Creating links optimized for UX and SEO


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Creating links optimized for UX and SEO

Studies have shown that in general, people on the web do not read content word for word; instead, they quickly scan pages. From the point of view of search engine optimization (SEO), as well as user experience (UX), hyperlinks should concisely describe the content that you are linking to, to jump out at the user and serve as anchor points for scanning.

Your links should rarely say “click here,” “learn more,” and so on—that conceals what a user is clicking on and provides almost no SEO value. It can also be helpful to place your links at the end of a sentence. This way, a user understands the full thought you are trying to convey before having to decide if they want to visit the link.

Here’s a breakdown of some more tips for maximizing SEO and enhancing UX with your hyperlinks.

Use your keywords.

The part of the text that is hyperlinked will be given more weight in search engine rankings than the rest of the text. This will give some benefit to the page containing the link, but it will help the page that is linked to even more.

For example, we have an article that mentions LEED v4. We hyperlink the phrase “LEED v4 is the international standard of high-performance structures” to the static LEED v4 webpage, so the static LEED v4 page will now be more likely to come up if someone searches “high-performance structures.”

If an external website links to your site, the same rules apply. The more visitors and inward-pointing links a site has, the more the entity is considered an authority, and the more SEO value a link from their site to another has. Think about what words people may be searching that could be used to direct them to your content—those are the keywords to place into your web content, especially page titles, headlines and links.

Get into Google Quick Answers.

Google Quick Answers are boxes that appear at the top of a Google search after someone asks Google a question. Getting your content into a Quick Answer box can significantly increase traffic to your site. You can enhance your chances of appearing there by phrasing content in a way that answers a specific question. You could also phrase a link as a question or answer and then link to your own content.

Example:

  • Not optimized: Smart Cities, a course on using smart technology, features Alyson Laura, as she discusses smart cities with two guests.
  • Optimized: Smart Cities is a course on using smart technology. It features Alyson Laura, as she discusses smart cities with two guests. (This is phrased as a direct answer to a question—”What is Smart Cities?—and the entire answer is linked.)

However, make sure you don’t put in extra keywords where they don’t belong—this is called “keyword stuffing,” and you will get the opposite results that you are looking for. Keep a natural flow to your content, and use keywords when they are appropriate. Basically, what Google says is key to great SEO is to create great content and an overall great user experience.

Make choices that are best for your site.

Google does not give away all its secrets, and what is best from a UX standpoint depends on many factors. Even the experts disagree on questions such as “Should I include just the noun in the hyperlink, or the noun and the verb, or the entire sentence?” Here are my thoughts as we look at a few scenarios.

Example:

  • After you finish your first class, review Smart Cities to learn even more.

This simplification helps create clarity for both users and search engines, but if you want to emphasize the user taking an action, you can link the verb as well:

For a list of resources on the page, it is often best to use the full title of the page you are linking to and to link the entire title. From a user perspective, you may also wish to describe what the page does, if it is not in the page title.

Such choices depends on the design of your site (consistency is important), how many links are on the page and how important it is for the user to see the link. Often, rather than integrating the link into the body copy, you can make it stand out to your user by creating a button over the link.

Learn more about user experience on the web

Email marketing cheat sheet


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Email marketing cheat sheet

You don’t need to be an email geek to know that email marketing isn’t dead. In fact, email marketing has an average ROI of 3,800 percent.

Whether you’re working on a one-off email or a nurture campaign, keep these tips in mind for a better email experience.

Write like a human.

Remember that your email is being sent to a fellow human being, and write accordingly. Write in a conversational, trustworthy and upbeat tone. Be concise!

Example:

Original copy: The LEED Steering Committee recently added select Parksmart measures to the LEED innovation catalog.

Edited copy: Boost your LEED project score with Parksmart.

Cut the text.

An email is not a webpage. The copy should serve as a teaser and encourage the reader to take action.

Get creative with format.

No one wants to read long paragraphs of text. Use icons or bullets to break down information so it’s easier to read, especially for viewing on mobile.

Example:

Original copy: “The benefits of Parksmart are that it enables a frictionless experience for your garage user and the environment through removing parking headaches, welcoming and encouraging cyclists and beautifying your garage”

Reformatted copy: The layout below conveys the same information in a format that’s easier to read:

Include a clear call to action.

What is the one takeaway of the email? What is it that you hope your audience will do with the information? Don’t be afraid to get creative with your CTA either.

Examples:

or

Get inspired.

Look at your own inbox to see emails that stand out to you. Visit Really Good Emails for some email inspiration.

Use A/B testing.

Don’t be afraid to test! Every email is a chance to learn something new about your audience. Test your send time, subject line or “from” name.

Learn more about email marketing strategies

Links we love: What USGBC design professionals use


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Links we love: What USGBC design professionals use

As part of the USGBC marketing and communications team, our design team works on many kinds of projects, from brand identity to article images to print collateral. Not content to rest on their current expertise, they are constantly seeking out what’s new in the design world and incorporating ideas from the wider world into their projects.

