On Wednesday 13th September, I (Megan Wellman, Community Lead at Watch This Sp_ce) spoke at BrightonSEO to show people how they can recognise cultural appropriation in SEO to avoid PR problems. Here I’m going to give you an overview of my talk, and let you know where you can watch it.

Firstly, what is cultural appropriation? Cultural Appropriation is when a person or company takes specific elements, usually from a marginalised community, and adopts them in a way that does recognise their origin, meaning or true value. 

Some content you see can be appreciation, but this is why you need to do your research and have diverse teams. For example, the word ‘Peridot’ comes from African American English Vernacular (AAVE) but you see brands using words like ‘periodt’, ‘woke’ or ‘sis’ in their copy. If a brand is actually Black, LGBTQIA+ or Native-owned, or very closely connected to these diverse audiences, these terms could be a relevant and authentic part of their brand voice. But it becomes an issue when brands or marketers that are not considered part of the community try to benefit, with zero credibility and zero value added.

So what happens if your brand is guilty of cultural appropriation? You can get some very bad press, be called out for your actions and certainly see a significant drop in revenue for your business. You can alienate whole communities. You can also find you may accidentally end up encouraging people to have skewed views because of your content, with no explanation of something’s origin, how can people truly understand what they are sharing or liking? 

64% of young people agree that cultural appropriation is a problem and recognising the cultural roots of trends is vital for brands

But how does SEO come into it? What are some ways that cultural appropriation can manifest in your SEO, sometimes unintentionally. 

  • Inauthentic keywords (have you ever used a keyword relating to a culture without a real understanding of the context?)
  • Naming conventions (naming a product, campaign, or service after cultural terms of phrases with acknowledging the significance)
  • Language Insensitivity (using phrases or idioms from a culture without understanding the true implications)
  • Insensitive Storytelling (crafting narratives that romanticise or trivialise cultural elements, reducing them to marketing tools rather than respecting them)
  • Culture Stereotyping (using cultural stereotypes to categorise or classify products or services, reinforcing harmful biases)
  • Cultural Trends (jumping on cultural trends or movements without properly understanding the background, potentially coming across as opportunistic and not authentic)

So how can you identify this within your marketing? 

  • Cultural sensitivity and research (Before using any cultural elements in your marketing, thoroughly research and understand the cultural context. Ensure that your use of cultural symbols, language, or themes is respectful and appropriate)
  • Consult the experts (When in doubt, consult with cultural experts or consultants from the relevant community. They can provide valuable insights and guidance to ensure your marketing is culturally sensitive.Get this input early, acknowledge their expertise, and pay them fairly.  Cultivate long-term relationships with cultural consultants. This ongoing collaboration can help you maintain cultural sensitivity in your marketing strategies over time)
  • Avoid stereotyping (Be cautious of using stereotypes or caricatures, as they can perpetuate biases and offend audiences. Ensure that your content portrays cultures accurately and respectfully)
  • Understand trends in context (If you’re considering using a cultural trend, take the time to understand its origin, significance, and context. Avoid using trends opportunistically without acknowledging their cultural roots)
  • Language and communication (Be mindful of the language you use. Avoid using idioms, phrases, or terms from a culture’s language without understanding their true implications)
  • Ethical keyword usage (Ensure that your choice of keywords is relevant and accurate. Avoid using keywords that may be misleading or unrelated to your content)
  • Audit your content ( Regularly audit your content and campaigns to ensure they align with your brand’s values and ethics. Remove or revise any content that may be problematic)
  • Feedback and review (Seek feedback from diverse colleagues or focus groups before launching a campaign. Their insights can help you identify potential issues that you may have missed)
  • Transparency and apology (And probably the most important one, If a mistake is made, acknowledge it transparently, apologise if necessary, and take corrective actions promptly. This can help mitigate potential PR fallout. At the end of the day, we are all human, and we all make mistakes)

But how can you incorporate diversity and inclusion into SEO strategies?

  • Research and understand your audience (Gain insights into your target audience’s demographics, interests, and cultural backgrounds.Identify the diverse groups within your audience and their unique preferences)
  • Keyword research with inclusivity (Use inclusive keywords that reflect diverse perspectives and experiences that match your audience. Avoid language that could exclude or alienate certain groups)
  • Culturally relevant content creation (Create content that resonates with diverse audiences by addressing their specific needs and interests.Highlight stories, experiences, and case studies from different cultural backgrounds)
  • Visual diversity (Use diverse and representative visuals that reflect the demographics of your audience. Avoid tokenism by featuring a variety of ethnicities, genders, and abilities in your imagery)
  • Language and tone (Adopt an inclusive and respectful tone in your content. Be aware of the impact of language on different cultural groups and avoid potentially offensive terminology)
  • Accessibility (Ensure your website and content are accessible to people with disabilities. Implement alt text for images, use appropriate heading structures, and provide captions for videos)
  • Inclusive link building (Collaborate with diverse influencers and websites to build a more inclusive backlink profile. Seek partnerships that align with your values of diversity and inclusion)
  • Local SEO with diversity (Optimise for local searches by highlighting diverse local experiences, businesses, and events. Feature diverse communities and contributions in your local content)
  • Training and education (Provide training or ask for training for your team on diversity and inclusion in digital marketing. Stay informed about evolving best practices and cultural sensitivities)
  • Measure and analysis (Use analytics to track the performance of your diverse and inclusive content. Monitor engagement, conversion rates, and feedback to assess the impact of your efforts)

But, how do you measure all of this?

  • Define clear metrics and goals
  • Conduct data analysis
  • Conduct content performance analysis
  • Monitor keyword performance
  • Conduct conversion analysis
  • Have a backlink profile review
  • Continuously optimise and adjust

So, to summarise..

  • Understand the content you are creating
  • Respect other people and their cultures
  • Work with an expert
  • Be authentic to your brand
  • Be mindful

64% of people claim they are more likely to trust companies that showcase diversity in their marketing

You can see my full slide deck here, and if you’d like to chat further, please contact me on megan@watchthisspace.uk