Guest comment: Social search integration
- Dec 23, 2009
One of the key online marketing priorities for brands in 2010 will be better integration between their social media and natural search optimisation strategies. Whereas SEO over the past 15 years has proved to be highly measurable and able to make a real difference to the bottom line, social media has still fully to prove its worth. Current industry debates on developing frameworks and metrics to evaluate the impact of social media are unlikely to come to any swift conclusions. However, one important aspect of social media which is measurable is the contribution it can make to a brands search engine rankings. Here, Henry Elliss, head of social media at Tamar, discusses the key SEO implications which should be front of mind when developing a social media strategy.
During 2009 we have seen all major search engines evolve their services beyond the ’10 blue links’ and incorporate a range of multi-media search results. Images, videos and blog results are now becoming a standard feature and important pieces of search real-estate. For brands which enjoy a mixed online reputation or are frequently on the receiving end of negative media campaigns, harnessing this real-estate can make a real difference in pushing negative results off the first page of Google.
Content is central to the success of both search and social media strategies. Google loves sites which are frequently updated and growing with the addition of new pages - this requires content. Producing content can be time consuming and expensive, but a social media strategy which drives the production of user generated content can overcome this problem. Social media can get your community creating content for you – it’s a case of setting clear parameters and offering suitable rewards in return. It is also a case of using the right-platforms for creating, hosting and sharing social media content. When it comes to blogging, recognised platforms such as Wordpress and Typepad are geared for SEO and automatically carry out much of the hard work for you. We’ve seen new content on a blog indexed by Google in just 17 seconds!
A key trend over the past 18-months has been the rising popularity of URL shortening services such as TinyURL and Bit.ly, driven by the growth of Twitter. What is the impact of these links and micro-blogging on SEO? Well, Twitter applies a ‘no-follow’ code to links generated within its platform, which basically alert Google to disregard them from an SEO stand-point. However, what a number of sites are doing is streaming Twitter feeds to their sites, updating them with dynamic content – something which Google does love. It might also be worth considering building your own URL shortening service. The code to do this is freely available online and services can be hosted on your site. A good safeguard for your links in case existing services disappear in the future.
One area which is often overlooked is using online PR to boost SEO. The value placed by Google on media sites makes links from them extremely valuable, as are links generated by a concerted blogger relations campaign. At a more fundamental level, the content created by a PR campaign, particularly press releases can be an important driver of links if they are key word optimised and provide compelling contact. US political campaigning site MoveOn.org has generated over 10,000 links to its press release section alone, and Unilever generated over 5,000 links to a micro-site promoting its ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’.
An important first step in any social media campaign is to identify online advocates, motivated individuals who are existing fans happy to sing your praises online. However, there can be a natural inclination to focus just on ‘badvocates’ who are saying negative things, especially when online monitoring services are in place. While it is always best practice to deal with unhappy customers as quickly as possible, advocates can be recruited to aid in SEO. Why not regularly tell them about which products you are focussing on each quarter, the keywords you are using and which bits of your site they should link to?
Another key social media trend has been the development of applications and widgets for social networks, blogs and sites. Those apps which have proven useful and entertaining have delivered huge benefits for companies in terms of brand awareness and experience. Many popular application platforms such as those from Clearspring, also allow you to embed links to your site within the application itself. As a result successful apps such as those added to blogs can generate tens of thousands of links to your site and significantly impact SEO.
Consumer reviews are among the most popular and valued type of user generated content and study after study has shown the impact that a positive review can have on consumers buying decisions. Some of the most successful online retailers positively encourage users to create and post reviews of the products and services they sell. Such reviews have the added benefit of being keyword rich with regards to product names and brands. Another benefit is that reviews are a great way to identify the keywords that consumers are actually using about you, rather than the words that your marketing department thinks customers should be using.
There is ongoing speculation in the SEO community that UGC reviews will become a formal part of Google’s algorithm in how it assesses the popularity of sites. The introduction of Google’s Rich-Snippets which can add a star rating or organically generated comment next to a website in search results is an example of this trend. It goes without saying that a 5-star rating can do masses to increase click-through rates, so encouraging reviews should be core part of both your SEO and social media approach.
The real-time nature of social media is one of its greatest strengths, allowing brands to gauge reactions instantly and engage with consumers rapidly. Communities such as Twitter have taken on many of the roles of search engines. This is particularly true for so called ‘emotional’ searches, such as personal recommendations on a restaurant or broadband provider. Google is never one to miss a trick and has now formally agreed with Twitter to incorporate near real-time tweets into its search results. This further reduces the gap between social media and search and further increases the influence of social media over search results.
The trends described above are by no means exhaustive but they all highlight the distinction between what is social media and what is SEO is becoming blurred. They can no longer sit in separate silos and brands which fail to take a more integrated approach to their online marketing in the years ahead face a very real risk of being left behind.
by Henry Elliss
Head of social media