Here’s a quick roundup of some of the websites where they find inspiration:

Annie Patton, Director, Creative Services

  • I like Fast Co. Design. They send out a daily newsletter focused on articles relating to design and business. They cover lots of different topics and industries, which gives me the opportunity to look at our work from a different perspective.

Amy Civetti, Art Director

  • Brand New is a division of UnderConsideration, chronicling and providing opinions on corporate and brand identity work. The reason I love the “reviewed” section of the blog is that they cover current design trends and show what the updates look like. It’s a really great way for me to stay up to date on other branding out there that I may not otherwise be exposed to.
  • Resource Cards is a growing list of free resources that help creatives with their next project. I love this because it pools tons of resources into a really easy-to-use page. I have a few go-to free sites in my brain, but when I am struggling to find something, I know I can go to resourcecards.com and find some alternatives!

Nia Lindsey, Senior Graphic Designer

  • When creating new brand identities, developing the color palette is my favorite part. I love that Coolors presents the colors full width, with most of the necessary color values calculated.
  • Mattson Creative‘s design blog is, hands down, one of my favorite design studios. Every post inspires me to find unconventional ways to innovate and perfect my craft. They recently completed Sesame Street’s 50th Anniversary identity, and it is amazing! #goals

Learn more about staying current with design trends

Choosing a format for your information


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Choosing a format for your information

As marketers aiming to get a message to the right people at the right time, in a digital world, we’re often faced with decisions about the best channel or format for our information.

When making this decision, it helps to think about the audience you are trying to reach, what people expect from specific formats and how that aligns with the goals of the message or the information you are sharing.

Here are some goals that we consider when creating content at USGBC:

  • Web article or blog post: Share information, educate, build awareness, promote opportunities for further engagement
  • Social post: Generate awareness, build reputation, establish as an industry expert, create community, grow social audience, increase traffic to website
  • Email: Offer strong call to action, build and nurture relationships, influence sales, encourage retention and brand loyalty; message must be targeted, valuable, interesting and engaging.
  • Online advertising: Offer strong call to action, lead to revenue (event registration, product purchase), generate leads
  • Press release: Share information, build awareness

Additionally, it often makes sense to promote a message across multiple channels using multiple formats. When you do so, though, it’s important to reformat the content for the appropriate channel.

Here are a few examples of recent content from USGBC and the formats that were used to share the information:

Write concise copy

How to craft article titles for the digital age


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How to craft article titles for the digital age

In a time when a lot of content marketing is done on the internet, writers and editors must consider the specific needs of readers who are accessing their articles online. Here are my top three tips for how to reach them with clear headlines:

1. Keep titles as short as you can.

Writing for a print layout gives you the luxury of being creative and clever with your titles, such as by using metaphors, imagery and colloquial turns of phrase. This often manifests as what I call “university press style”—a general phrase followed by further context.

Example: “Playing with fire: Global climate change and the catastrophic rise in forest fires in the American west”

However, writing articles for the web means your title needs to be concise. It will be squeezed into preview boxes in social media and into modules on webpages. If the title is too long, the whole line won’t appear. This limitation can be good, though—it forces you to focus on the main point of your article.

Edited version: “Study shows climate change worsens forest fires”

Titles must often fit within modules on a website layout

Titles must often fit within modules on a website layout.

2. Make titles describe what the article is actually about.

Making your title clearly reflect the subject of the article works on two levels. One, readers who are scrolling through content on their mobile devices or scanning a list of recent articles in an email digest are able to quickly see what content is available and to click on what’s relevant to them. Two, it’s good for SEO. Organic search terms will be reflective of readers’ keywords or questions, which tend to be very straightforward.

Be specific, and be factual, to reflect the news content or product you are writing about.

Example: “Leading with a sustainability mindset brings it all together”

Edited version: “Mayor of Anytown adds LEED certification to 2018 building code”

3. Use a number—listicles really do work.

The stats don’t lie. Our analytics have shown that readers love to click on pieces that break down a topic with a number, through titles similar to these: “Top 10 States for LEED,” “Top 4 benefits of installing solar panels,” “3 reasons to earn your LEED Green Associate credential.”

You don’t want to do this for every article, of course, and you must deliver on your title’s promise, not make it mere clickbait. But it’s a good idea to use numbers where appropriate in your content marketing, along with other terms that trigger the same sense of “this sounds easy!” For example, “Top 4 benefits of installing solar panels” could also be “How to install solar panels on your home” or “Simple steps to solar panel installation.” People google “how…” more than just about any other term. It’s all about making your content relevant to the reader.

Learn more about structuring articles for content marketing

Using data to advance PR campaigns


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Using data to advance PR campaigns

At USGBC, the PR and Communications team uses data analytics and insights to continually improve our media relations and external outreach strategy. I recently spoke on this topic during a PR measurement webinar for PR News, one of the prominent PR trade organizations, and in a series of follow-up articles for the PR News industry newsletter.

