Socially Optimal

A fundamental SEO (define) element entails breaking down crawling barriers to help the engines fully index a Web site. A successful campaign also relies on crafting compelling, keyword-targeted content that appeals to those searching for your site and building links for targeted terms and phrases. If you can build a natural search strategy around these three SEO pillars, you’re well on your way to earning your fair share of targeted search-referred traffic.

Just about any site can benefit from building a solid search foundation — be it business-to-business (B2B), business-to-consumer (B2C), service-oriented, or online retailer. You’ll secure structural strength when moving into the new multimedia online venues available to interactive marketers today, so-called Web 2.0 venues, such as Digg, del.icio.us, YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, and many others.

Where SEO is all about building a strong search foundation, social media optimization (SMO) is primarily about knocking down your site’s walls so content can be readily discovered, distributed, and shared by diverse online communities and social multimedia search portals.

The SMO process may be a simple as embedding a Digg or del.icio.us button on your blog and optimizing your RSS feeds, or it may mean investing considerable time and money on compelling buzz-worthy content or widgets. Or it may be both. Any way you look at it, SMO can help drive thousands of new visitors to a site and bring in hundreds of new inbound links, as well as help you make a little money along the way. Isn’t that why you built a site in the first place?

Follow the Four Rights

The right link bait, presented at the right time, to the right Web 2.0 audience, with the right messaging can deliver an astounding traffic spike to a site or blog. For a new site, just getting an article on the front page of Digg or featured on StumbleUpon‘s home page can offer instant visibility and credibility. For an established site, SMO can strengthen a brand and reel in an entirely new online audience, such as those found at Stylehive, reddit, or Ning.

The key to SMO success lies in knowing how to leverage an online community to meet targeted goals without overtly marketing to the group. Social communities must be entertained and engaged with your contributions to the group — you must earn your voice and your position among the tribe.

You must be an active part of the online community if you’re going to earn your keep in the group and build or maintain your online reputation. The first rule of engaging any social community is to lurk before you leap, and it doesn’t hurt to have a few time-sensitive goals in mind, either.

Set the Goals

Most sites and blogs can benefit from some form of SMO, but a successful SMO strategy must spring from rock-solid business and marketing goals. What these goals entail directly impacts how the SMO initiative’s performance and ongoing campaigns’ overall results will be measured.

Some metrics to watch include average page views and percent of returning visitors. Neither metric is perfect as a standalone benchmark, but together, when measured over time, you can watch the SMO-inspired traffic spikes impact your bottom line in the form of turning new visitors into repeat visitors.

Depending on your business structure, a well-tuned SMO strategy can help reduce service cancellations and cart abandonment, increase your newsletter subscriber base, amplify visits per month, or improve new account sign-ups.

Specific campaign elements can be measured by visits per month to targeted destinations within your site; RSS subscribers; blog statistics; new customer data; and brochure, PDF, case study, and whitepaper downloads. Ultimate success comes back to goals. Once your goals are established, you can determine which metrics are the most important to measure your overall performance online.

While SMO initiatives can help drive substantial traffic your way, understand what a surge in visitors means to your site’s overall performance. Can your site handle the load? Is the new traffic sticky, or does it create a high bounce rate that impacts your overall ROI (define)? Are you really ready for building your first SMO success? Then you’d better keep an eye on site uptime, load speeds, site stickiness, and time spent on site in addition to page views and transactions.

Of course there are other factors to consider, but the point is to measure your online success. You’ve got to set tangible business goals and establish a few benchmarks. Only then can you begin to consider which social media venues should be targeted, depending on the audience you’re trying to reach.

Without defining your target audience, there’s no way you can offer people a compelling widget or optimize entertaining content. Always consider what actions you must take to produce an optimal reaction from your targeted audience. In that way, it will be easier to select the social media venues you want to join when fine-tuning a targeted SMO campaign.

Why It’s Worth the Effort

Virtually every Web 2.0 site carries a degree of commercial usefulness. Yet some sites have built-in hindrances, such as nofollow links or pages only accessible behind passwords. Remember, search engine spiders can’t type. Take time to understand the social venues available to participate in, as well as the effort to establish a presence in the community. When well targeted and well timed, SMO naturally complements SEO.

SMO benefits vary depending on what you hope to achieve. Optimizing a site for social media inspires the creation of excellent, keyword-rich content that can in turn improve an online brand’s overall search engine visibility and continually increase high-quality inbound links. In that way, SMO reinforces what your site should be working toward through an SEO campaign — building a crawler-friendly site, creating compelling content, and earning high-quality inbound links.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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