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Is Social Media the New SEO?

There has been a lot of conversation recently about how much social media affects your organic SEO efforts. While we can’t put this matter to rest because the industry is always changing, we have some insights to share about the present climate. The fact is that social media has both direct and indirect effects on search results, but these are not game-changing effects (at least not yet).

Google+ Friends and Personalized Searches

No previous social media tool has had quite the impact on search engine rankings that Google+ has. When someone is logged into Google+ he or she will get personalized search results from the Google search engine that take his/her +1s (Google’s term for “like”) and friends’ +1s into account. Here are some examples:

  • Your friend has +1ed Steven Spielberg, so the movie Tintin pops up near the top of your search, “new movie releases.” You, however, are a Sherlock Holmes fan, which puts Game of Shadows near the top of your friend’s search (and at the top of yours).
  • One of your Google Circles is a group of amateur astronomers. Therefore, you tend to get new planet discoveries by the satellite Kepler on the first page of your news results.
  • Your spouse and you have been shopping for a new TV, and you both spend a lot of time scouring product review sites. The products each of you looks at rank higher in the other’s searches.

Keep in mind that the interests of Google+ friends only affect Internet searches when the user is logged into Google+. Otherwise, the user’s search results will be based on their previous Internet history and normal SEO optimization efforts.

Google+ versus Twitter and Facebook

Google+ will likely make some major waves in the social media world. In fact, we’re already starting to see some. For example, Twitter used to be open to Google crawlers. That meant that topics with a lot of Twitter traffic would rank high in Google. This can still happen to some degree, but Twitter has largely closed their doors to the crawlers. A topic with a high Twitter volume will appear in Google Suggest (the autocomplete feature in Chrome’s superbar and Firefox’s search bar), but it will not affect what shows up in the search once the user hits Enter.

Facebook, on the other hand, has never directly affected Google search results. Facebook’s primary revenue comes from users clicking ads on Facebook pages, so the last thing they want is someone leaving Facebook and searching for products with Google. For that reason, Facebook will probably always be closed to Google search crawlers. However, certain third-party Facebook apps allow Google crawlers a glimpse into the users of those apps. For example, an app where a Facebook user can list their favorite music can also reveal those preferences to Google, affecting that particular user’s search results (when they are logged in to Facebook).

Social Media: A Focus, but not the Focus

While definitely important for marketing, social media should not become the primary focus of your search engine marketing efforts. The impact of Google+ on rankings is important enough that you should get on Google+ right away, but it’s not going to move you to the first page by itself. Likewise, Facebook “likes” are not going to put your site any higher in a Google search. If there is a lot of “tweeting” about you going on, you might show up high in a Google Suggest list, but it won’t affect your rank on the search page. If a highly optimized competitor jumps on the bandwagon, they may be able to attack you in the Twitter conversation and steal customers away.

When you’re focusing on getting your site ranked high, the same mainstays that have been standard for the last three years still apply:

  • Use keywords judiciously, aiming for quality over quantity
  • Pick some long-tail search terms to focus on and outrank competitors for those terms
  • Write for the actual reader and not just the search crawler
  • Keep a blog with a lot of fresh and interesting content
  • Use landing pages to create alternate doors to your site besides the home page

Social media marketing should be part of your effort to generate conversation about you and boost your brand image. This will encourage people to search for you. In this manner, social media is an indirect boost to your SEO because, when done properly, it can get friends of your customers to search for you. Google+ will be especially helpful in this regard. Also, your social media page can convince a prospective customer to make a purchase if they notice you have a loyal following and a lot of good reviews.

In the end, search engine optimization and social media are simply two separate tools for making sales and gaining customers. You need both of these tools to gain the recognition you need. While the industry may change as social media continues to grow, our advice today remains what it has been all year—to supplement traditional SEO efforts with social media and focus on both.

Tips and Tricks: Make Content SEO Friendly

Quality content on your site can help improve your rankings. Whether you would like to believe it or not, there are better ways to write SEO friendly content. The following five tips can help you create engaging and search engine friendly content:

1. Your title is vital. You must craft a catchy title that includes a keyword. If you don’t, it is an easily missed opportunity to maximize your position in search engines. Don’t sacrifice the chance to include a keyword in your title to be cute or cryptic. By having a clever title that includes a keyword, you can successfully entice readers while encouraging search engines to boost your rankings.

2. Subheadings can be significant. Incorporating relevant keywords in an H2 or H3 tag throughout your content reinforces the topic of your page for search engine spiders.

3. On average, a page of content should have a minimum of 300 words. With at least 300 words, you can write enough original and unique content to incorporate your primary keyword. This sensible amount of content won’t overwhelm readers if it’s organized well, and it gives search engines a sufficient amount of information.

4. Measure your keyword prominence. Plainly put, check how prominent your keyword is within your site. It is better to put your keyword close toward the beginning of the page, title, h tag, or key descriptions.

5. Mix up your keywords. For example, if you’re writing content on photography you could alternate between using the phrase ‘family pictures’ or ‘family portraits’ to change it up and avoid spamming your content with overused keywords.

Be sure to keep these five things in mind when you are writing content for your site. These suggestions can help ensure that your site ranks better in the search engines to increase traffic and visibility.

Industry events

Online Marketing Summit: San Diego; Feb. 6-10, 2012

Search Engine Strategies Search & Social Accelerator Conference: San Diego; Feb. 9, 2012

PubCon: Honolulu; Feb. 13-15, 2012

SearchFest: Portland; Feb. 24, 2012

Search Marketing Expo West: San Jose; Feb. 28 to March 1, 2012

SEO.com events

Webinar: The Science of Lead Generation — Jan. 12 at 11 a.m. MST

Webinar: SEO for Small Businesses — Jan. 26 at 11 a.m. MST

Webinar: Tips to Improve Your Local Marketing — Feb. 9 at 11 a.m. MST