Social media strategists are often separated from the SEO and web teams. This is unfortunate because they seek the same goals -- awareness of the website and engagement with the audience. SEO has evolved as a sophisticated but largely separate discipline from social media and community development. As a result the social media strategist is often left out of the loop when it comes to SEO best practices.
To remedy this problem we’ve put together a list of basic SEO concepts and how they are impacted by social media. Incorporate these simple concepts into the fabric of how your social teams work. Make sure your SEO teams understand why the social teams are interested in their work. They’re not looking to take over -- they’re looking to boost the effectiveness and output of SEO.
An Image is Worth a Thousand Keywords
Pictures = good. Social strategies for boosting site rank can significantly benefit from having others doing the work for you. Create incentives that engage and entice customers, employees and business partners to generate unique content. Images and snapshots work well. They’re easy to take and upload with the hyper-ubiquity of phone cameras. Create an easy way for users to upload and share their images of them doing stuff with your product to your site.
Free and cheap examples include promoting a Twitter hash tag (e.g., #bloomthink) for user photos or encouraging photo sharing via Facebook and your company tag. More advanced examples include soliciting customer or partner photos uploaded to your website. Then have a gallery where users can view their pictures and those of others. Yes, make sure you have someone responsible for curating those photos. That is simple common sense.
“There's Your Expert” Creative Commons Attribution
A Strong Relationship is Worth Even More
Create a zone of exclusivity where influencers and experts are incented to share their thoughts, designs and advice with your audience on your web property. Social is sharing. And sharing is two-way. Make sure that the incentives you provide are real and impactful. They don’t need to break the bank, but they should be note-worthy. When you are remarkable, people tend to remark. That is exactly the behavior you desire. When you engage users and influencers, you spur their promotion of your site as well.
A word of warning here is to keep it unique. Buying into the whole content farm concept can be a risky proposition (content farming is the simple aggregation of buzz-wordy artifacts like blog articles, images and tweets. No unique content or value was created). It worked for a while, but search engines got wise and changed up the algorithms to prioritize original and unique content over content farms. Ideas on how to do this abound online.
Gamification -- a recent social buzzword -- has a big role to play in this space. By providing incentives -- whether credibility ratings, badges for collection, points that can be redeemed or peer accolades -- you spur engagement. Hotels and airlines have been doing this for some time with their points-based loyalty programs. By providing that incentive, outlining the path to achievement and explaining the rewards, they not only gain the loyalty of a customer, they also foster a relationship that extends their reach and provides valuable constructively critical feedback when things start to go wrong.
Do the Pre-Work and It Pays Off
Scalable link building is a strategy that really impacts your SEO. This is the idea of doing link swapping with others in your conceptual, topical or solution ecosystem. Some of this is pure grind, and there is no substitute for hard work. You need to contact webmasters of complementary sites and mar/com departments of complementary companies and build those relationships, do the link swaps and host each other’s content. Start with your partners. You already have a relationship there. When you promote their success, you implicitly promote your own success.
However, even with the power of social media, one-to-one contacts are not the most scalable activities you can do. But if you build up popular social accounts that provide real amplification value for those who you want to link to you, then you are on the right track. If you provide badges, reusable widgets for their site, an engagement or reputation service that they can use to increase their reach as well, then you’re thinking correctly about social SEO.
Aside to the Generation X and Boomers
Let me talk for a moment just to the Generation X and Boomer crowd reading this. You’re successful. You’re in leadership. Some of the new technology is intimidating. Some of it you simply don’t “get.” It’s not demonstrating a clear ROI you say. It’s just a fad you say. Here is some brass tacks reality for you: As hip and cool as social media folks are, remember that the easier you can make their job for them, the more likely they are to engage with you. So do their work for them and get them to “click the button.” It can be a “Tweet This” button, a “Blog This” button or a “Like” button.
The power of the Facebook “Like” button is widespread, but telling others you liked a web page was not a new idea! In the days before “Like” we would copy and paste URLs into emails with headlines like “check this out.” The “like” button and all of its related incarnations (digit, StumbleUpon, +1, etc.) are easier ways of doing the same thing paired with an invitation to share. What makes Facebook’s “Like” so powerful is that it makes amplification and sharing terribly easy -- one-click easy! Convenience is the new coin of our social environment. There are others, but convenience is important and powerful.
Remember, social SEO is about having conversations and building two-way relationships. If you are not providing anything of value to them -- if your social site benefits only you -- then you’re not really making their lives easier. Anyone you hoodwink into joining up early is likely to get wise and then feel slighted. The backlash can be worse than doing nothing at all. So do it right. Provide shared value, and make it easy for them. They will link back in droves.
