April 13, 2010

Special Report: Social Media’s Impact on SEO – 5 Trends to Guide an Integrated Strategy

SUMMARY: Social media exerts a growing influence on search engine results pages, and marketers who have integrated social media in their SEO strategies are already seeing the benefits. Early movers are attracting more inbound links and claiming more page-one real estate.

We’re diving into the details of social/SEO integration in this two-part Special Report. This installment features five key trends marketers must understand when integrating SEO and social marketing. Includes data from our 2010 Social Media Marketing Benchmark Report and examples from marketers.
Social media generates reams of online content, and search engines are indexing more and more of it. But this explosion of content poses a challenge for search marketers: How do you optimize content you only partially control?

The answer is not to try to control social media, but rather to develop a strategy that takes advantage of the SEO benefits inherent in that content.

Many marketers are already seeing the power of integrating their SEO and social media marketing strategies:

- 69% of marketers using social media score its effectiveness at improving search engine rankings at three or higher on a scale of one-to-five, according to MarketingSherpa’s 2010 Social Media Marketing Benchmark Report.

- Marketers also are successfully using social media for targeted search goals. Below are the percentages of marketers who say social media is somewhat or very effective at achieving specific SEO objectives:
o Improving search rankings -- 91%
o Increasing traffic from targeted keywords -- 90%
o Expanding content shown in universal search results -- 89%
o Improving the ROI from search programs -- 80%
o Generating more qualified leads -- 78%

"There’s natural relationship," says Craig Macdonald, VP, Marketing and Product Management, Covario. "If you execute good linking strategies when you’re doing content development for social media, then you find you can drive better rankings from an SEO standpoint."

In this two-part special report, we dive into the relationship between social media and SEO. Below, we outline five key trends in social media and SEO that marketers must understand to develop a good social/SEO strategy:

Trend #1. A solid social strategy must come first

It’s important not to put the search cart in front of the social media horse. Developing a clear social media marketing strategy has to come first.

Setting up brand profiles on social networks, adding a forum to your website, starting a company blog -- they’re all tactics designed to better connect your brand with your audience. Your primary goals in these channels must be to provide great content, interact with your audience and build relationships.

That said, once you have an established social media strategy, you can develop a range of secondary goals, such as improving website traffic or brand sentiment. Incorporating a natural search strategy should be among those goals.

-> Note: Social media traffic volume is relatively low, but growing fast

Kelly Gillease, Director, Marketing, Viator, a worldwide aggregator of travel activities, saw revenue from Facebook traffic in the first half of March increase 130% compared to last year. Page views increased 196%.

However, traffic from social media sites still accounts for less than 2% of all her team’s page views. But they anticipate continued growth and are preparing their marketing, in part, by incorporating target keywords in their social media profiles and updates.

"What we’ve tried to do is set ourselves up well to succeed no matter what the search engines decide to do."

Trend #2. Search engines are increasingly indexing social content

Google and Bing have recently added social data their search packages, with video, images, comments and profiles that originate on social media sites showing up in search results. Bing has a Twitter search feature, and Google has added content from blogs, Twitter updates and Facebook fan pages to some search results and in a separate "updates" search feature.

- Marketers we spoke with agreed on two key points:
1. These "real-time" searches are in their infancy and drive little traffic
2. Real-time search and other social data will have a growing impact as search engines index more of it

- In addition to dynamic content, such as comments and updates, search engines are indexing and listing social media profiles in their results.

Marketers with well designed, keyword optimized and updated profiles on networks such as Facebook and Twitter are finding those profiles listed for searches on their general brand names -- giving them more ownership of the valuable first results page.

Trend #3. Social media builds inbound links

A key tenet of social media marketing is to provide value, often through great content and interaction. Audiences that receive good content will often link to it, and those links can dramatically improve a site’s natural search performance.

"Our entire interest from a search perspective is almost exclusively on the power of social for link building, which is such a critical part of search performance," says Dan Roberts, Senior SEO Strategies and Analyst, Hearst Digital Media.

Roberts’ team found that repurposing content for social news websites such as Digg and reddit can generate a tremendous number of inbound links. (Read more about using social bookmarking sites in Part Two of this Special Report.)

His team -- and several others we spoke with -- also notice content highlighted in social networks attracts more attention from audiences, and generates inbound links when people grab the content and share on their own blogs, websites and other locations.

- Most network links are "nofollow"

Many social networks links are meant to be passed over by search engines, using the "nofollow" tag in the HTML code. This code means that many social media links, such as Facebook and Twitter updates, will not provide a direct SEO benefit to their destinations.

However, linking to good content in an update calls an audience’s attention to that webpage. The audience can then publish the link elsewhere or share it further in the network.

- Profiles have good links

Robert Holland, Founder, Social Media SEO, an industry blog, says marketers can get SEO benefits by adding relevant URLs to their profiles on Facebook and Twitter.

- Social channels get links out fast

When dealing with emerging topics, Marshall Simmonds, Chief Search Strategist, New York Times Company, finds his team only has a matter of hours to build link authority.

"In the early phase of a breaking news story, that link equity is doled out, and sometimes that window of opportunity is very small."

The team compensates by pushing hard to ensure content is accurate and that it immediately gets pushed to Google News, Twitter, Facebook and other channels so audiences see it immediately.

Trend #4. Search and social data complement each other

Many of the tools used to monitor social media conversations are keyword driven. Search engine marketing is also keyword driven -- and the two channels can benefit from one another’s data.

For example, your SEO keyword research can identify keywords and phrases to use in social media channels to attract more visitor traffic to that content, and to help that content rank well.

Also, analysis of the language customers use to discuss your brand in social media can contribute to your SEO keyword research. Adding social data to keyword research keeps marketers from guessing, Macdonald says.

"Have the consumers tell you how they want to find your brand."

- Measuring brand performance

Also, Macdonald’s team found success using search and social media data to measure the impact of clients’ branding campaigns. After the team launches a major campaign, they can monitor the level of social media discussion and searches around the campaign and brand keywords. They then use the data to help gauge branding impact.

Trend #5. On-site social media is a powerful content generator

Not all of your efforts should be focused on third-party channels like Facebook. Creating a blog or attracting an active community on your website can generate massive amounts of keyword-rich content for your domain.

For example, Matthew Milner, VP, Social Media, Hearst Digital Media, and his team created forums and question-and-answer platforms on the websites for magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Seventeen. The team’s question and answer groups comprise "tens and tens of millions of Q&As," Milner says:
o Seventeen’s Q&A content attracts about 30,000 search visits per month
o That traffic is on track to grow 90% year-over-year

These communities generate content in the exact language of the intended audience, and on topics related to their core interests -- because the community chooses the topics. By hosting these communities on their domains, the team’s websites can reap the natural search benefits.

Part Two of this report will examine specific tactics marketers can use achieve SEO gains from channels such as Facebook and Twitter.

Useful links related to this article

MarketingSherpa’s 2010 Social Media Marketing Benchmark Report

Members Library -- New Chart: What Social Media Marketing Objectives are Organizations Targeting and Measuring?

Members Library -- Sherpa 101: How to Use Digg to Go Viral - 10 Strategies to Making It Part of Your Marketing Strategy

Bing Twitter

Cosmo Community



Hearst Corporation

New York Times Company


Seventeen Q+A

Social Media SEO


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