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SEO Contest Winner: OER Commons - 90 Day Update

by Keri Morgret, October 15, 2007

Editor's note: We asked our SEO contest winner Keri Morgret to give us an update on the status of her charity campaign. She has graciously allowed us to publish her thoughts for this newsletter.

A big thanks to the Bruce Clay team for sponsoring my scholarship to SMX Advanced in June and to Bruce Clay's Basic and Advanced SEOToolSet training. Both events were a great learning experience, and I've been able to use much of that information in my work with the OER Commons Web site -- a project of ISKME, a non-profit educational research institute.

I started working with the OER Commons site in mid-Spring and attended the trainings over the summer. I am using this opportunity now to share what has happened since the training and to provide a few thoughts about how non-profits can benefit from search engine optimization, even with small non-corporate budgets.

The OER Commons Web site contains collections of Open Educational Resources - free, high-quality teaching and learning resources, many of them with licenses (Creative Commons, GNU Free Documentation License, or others) that designate the materials as free and open for use, sharing, and adapting. The goal is to make these resources available to everyone, including those in developing countries with little access to textbooks or other quality educational materials. Since the public launch in March, content, traffic, and visibility of the site have all steadily increased. There are now over 15,000 resources from about 100 partners, and the site is a 2007 Education Award Laureate for the San Jose Tech Museum Awards.

The first steps in our search engine optimization campaign were to take care of some of the basic on-site issues. Many good things were already in place (static URLs, rich content, descriptive title tags), so I started by identifying and addressing duplicate content and indexing issues. We actually had a considerable amount of duplicate content in Google. Not nearly as bad as Bill Slawski's record of finding 15,000 URLs for the same site, but we still had duplicate content because we had not redirected from the .com and the non-www sites to our main site, We implemented 301 redirects, set our preferred domain in Google, and we now have a minimal amount of duplicate content.

At the same time as we implemented the redirects, we also replaced a generic Meta Description tag with unique Meta Descriptions for each of our resources. I saw the effects of these two changes when performing a search in Google. We went from "Results 1-2 of about 91,900" to having all of our results displayed and never seeing the prompt to repeat the search with the omitted results included.

The "Content is King" motto has proved true for the site. We routinely add new content (and automatically update the site map), and the search engines regularly crawl the site. Often new content is in the search engine indexes within a day of being added to the site. Our referrals from all of the search engines have increased in the past ninety days, and we have several keywords in the top ten results, including some number one results. Even though most of our content is in English, we have still had visitors from over 200 countries and territories. To help our goal of reaching those in developing countries, we are adding more content in other languages, and will be looking towards optimizing for non-English language search engines.

SMX Advanced had a great session about social media marketing, including a discussion about which sites to use, the demographic-typical social media audience, and effective ways to use social media sites. Ideally, we would have had someone with extensive social network connections already in place that could devote significant time on those networks promoting our site. However, we are a non-profit, and we are all older than the general audience of most social media sites. With our limited resources, we have done our best to leverage what we have, and here is what has worked for us in the social media field.

We do not try to get on the front page of Digg. We don't have an account (or 30) on every social networking site in existence. We do have Google Alerts for topical phrases and monitor the RSS feeds of some of the popular sites (Lifehacker, Mashable, etc.), and comment when appropriate. These comments, even on older posts, have brought us a good amount of traffic. We are selectively involved in social networking sites, particularly Facebook, and we have developed an initial Facebook application (OER Daily) for OER Commons that has brought us visibility and traffic. We hope to do a lot more in this regard, as other social networking platforms open up as well.

Outreach to bloggers was another task I had mentioned in May. Finding relevant blogs was actually fairly easy - one of the leaders in this field publishes his OPML file (over 600 feeds). I pruned the list, and started spending a couple of hours a day monitoring the landscape via Google Reader. I made comments as appropriate, and developed a list of people we could contact regarding project announcements. This did give us a good amount of press, visibility, and inbound links, but it was more straight marketing than social in nature.

I attended a conference on open educational resources in September, and finally got to meet in person many of these people who had just been names attached to feeds. I am using Facebook and Twitter to keep in contact with them, and will have a much easier time when next asking for some links and coverage in a blog. The next steps are to see which voting sites (Digg, StumbleUpon, etc) are popular with this group, and to become part of that network.

At Bruce Clay's SEO Training classes this summer, I learned many techniques that could be used to improve a Web site's rankings in the search engines. I have been able to implement several changes that have had a positive impact on our site, and am grateful for all that I have learned. As I am now employed with ISKME, I have the pleasure of being involved with this project beyond just a few hours a week of donating my time, and look forward to helping the site to improve.

Keri Morgret is the OER coordinator at the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education, where she supports research and analysis efforts in the development of global OER initiatives. Her background and interests include online learning, usability, information design, social media, search engines, and information retrieval. Keri received her M.A. in Learning, Design, and Technology from Stanford University.

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