The rules of search have changed. In fact, they change on a daily basis. But never so dramatically has rank been uprooted since the explosion of social media. Social media sites, especially the power houses of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, have become backlink central for affecting organic search results.
Social media’s influence on driving business via the web is expected to surpass search engine optimization (SEO) in 2013, according to eMarketer. Web marketers and PR professionals must pay attention to how social media affects search, and ultimately how it can change the rules of online visibility and (online) brand engagement.
Prior to Facebook’s takeover of the online universe (800 million active users today), online visibility in natural search was a sum of several measurable components: SEO site compliance on site structure and meta tags/content, directory link submissions, and qualified and relevant site/blog-linking. In 2010 the game officially changed, with Google’s support of social media – author reputation, bookmarking, commenting, as well as a number of other social factors (likes, tweets, retweets, shares, etc.) – as a major factor in how it ranks websites and blogs in its algorithm. Real-time search in Google meant that search was only as valuable as the latest blog post, social share, and comment.
Today, the line is blurring. And this causes some confusion for web marketers. Should they focus on optimizing and driving traffic to their social pages? To their website? Where does their online brand live? How do they communicate their brand value proposition, whether their personal or corporate brand? The good news is that technology has advanced so that web marketers can manage their content and sites through the use of simple and effective blogging tools. Further, those blog tool properties, such as WordPress, support integration of social plug-ins and necessary content for social sharing including video, effective product/service literature, and tagged imagery. And so, marketers can use social and manage their web presence to support online brand consistency.
So how can you use social media to increase your SEO rank and ensure that the rank and ensuing traffic will convert to web business? First, you must create and understand a parallel social media optimization/search engine optimization strategy. All creators of content on your team (copy, social commenting, videos, and imagery) need to be on one brand team. The approach must be holistic. A unified brand message must drive visibility across all content and all channels.
To define a common strategy for execution across standard SEO practices as well as across social media content development and sharing, marketers must rethink keyword development. The questions become less about search visibility vs. obvious competition and more introspective in terms of what the corporate and executive brand mean. Ask your team questions such as: What is our brand value proposition? What do we want our audience to say about us? How will we incent our audience? How will we be leaders? Why will people follow us? Answering these questions will help you to zone in on your top branded, broad-based, and narrow-based keywords.
Once these target keyword phrases have been developed, you will need an actionable task plan to follow and with which to measure effectiveness of your new blended social/SEO strategy. The strategy must contain: content types and frequency, such as a weekly webinar production, and planned outreach per social channel and media (social) buys/ads with effective messaging and resulting goals. Determining success in social affects search visibility such that the quality of the author, relevancy of the topical content, number of followers, number of comments/retweets, and number of shares of blog posts must be considered and followed for search visibility to pull from success in these metrics.
When determining how you will rank in natural search for branded and business-driving keywords, first do the ABCs of SEO work in terms of on-site optimization wherever your online marketing plan calls for conversion. Once that has been completed, rein in your social and search teams to determine your custom strategy and measurable plan. Remember that, just like traditional SEO practices, social media optimization work must be consistent, authentic, managed daily, and measured for success.