This is one of the most difficult concepts for the old guard of command-and-control to grasp. The idea of sharing value in order to amplify brand and awareness and thereby gain a greater share of the minds, markets or money is a difficult one to swallow. But it has been proven time and time again. This is the new normal. If you have never read the fable of stone soup, now is a good time to do so.
Smile for the Camera
Video content is important for social SEO and for improving Google search results. Rich content is vital. We are visual creatures and wired for story-telling. That’s what videos do: Tell visual stories. So if you want to have the maximal effect on your audience, use video. But you already knew that. The real trick is optimizing video so that it appears in search engine results pages -- SERPs -- as rich content. If it is found, it can be shared. When hidden beneath the same kinds of textual links as everyone else, the likelihood of engagement goes down.
So how would you make Google search results “know” that your video is there for the Facebookers and Tweeters of the world to chatter about? Make your videos and upload them to your page or site, then use the video XML sitemaps feed to send them to Google so that they appear as rich snippets in the search results. If you are scratching your head right now, that’s ok. The specifics of how to do it can be found here -- creating a video sitemap.
Start with the End in Mind
Knowing where you want to go helps you understand what and how to measure. If you are not measuring activity, awareness, relationships, conversions and influence, you’re wasting your time and money. True business intelligence tells you why something is happening and what you can or should do about it. Social SEO is, at its heart, about metrics. After all, the “O” in SEO stands for “optimization.” You cannot optimize something you are not measuring. But understanding how and what to measure are non-trivial items.
Tools and Techniques
There are many tools out there that range from free to expensive. Most of them have gaps, so a hybrid approach is required. While traditional SEO will look at page rank and keywords and hits, social SEO will also look at engagement.
The key is to remain nimble and always be trying to relate new things together. Bring together the link data that comes out of Yahoo! Site Explorer, or the Google link command Keyword Spy or SpyFu with Webtrends, Google analytics, Omniture and IPaddress geo-tagging. Mash that up against downloads and site registrations. Then make it real for your company by mashing those results up against your CRM database of company names or individual names (if you’re that lucky). Use industry trend data from public sites to benchmark your performance.
The goal is not just to boost fans, followers and friends, but also to engage with customers. You want to turn followers into advocates. You want to convert the curious into customers.
All this requires a holistic approach to metrics. Unfortunately, all too often the SEO team is completely separate from the social media team. It is vital that these teams be brought together in a cross-functional steering committee or working group. At the very least they should provide regular updates as to what is going on and what trends they’re seeing. That way they can reinforce each other’s work rather than each fight the same battles for relevance and attention time and time again.
Blogging and Web Page Checklist
Every blog article or web page has a checklist. Here are some good metrics to consider:
- Understanding how important the domain is to SEO and social sharing. If it is fantastically unique but too difficult to remember or type into Twitter, then you’re not maximizing your capabilities. If the domain is highly ranked, do you enable social engagement everywhere? If you don’t understand what I’m talking about here, pair up with your SEO team. They know.
- Understanding how important specific pages are to your audience! If most folks are headed to one or two pages, make sure you’re making social engagement push-button easy on those pages. Segment your audience to really get to the heart of this item. If the majority of the public is headed to your job openings page, that is one thing. But if you segment out your customers -- or IP Addresses coming from areas near your customer addresses (see why that CRM data is so important now?), you can see the pages your customers are interested in. I’ll bet your sales team would KILL for that information!
- Understanding specific metrics about where a link is going to be placed on a page. SEO the anchor text and title text (for images!) and make sure the content of the link itself is a keyword rather than a “click here.”
- Make sure all the other page content -- especially links -- are legitimate, useful and authentic. Those other ancillary links are the ecosystem in which your links and content live. If people land on a spam-full page, they are likely to have an unfriendly reaction. Even if you have a content gem -- why surround it with a heap of ugly links?
- Understand what your competitors and partners are doing. Take a look at Compete.com or similar services. Use Hitwise to benchmark yourself and compare to industry trends.
Socially you want to measure fans, followers and friends. But more importantly, you want to measure the influence of those people. Using services like Klout or PeerIndex will help. Then focus on engaging your most influential fans, followers and friends with incentives, special information or “backstage” access. They are your first step to engaging a wider audience and boosting awareness.
There is a lot to digest here. This is a primer. It is a guide. Bookmark it for reference. Print it out if you must. Don’t stop here. It is your launchpad. The goal is to get into orbit with your social SEO efforts. Don’t just sit out waiting to ignite!
Author's Note: BloomThink and Billy Cripe have no interest or relationship with any of the services or companies mentioned here.
Gary Sirek -- Founder and Creative Director Squirrelworx -- contributed to this post.
Editor's Note: You may also be interested in reading:
- Three Lessons for Social SEO
- Social Business Means Mobile Business
- Moving on Up the Social Business Evolution Path