO there are typically two types of linking - vertical and horizontal. Both are incredibly valuable. If we take our earlier example of the two documents "UK Annual Leave Policy 2023" and "US Vacation policy 2023" - having these two documents link to one another is horizontal, and will help any employees landing on the wrong content to find what they actually need. Vertical linking would be utilized here to create an ‘Employee Leave Hub’ as a parent page to all of your policy documents.
Links are a godsend for steering an already engaged employee towards more content that they’ll find equally relevant, spreading the message internal communicators have painstakingly crafted. Keep them clicking by placing these helpful signposts at regular intervals, with descriptive anchor text - that’s the visible, clickable part of the text – that lets readers know exactly what they’re heading to.
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#4. Learn from search data
Modern marketing is deeply data driven. This is particularly true in SEO, where using analytics tools to track and react to changes in ranking, traffic and conversions is an ongoing task. Adopting this approach to internal communications too can pay dividends across several areas.
- Uncover content dead-ends and gaps. Delving into your platform’s analytics is the best way to find out where employees are either not having their questions answered or getting lost along the way. When you
- Get insight into employee sentiment. Similarly, spikes in certain research terms are something to keep an eye on and react to when it comes to how the workforce is feeling. A spike in search terms relating to, for example, stress or even more worryingly, notice periods, is an immediate call to action to find out what’s going wrong.
- Add a little gamification. Having the statistics to hand as to how internal communication is performing can be a great motivator for a bit of healthy internal competition. Anne-Marie explained how comparing click rank by region at WSP helped identify what was and wasn’t working well.
"One of the best pieces of SEO advice I know is simply ‘Google it!’ If you’re not seeing your content appearing when you're searching for the chosen keyword or phrase - you’re missing a trick. Internal communicators need to be using their platform and internal search, not just the analytics. If your content isn’t appearing, look at what is, and see what’s happening with your own eyes. "
#5. Serve content fresh
It’s not only the fruit in your office kitchen that will rot and appeal to nobody if left unloved.
Search engines favor regularly updated content, and it’s just as true that the content on your employee experience platform, especially when news features heavily, is equally prone to decay. An awareness of the importance of fresh, relevant content is definitely something internal communicators should be taking from the marketers’ ’how to’ guide, and the good news is that the right platform can help them out here too.
An employee searching for details on the upcoming Christmas party in 2023, for example, isn’t going to be impressed by search results that start at 2012 and work forwards. Similarly, finding outdated policies and procedures lurking around isn’t just unhelpful, it can go so far as to be actively contradictory of up-to-date thinking.
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SEO pros have traditionally tackled the issue of content decay by unpublishing and redirecting old pages to new ones. This not only takes old content out of the search completely; it will also direct anybody who may have bookmarked the old page to the place they now need to be.
Modern employee engagement platforms like Unily go a step further and remove the manual aspect for busy internal commuicators. In-built version control combats duplicate content, and sophisticated rule-setting can automatically unpublish content that’s at risk of miscommunication and ensure regular reviews.
SEO + IC = A match made in heaven
There are many ways that aligning marketing and internal communications is a smart move, and thinking like an SEO pro is a powerful tool in the modern internal communicator’s arsenal when it comes to elevating employee experience.
By taking a leaf out of WSP’s book and taking a proactive strategic approach, incorporating the SEO tactics we’ve outlined, internal communicators can not only streamline information accessibility but also make a positive contribution to employee productivity, confidence, and career growth. When a platform’s search setup delivers cutting-edge technical prowess, and the content it contains is optimized intelligently, employees enjoy a search experience that takes guesswork out of the working day.