In its simplest form, SEO (define) is a three-step process: break down crawling barriers to help the engines efficiently index a Web site; craft keyword-targeted content that appeals to search engines and visitors alike; and, most critical, practice link-building for targeted terms and phrases.
Social media optimization, on the other hand, is primarily about knocking down the walls of user-generated content to be a dynamic part of an online community. It's not a simple process and it takes time. Just because a "Digg This" button has been added to a blog or Web site doesn't mean every post or product is compelling enough to be considered socially buzzworthy.
Social media is just another liberating facet of content optimization tactics that can lure in thousands of new visitors and hundreds of inbound links. When it works, it's scalable. But it doesn't always work in a predictable manner.
The right link bait, presented at the right time, to the right audience, with the right messaging can deliver an astounding traffic spike to a Web site or blog. For a new Web site, just getting on the front page of Digg can offer instant visibility and credibility. For an established Web site, social media optimization can strengthen a brand and reel in an entirely new online audience.
The key to social media marketing success is knowing how and when to leverage an online community to meet targeted goals while being a part of that community. To do that, you need to know your audience and be able to set some goals.
Most sites can benefit from some form of social media optimization, and most social venues can provide some level of search-related benefits. But a successful social media optimization strategy needs to spring from rock-solid business and marketing goals. What these goals entail directly impacts how the initiative's performance will be measured over time. Some metrics and KPIs (define) to target in a goal set include:
For the most part, many KPIs are applicable and useful when measuring any online marketing goals, not just social media initiatives. However, KPIs that relate to such items as site stickiness, time spent on site, and page views become even more important.
As the major search engines evolve to produce more personalized search results and incorporate things like photos, videos, and news items into general search results, measuring online success will mean identifying new metrics, too. Potential KPIs to consider when measuring social media success include:
There are many others notable KPIs to consider. But the point is that if something is worth doing, it's worth measuring. Optimizing social media initiatives won't always be about on-site conversions -- although that may be your ultimate goal. Eventually Web site or blogs visitors, fans, and friends are the ones who will determine the success of nearly any social media initiative.
To be certain, the benefits of social media marketing vary depending on what you hope to achieve. The benefit of optimizing a site for social media is that it naturally inspires the creation of excellent, keyword-rich content that can, in turn, improve an online brand's overall visibility and continually increase high-quality inbound links over time. In that way, social media optimization reinforces what a site should be working toward through a natural SEO campaign: building a crawler-friendly Web site, creating compelling content, and building links.
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P.J. Fusco has been working in the Internet industry since 1996 when she developed her first SEM service while acting as general manager for a regional ISP. She was the SEO manager for Jupitermedia and has performed as the SEM manager for an international health and beauty dot-com corporation generating more than $1 billion a year in e-commerce sales. Today, she is director for natural search for Netconcepts, a cutting-edge SEO firm with offices in Madison, WI, and Auckland, New Zealand.