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Oh Those Bones, oh Those Bones, oh Those Dry Bones

  |  April 7, 2011   |  Comments

What the integration of social media and search means for SMBs.

Similar to the lyrics of the old song, "The head bone connected to the neck bone, the neck bone connected to the back bone," the connection of local, social, and mobile is extremely important when it comes to your local marketing efforts. All too often, our efforts become tactical and siloed, and we lose sight of the important interrelation of our actions.

In the past few months, I have written on the recent local search changes and the importance of ratings and reviews and how they can impact consumer selection of your business. Recently, I presented at SES New York on the topic of local and social, and I was surprised that many people are still looking at, and acting on, the topics separately.

What Does the Integration of Social Media and Search Mean for SMBs?

By definition, social search is a type of web search that takes into account the social graph of the person initiating the search. With the growth of social media and the dynamic nature of search, it isn't surprising that the two types of online media would intersect. The thought behind this is that people will find search results from their social circle to be more relevant and trustworthy than a random website.

Below are a few facts to underscore the importance:

  • According to eMarketer, 63.7 percent of U.S. Internet users will use social networks on a regular basis this year, (nearly 148 million people), up from 52.3 percent in 2009.
  • A recent survey by Harris Interactive found that 60 percent of users say they value the opinions other people share on social media. This reaffirms how big of an impact the integration of social and search could potentially have in the search realm.

Businesses need to further understand the connection between social media, their local listings, and SEO. Now that social results are fully integrated within the SERP on both Google and Bing, and Google is using this data as one of its many ranking factors, it's increasingly important to make sure your social presence is adequate.

These new developments will prove to be highly beneficial to local businesses that are taking advantage of social media. After all, small businesses are at a slight advantage over corporate businesses given social media's tendency to be more local in nature. Based on MerchantCircle's recent survey of 8,500 U.S.-based small and local business owners, 40 percent report the use of Twitter for marketing purposes, and 70 percent say the same for Facebook (both of which will likely only continue to increase).

Recommendations for SMBs

Let's start with the most important element for connecting a program together: your local listing. In past columns, I have focused on the importance of your local listings in achieving favorable position in local search results. What is only recently coming into focus is how this basic building block is also the connective tissue that joins local, social, and mobile. For example, Google Places search now dominates the SERP for most local searches. One of the most important optimization elements for Google Place Page position is ratings and reviews. This information is called a "citation" and represents information from third-party websites that Google merges into local businesses' Place Pages. Essentially, the more people they see "talking" about your business, the more trust they put in your business.

In order for Google to match the citation information with a specific business, the local listing information needs to align. To ensure this, the most important first step is to review your listing information on Google and compare it to Yelp, CitySearch, YP.com, etc. You want to make sure that every element is identical so that citations are maximized. I have seen situations where minute differences, such as a suite number variance, can impact the engine's ability to join local information. When your listing information is confirmed to be correct and consistent, it is important for SMBs who want to have good social online presence to:

  1. Ensure you have developed a social presence on the main social sites. Don't just rely on your corporate brand to provide a social presence and interact with customers; instead, make sure your local store is also participating in social media on a local level (on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.).
  2. Engage with your audience to gain "likes," tweets, etc. With the integration of search and social, the amount of connections you have on social networks now has a direct impact on the number of people you may be able to reach through search engine results. Therefore, it is important to build your local audience. It's not enough to simply be available on social media sites; you need to engage with your audience to promote your business and garner trust. By doing so, you'll increase positive behavior from consumers, which will lead to positive results with your brand on users' search results pages.
  3. Pay attention to your competitors' social initiatives. If your competitors are heavily outpacing you in the social realm, they will now be appearing more often in search results as well. Make sure you're keeping an eye on what they're doing so your business doesn't fall behind.

Integration of your efforts can have a strong impact on your search position and social presence. Therefore, make sure your efforts are aligned, first with your listing information. Finally, an additional benefit of correcting your listing information is that this information will also be shown on mobile properties. In the end, by taking the steps outlined above, you can ensure a positive effect on your local business information in multiple types of media.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gregg Stewart

Gregg Stewart is president of 15miles Local Marketing, a full-service marketing agency specializing in digital local solutions, headquartered in Connecticut. 15miles is a local search agency supporting the offline, online, and mobile solutions for businesses of all sizes, including Fortune 500 companies. At the helm, Stewart applies his successful, tenured career in interactive advertising and local search to the ongoing development of digital solutions for his clients' online-marketing campaigns. Through his strategic counsel, national and local brands become better equipped to target and reach niche consumers for increased leads and sales. In addition to his Clickz columns, additional columns can be found in the Search Engine Watch archive.

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