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Answering Digital Questions #7 and #8 from AAHSA

This is the fourth blog in the 5-week series. Read the original post with all 10 questions. Or read answers to Questions #1 and #2, Questions #3 and #4, and Questions #5 and #6.

Q7: How can I be sure that my web site is optimized for search engines?
(Answered by Blake Hodges, Digital Media Strategist)

People ask about search engine optimization because it impacts how web sites are ranked in search engines’ non-paid results. Optimizing your site has three components: web site content, programming and inbound links (other web sites that link to yours). Keyword usage in your site’s headlines, body copy and tags is the first step. Below are five areas you should address. However, these days, search engines want more – fresh content such as blog posts, photos and video is equally important. Search engines put a premium on fresh content, and fresh content promotes more inbound linking from quality web sites.

Search engine optimization starts with properly classifying your site for search engines. Here are five areas you can easily modify today to give your site a competitive edge:

  • Title tag. This is the text that appears in the bar at the very top of your browser. It is one of the first things search engines see when they visit your site – they want to know what it’s about. Depending on the page of your site, the title tag should contain keywords such as “retirement community,” “senior living” or “assisted living,” along with the city in which your community is located – e.g. Kansas City retirement community. If your title tags just say “home” or “welcome” or simply your community’s name, you’re missing an important opportunity to optimize your web site for search engines. Vary the title tags between pages.
  • Headlines. Search engines look for text that has been bolded, enlarged or underlined to see which words stand out more than others. Use keywords in your headlines. Instead of “The Best Care,” try “Chicago’s Best Assisted Living Care.”
  • Body copy. Search engines look at the beginning, middle and end of your web site’s body copy to see if the keyword for which you want to optimize is used throughout the page. They will also gauge keyword density, which is the number of times a keyword is used within all the words on the page. If the keyword appears throughout the page and clearly supports the headline and title tag, you stand a good chance of getting ranked higher in the natural search results for the keyword.
  • Links between pages. The body copy needs to include links to other pages of the site. These links help the search engines better understand how the site is organized.
  • Meta description. The meta description doesn’t appear on the page. It is located in the site’s programming code; however, search engines will likely use it as part of your listing in the search results. The meta description provides more detail on what the page is about. It should be a complete sentence and include keywords. Like the title tag, vary the meta descriptions between pages.

Start optimizing your web site for search engines by checking the five areas above. Then assemble a team at your community to work out a solution for continually adding fresh content to your site that will give you a competitive edge in non-paid search results.

Q8: I want to create an online community/social networking site for my community. How can I go about doing this, and should it be something I let anyone view, or keep it protected for resident use only?
(Answered by Lori Whetter, Digital Community Manager)

By definition, an online community is simply a group of people who interact via online communication, rather than face-to-face communication, for social, professional, educational or other purposes. For senior living communities, an online community can provide personal communication with prospects, leads, residents, adult children and influencers.

There are several ways you can go about creating an online community. Facebook and Ning are examples of free applications that allow you to set up a few pages for your community; these are a great way to get your name out, develop the first lines of communication and start to build relationships. The downside of these applications is that they are templated and don’t offer much customization. Other applications, such as LINK, offer a variety of page options – which allow you to extend your content sharing, provide community customization and send professional email communications to assorted audiences.

Whether you prefer a limited site or a more robust one, the most important thing about an online community is the content.

Now on to the second part of the question … should the content on your online community be available for everyone to see or restricted to residents? There isn’t a right or wrong answer here; it’s more of a question of how the content can best serve the audience and your community. For example, things such as events and sample menus draw a wider audience and are good to show everyone.

However, when it comes to internal community information like resident directories, profiles, community maintenance updates, suggestions boxes, internal chatrooms, etc., it might be best to keep those protected under a username and password. Then residents don’t feel as if their information is in the public realm for everyone to see.

Don’t think of having a login as restricting access to certain information. In fact, you can use it as a sales incentive when talking about the great, open communication you foster with your residents and their families. Position the password-protected access as a new dimension of the community that not everyone can see.

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