At the Intersection of Search and Social

Regardless of the session titles at two recent conferences — Search Engine Strategies NY and OMMA Global in Hollywood, CA — there was tremendous interest in and discussion around social media. Hallway conversations and interviews rarely strayed from either the economy or social media and often it was a hybrid discussion of how to craft a social strategy to overcome economic challenges or augment stressed advertising budgets.

Experienced conversation marketers in the crowd and those new to the area both struggled with the big issues like corporate commitment and measurability, but many jumped to highly tactical implementation questions. Should I build a widget? How do I find the influencers in my online community? How do I link my Facebook page? How can I sell in a Twitter strategy to my CEO?

Few conversations started with what I believe to be an obvious win in the current environment: leveraging the synergy between search and social strategies.

Check any SERP (define) for a branded term and you’ll immediately note that the competitive set for the important screen real estate on the first page has changed dramatically in the last year. It’s no longer just competitive businesses, affiliates, and associations vying for those top results. You now have a predominance of social media entries, including those from Wikipedia, Facebook, blog entries, videos, and even tweets.

The sheer volume of social media content has skewed the results page and much of it is consumer generated. That authentic voice is constantly refreshed and the links they provide are highly valued by the search engines.

SEO (define), paid search, and social media must become components of a single integrated strategy. We can use a simplified model to better explain the interplay between the tactical elements.

Integrated Strategy Model

Social Media and Search

Search and social media are the two most common activities engaging the average user online, according to February data from comScore. I hope no one is surprised. Both put the consumer in control. Social media channels use the transparency of user experience and the easy dissemination of that experience to involve users in the actual process of defining a brand and its messaging.

As more users contribute content, including reviews and commentary, the social Web is becoming a resource (or crowd source) of human-generated, reliable information. Google is apparently courting Twitter because it sees the potential in both the huge, engaged audience it is amassing and also because Twitter search challenges Google by providing context-relevant, real-time search capabilities.

In most social media, authors can assign tags to the content, directly linking it with relevant search terms. This creates a good user experience for readers who can find what they’re looking for and also provides cues to the search engines to relevant and high quality links.

The proliferation of blogs and other user-generated content has dramatically increased the number of such links and validated their relevance. This looks like organic traffic to most analytics packages but perhaps deserves its own category. The more socially relevant a site, the more inbound links it receives, and the more likely it is to be present on the first SERP alongside all the social media links that reference it.

Search and PPC

PPC (define) and search have grown while other segments declined slightly or were flat in 2008, according to recently released data from the Interactive Advertising Bureau and PricewaterhouseCoopers. As the popularity of these sectors grows, it becomes increasingly important to ensure they’re working together to produce better results.

Higher quality scores can reduce your click costs. Google’s Quality Score (we think) is based on the relevancy of your keyword to your ad group, to your landing page and to a user’s search query plus some historical and internal account and page measures.

The same approaches that improve the user experience on your site and improve organic search results will improve Quality Scores and increase the efficiency of your PPC campaigns. Plus, if you have paid and organic listings on a SERP, you’ve staked out more page real estate and likely improved click and conversion rates.

Social Media and PPC

As the only paid media in the triumvirate, PPC is a flexible channel to test messaging and promotions or to supplement social media and organic search in heightened promotion periods. It is well used during quick crisis response or reputation management efforts to ensure that the corporate voice and messaging is found when other less controllable methods are not fast enough or certain enough.

At the core of these three marketing tactics is a strong content strategy and a good ear tuned to user needs. Social media’s success depends on providing relevant and valuable content and facilitating an authentic dialogue.

These same measures support a strong SEO program and a cost-efficient PPC campaign. The integration of those efforts creates an audience win and a win for the brand with effective social, SEO, and PPC programs.

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