Most businesses, agencies, and brands know that they should be thinking about SEO, but it’s been thrown around so much in recent years that some folks are starting to perceive it as simply an empty buzzword. And with the ongoing revelation that social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ increase your opportunity for exposure and connection with customers even more than semantic search, is SEO still as important as it was hyped up to be not so long ago?
How does it relate to crafting good social media content that will be easy for your fans to find? Do you need an SEO expert in your company to make sure it gets done properly?
We talked to the pros to get the scoop on what businesses need to know about SEO. Mike King is the director of inbound marketing at iAcquire, a digital marketing agency. Greg Finn is a contributing editor for Search Engine Land and Marketing Land, as well as an Internet marketer for Cypress North. Both are experts on social media and seo, and they shared their thoughts on how to seamlessly combine SEO and social media content creation.
What is SEO?
For starters, let’s clear up what search engine optimization actually means. SEO is the creation of content that can be easily understood by search engines so that the correct information is displayed for any given search query. “While Google, Bing, and other search engines are quite smart, many times items can be lost in translation,” Finn explained. “Setting up pages properly can help search engines realize what information is the most important on a site, and ensure that the proper content appears for related queries and that you show up in the search engine results pages (SERPs) where you should.”
The goal of search engines is to provide the best results possible, so that is the key driver of the rules defining order. “If Google starts to show poor results in the SERPs, then people may go elsewhere with their queries,” Finn explained. The algorithms are also in frequent flux as the search engines constantly work to refine how results are sorted. “No one truly knows, especially since Google moves the goalpost daily with any number of tweaks and updates,” King said of the algorithms.
That may seem like a daunting realization for companies looking to optimize their social media channels, as well as their broader online presence. Never fear; just because the details are scarce doesn’t mean you’ll be left taking shots in the dark. There are still basic rules driving search engines, and with a few simple best practices, brands can make sure they give their social posts the best chance of ranking well.
Searching Social Content
“Search and social now really go hand in hand,” Finn said. “A higher search presence naturally leads to more social sharing.” On the flip side, popularity on social networks may have some impact on where search engines display a website link in query results. Any public social media posts are indexable. “Search engines have to adhere to rules, and if they don’t have permission to view content, they cannot index it,” Finn said.
The role social influence has on general search engines is a little hazier. “Inbound links are still the main driver of rankings,” King said. He observed that for certain types of content, such as news, a large number of social shares meant a higher search ranking. “Aside from that, correlation studies are showing that Google+ “+1s” have the highest correlation with rankings after inbound links.” Getting +1s is also one of the fastest ways to get a page indexed by Google, he added.
Finn supported involvement with Google+ as a key method for improving SEO for social content. “I’m so surprised that many folks who are spending quite a bit of time on SEO aren’t using Google’s own social network,” he said. “A recent study by seoClarity showed that in a 300,000 keyword sample, 13,000 of the top ten results included a Google+ post.”
And of course, it’s reasonable to assume that content that gets lots of shares will ultimately get lots of links by virtue of being seen and considered by more content creators than content that doesn’t move on social, so even shares on Facebook and Twitter matter.
2 Helpful Tools
As you begin applying SEO principles to your brand’s online content, there are a few resources that can be especially useful. King talked about how Google Authorship and Schema.org could be of use in both boosting SEO for online content or for better understanding what search engines look at.
“Google Authorship is a program where Google is looking to identify content creators and connect them to their content,” King said. Connecting the authors of online items with their creations will help that material to rank higher because it offers some verification amid the noise of mediocre content. “Brands should do this because they get the benefits of having their content appear in the ‘right rail’ of the SERPs for free, and authors get their image in the SERPs next to their results,” King said.
Another useful tool King discussed is Schema.org. This website is a database of the html tags and other metadata that can be used to label pages for parsing by a search engine. “They are trying to understand what entities are being identified in content rather than just the collection of words,” he said. “Understanding these entities is important for developing relationships between them.”
Both our experts focused on supplying valuable social content as a path to good search rankings. “I’d recommend sharing some of your most important content,” Finn said. “It’s easy to post funny or silly updates, photos, or links, but if you are looking to improve your search, mix in some of your important pages.” He also said a strong focus on quality content was the best way to ride out the vagaries of search engines’ mysterious algorithm updates. “Amazing content will not only be ideal for social sharing, but would be beneficial for search engines to provide to their users,” he explained.
King’s assessment was similar. “There is a misconception that you need to have an experience for search robots and one for users,” he said. “At iAcquire we believe in a concept called the “Poetry of SEO”, which basically states that despite the limitations of search, there is no excuse for content to ever be inelegant or not engaging.”
As for the technical nitty-gritty, King suggested having a clear picture of your audience before launching into an SEO tool. He said knowing your target readers — the people coming to your pages and interested in your field — is an essential first step. “Once you know that, you can start looking at keyword research tools like the Google Adwords Keyword Tool or YouTube’s Keyword Tool,” he said. “Both of these will help you identify keywords based on a seed set that people are actually looking for.”
Finn offered insights for what companies should look for if they decide to hire outside experts to handle SEO projects. “When looking for an agency, look to folks who show their face and team, and are willing to provide references,” he said. “If you can’t find out the name of the people who will be handling your account and you can’t talk to their other clients who are ecstatic, then run!”
For companies that already have SEO experts in house, Finn said that the skill set doesn’t necessarily need to overlap with your existing social team or community manager. For those positions, he said, “Your job should be to amplify your content, increase your overall signal by boosting sharing and buzz. Many times an SEO-first viewpoint can actually hinder that.”
These insights should sound familiar, because they bear a strong similarity to the approaches successful brands take to social media. Know your audience. Provide great content. Lay a strong foundation for organic sharing.
While brands can think of social media as another outlet for SEO and improving their search results, the consensus of the experts is that those networks may be more useful as a way to highlight your thoroughly optimized content. If you apply the ideas of SEO — making it clear to a computer algorithm what audience your content is for — to your online presence, then social media will naturally boost awareness of your company. People will share insightful blog posts, funny Facebook statuses, and informative tweets.
In SEO, as in any element of marketing, social media is a powerful means to an end.