Editor’s Note: We’re featuring another great article from DONA International’s quarterly magazine, International Doula. Website designer and retired doula Sarah Juliusson shares important information on how to position your website (and your doula practice!) so that families find you when they are searching online. While marketing topics like search engine optimization can be intimidating, Sarah breaks things down for you and includes links to resources. Quality information provided in a digestible way – no wonder she calls herself a website doula! – AG

“I know the thought of holding a crying baby for hours on end is likely more enticing to many of you than learning about Search Engine Optimization. I invite you to set aside any assumptions you may have about whether or not this is something you can learn, and take a few minutes to read this post.  I’ve seen so many doulas go from overwhelm to excitement when they start to grasp how to use tools such as keywords, meta descriptions, and alt tags to their advantage.  Even without any experience at all, this IS something you can learn!” – Sarah Juliusson, MSN

Showing up online: doula keywords 101

By Sarah Juliusson, MSN

Whether you are in a small town or a big city, chances are that pregnant and postpartum families in your community are looking for your services online. As a website designer, I meet a lot of doulas who are feeling pretty overwhelmed by this reality. Let’s face it: web design is a daunting task (even with all of the drag-and-drop template systems out there), and building a website simply isn’t enough; your website has to actually show up well when it is searched.

While word-of-mouth referrals through family and friends will likely always remain a strong source of referrals for most doulas, a quality website that performs well in search will help more clients find you and help ensure that the families who do find you online are a good fit. Developing at least a basic understanding of keywords and search engine optimization is a great business tool for birth and postpartum professionals who want to find new clients online.

What does it mean to ‘show up in search?’
Many doulas are dismayed to find that when they search for keywords such as “doula + their city name” their site doesn’t show up at all, or not until the fifth or sixth page. Unfortunately, people don’t tend to go beyond the first page to find what they are looking for. In fact one study found that the first page of results gets 92 percent of all search traffic, and the first listing alone gets 32.5 percent of the traffic[1]. Your goal as a business is to show up on the first page of results for your target keywords, ideally within the top five listings.

What is a keyword?
The good news is that keywords are a simple concept, and they leave a lot of room for creativity. Essentially, a keyword is the word or phrase a potential client types into the search engine to find information or services. In many cases, they will continually refine a keyword if they do not at first find what they were seeking.

Consider the example of water birth. A pregnant woman wanting to find out about local options for water birth may first simply type in “water birth” and find only links to national-level sites with articles about water birth; informative, but not what she needs. Perhaps she will then try “Water Birth Denver,” or “Birth Tubs Denver,” or even a longer phrase such as “Can I have a water birth in Denver?” These will likely provide her with more fitting search results and may even lead to additional questions, such as “water birth safety” or “birth tub rental.”

How do you actually use keywords?
While I would love to give you a quick and simple response to this question, it is unfortunately a bit more complicated than I can outline here. However, here are my top five recommendations for keyword targeting on your site.

  1. Know your client. The essence of understanding keywords is to carefully consider your ideal client’s interests, needs and questions. What is she searching for? Craving? Curious about? The most important keyword you want to show up for is doula care, but there are plenty of other keywords that are perhaps less competitive. Along with showing up for your primary keyword of birth or postpartum doula, you can identify a host of other related keywords and phrases to target through your website pages and blog posts on themes such as water birth, cloth diapers, choosing a stroller, VBAC and prenatal yoga.
  1. Explore keyword options. As you brainstorm possible keywords to use on your site, remember to choose keywords from the perspective of local families. For example, terms such as “perinatal” and “lactation” are used far more by professionals than clients. There are also geographic variations, with terms such as “childbirth classes” versus “prenatal classes,” getting more or less search activity depending on where you live. To research how families are using the Internet, it is well worth your time learning how to use the Google Keyword Tool.[2] This free tool allows you to discover not only how often a keyword is used in a particular city or region, but also variations on that keyword that may not have occurred to you.
  1. Assign keywords carefully. While you may have a long list of keywords you would like to target, choose your top one or two to use on the home page of your website. This is the page that is most likely to get listed in search results, and it also serves as the ideal entry point for potential clients. Closely related keywords (doula services versus birth doula) can also be used on other pages on your site, but be sure that the focus keyword is a good fit for the content on that page and that you are choosing a unique keyword for each page on your site.
  1. Use keywords effectively. Each keyword you want to target will be matched with one of the pages or blog posts on your website. On-page optimization is a key part of SEO strategy, allowing you to effectively (but not obnoxiously) integrate a keyword into the content and structure of your page. This may include visibly using the keyword in your page URL (www.awesomedoula.com/birth-doula-nashville), the top header text on your page (called the h1), any sub headers (h2 or h3), and at least within the first and last paragraphs on the page. You can also name images on that page using your keyword, and insert something called an “alt tag / text” for that image to describe the image in your code. Also important are the page title and meta description which, while not visible on the page itself, are a big part of what Google looks for in the code when evaluating a page for search rankings.

This part of using keywords can be a bit overwhelming. Whether you are with WordPress, Squarespace, Wix or Weebly, I encourage you to seek out online tutorials on how to integrate these ideas using your chosen website format. The SEO plugin by Yoast is a great resource for WordPress sites to track your keyword usage.[3]

  1. Don’t get too keyword happy. Take care not to get too effusive with your keyword usage in an effort to ensure that Google knows what you do. There are many creative ways to effectively weave keywords into content, but we’ve all seen websites that have crossed the line into overkill. For example, “Looking for a birth or postpartum doula? Offering seasoned doula care to Nashville families since 2005, our team of Nashville birth doulas and postpartum doulas offers your family the very best in birth doula and postpartum doula care” is repetitive enough that it starts to both lose points with potential clients and for Google to decide you’re trying to trick the search engine into higher rankings. You can use a Word Count Tool[4] to measure your keyword frequency. Your goal is to sprinkle your keyword throughout the text on a page, but not to a point where it feels like spam rather than effective website copy.

I hope you find the above tips helpful, offering you a foundation to begin learning more about search engine optimization. While there are many professionals who can help you learn and implement search engine optimization techniques on your site, I want to emphasize that this is a skill that you can absolutely learn and use for yourself.

If you are intrigued to learn more, be sure to follow some of the links I have offered in this article, seek out online learning resources and get help from a website professional if needed. Working with keywords can transform your doula marketing strategy, helping you to better understand your ideal clients and how to find them online and helping them recognize your doula practice as a great fit for their needs. Let yourself be curious about keywords, and you will be amazed at how much you can learn and use to grow your practice.

About the Author
the_website_doula-300x300Sarah Juliusson has supported birth and postpartum professionals with her Finding Clients Online SEO webinar, custom and DIY website design, and business coaching services since 2011. Her experience in the birth industry includes 20-plus years as a birth doula and childbirth educator, as well as a master’s of science in parent-child nursing. Find out more about her at thewebsitedoula.com.

[1] http://searchenginewatch.com/sew/study/2276184/no-1-position-in-google-gets-33-of-search-traffic-study#

[2] https://adwords.google.com/KeywordPlanner

[3] https://yoast.com/wordpress/plugins/seo/

[4] http://wordcounttools.com/