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A while back I did some SEO work for a very knowledgeable and very amiable media relations expert. He had a very basic website that needed a bit of keyword focus so I dutifully mapped a list of keywords for him and the pages on which he should use them - being a writer he wanted to write the text himself.
He took issue, however, with my insistence that he use "press release" instead of "news release" because, he explained, his releases were not merely "press" releases sent to ink and paper publications - his releases were "news" releases because they went to non-print journalists as well - they covered the spectrum of the news media beyond just the press. He was concerned that using "press" release as a keyword would make him look ignorant amongst his peers who all referred to their releases as "news" releases.
Semantically, he was entirely correct.
However, the way he described his business and the language which shaped how his potential customers understood his business were different. "News" release was a meaningless term for most of the people searching for a media relations consultant. To the average person, the term describing what they wanted - whether it was being sent to TV, online or print journalists - was "press" release.
My clients' peers were not paying his salary, his customers were, so realistically he needed to take a bit of ribbing from his peers in the short term in order to get the last laugh when his business grew from targeted organic search traffic. He insisted that the site should focus on the term "news" release, and in one fell swoop he reduced his potential reach to about 1% of what it could have been.
This example for me emphasises the importance of understanding the language your customers use to describe your business when writing copy for your website and choosing keywords to target in your SEO campaign. People's understanding of the world around them is shaped by the words used to describe it and the more familiar the discourse the more this discourse shapes how people perceive the reality of the subject - whether or not it's correct.
My media relations client needed to take into account the publicly understood discourse that what media relations consultants do is write "press" releases. Part of his job once he landed a client would be to educate them fully about what he really did for them and in doing so provide them with a new discourse about his services so they could provide with him what he needed to grow their businesses - including helping them understand the difference between a "news" release and a "press" release.
This is a task that I do with new clients regularly. People come to SEO consultants wanting us to get them top listings in search engines. So, whether or not I believe this to be the end goal of what I do, I do discuss rankings with clients because they have come to understand a discourse that tells them rankings = traffic = sales.
One of the most important parts of my job is teaching new clients another discourse about SEO so that they understand what I will actually do for them - eventually they stop asking about rankings and start asking about bounce rates and conversion rates and telling us about sales.
Ultimately, it is impossible to obtain customers to educate and with whom to build an ongoing relationship if these customers never contact you because you don't understand their discourse about you well enough to help them find you in search engines.
Surely, understanding how your customers think is vital to understanding what they need, so the next time your SEO consultant asks you what keywords are most important to your business, think about how your customers describe you and what language they used to inquire about your services you when they contacted you the first time.