These articles discuss the ways we leverage data and measurement to inform our stakeholder strategy and how data’s importance is already inherent in USGBC’s culture and through the LEED green building rating system.

In the January 23 issue, I talked about specific tools my team uses to capture metrics, as well as our efforts to share data creatively, such as through videos and newsletters. Read the issue.

Then, in the January 30 issue, we delve more into the technological changes in PR over the years and how they have provided an opportunity to evolve and explore using data to better target specific local markets. Read the issue.

Learn more about growing PR reach

User experience: Resources for great UX design


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User experience: Resources for great UX design

If you’re involved with the web in any capacity, you’ve probably heard the term “user experience (UX) design.” It has become an essential element for any successful website. It can often be misunderstood, though, as “UX” can refer to different things, depending on the context.

The general term “the user experience” refers to every touch point a person has with a company or site—to the experience as a whole. However, the field of UX design tends to be more focused, because the user experience designer primarily works on research, planning, organization of site content and user testing.

UX design has existed in some form for almost as long as the web has existed. Designers (and the companies that hire them) have always wanted their websites to be useful and enjoyable. However, we made assumptions about what our users wanted, and a lot of times we got it wrong. We needed to establish best practices and find ways to test our theories.

Over the past decade or so, we have done just that, and UX design has grown tremendously. UX designers are in high demand. Our testing and organization tools are maturing, and you can find best practice research on the smallest details.

At USGBC, we work very hard to make sure we are putting our community’s needs first, so our web team is always looking for the latest UX research and tools. Currently, we are excited to start using InVision Studio. The tool has not yet been released to the general public, but it promises to help streamline the design and prototype process. This, in turn, will help us create more effective information architecture and make user testing more efficient, so we can make sure new digital product and feature launches delight our community right from the start.

Here are a few of our other favorite UX design resources:

  • The best UX book, in my opinion, is “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Krug. It’s a quick read that goes over UX essentials and user testing, which he highly encourages.
  • Norman Nielsonessentially writes the standards for UX. If I am looking for research, it’s the first place I go.
  • Smashing Magazine is also a great resource. Their UX collection really gets into the nitty-gritty, and I have found it extremely helpful.
  • Alistapart is an invaluable resource for all things design and dev from the godfather of web standards, Jeffrey Zeldman.
  • General Assembly provides classes and workshops from some of the industry’s best.
  • User Interface Engineering is another great place to read up on the latest UX research.

Learn more about UX

Working with a magazine editorial board


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Working with a magazine editorial board

Since 2014, USGBC has published a regular member magazine, both in print and online. USGBC+ runs between 60 and 75 pages as a perfect-bound publication, with a dynamic web presence to allow readers the option of perusing new and archived content at their leisure. With a focus on the people behind the green building movement, the magazine is a vehicle for longform storytelling and allows us to showcase member company successes, project profiles, current research and market trends.

I have had the privilege of managing the magazine production and content development process since 2016, and I have a few key techniques up my sleeve to share with you, especially in relation to working with an editorial board.

Internally, an editorial board of about 20 members of the USGBC senior staff develops our magazine. We also have the guidance of an expert team of content developers, designers and marketers from ContentWorx.

Here are my go-to strategies for successfully working with an editorial board:

Gather the right group at the table.

The first step in developing a productive editorial board is ensuring you have the right mix of voices at the table. For USGBC+, we invite several members of the communications and marketing teams, but we also select one high-level member of each of our functional or programmatic departments to join the board.

This approach ensures that we are hearing from the breadth of the organization and gaining the perspective of senior leadership who can easily draw connections between story ideas and organizational priorities.

Set expectations up front.

We know that our senior staff members are incredibly busy, and that they may not always be able to attend our editorial board meetings. To ensure we reach a quorum at each meeting, we set the expectation up front that if a member of the board is unable to make a meeting, they will send a member of their team in their place.

Additionally, we ask our editorial board members to reflect on the magazine theme in advance of each meeting and to come with fresh ideas for stories that are actionable—meaning they have the necessary information and contacts at hand to help our writers get started.

Finally, we ask our editorial board members to help us promote the magazine content when each issue goes live by sharing it with their network of contacts, posting on social media and following up with individuals who were interviewed to thank them for their participation.

Cultivate a sense of investment.

Because our editorial board only meets once every two or three months, it can be a struggle to create a sense of real investment in the process and the product, especially when our board members have so many other responsibilities and priorities. By maintaining regular contact with board members, sharing our magazine lineup in advance, running drafts of stories by them for input and making them the first to know when a new issue drops, we can help generate a sense of cohesion and commitment.

Celebrate and empower the group.

We have a habit of starting each editorial board meeting by sharing news about the most recent issue. We recap the stories that were included and give our board a hearty pat on the back for a job well done. It is no small thing to take a magazine from concept to reality, and our board deserves a good deal of credit.

We also empower our board to make strategic decisions by sharing information with them such as article performance, web traffic and audience survey responses. This leads to a greater sense of investment and, ultimately, better magazine content for our readers.

See tips about contributing writer guidelines