April 20, 2010

Special Report Part 2: Social Media and SEO – 7 Tactics to Boost Rankings and Generate Links

SUMMARY: Search engines are starting to index the content users create on social media sites – and marketers are taking advantage.

In part two of this Special Report, we’ve compiled seven tactics marketers are using to reap SEO benefits from their social marketing activities. Includes advice for:
o Optimizing social media profiles
o Conducting keyword research
o Generating inbound links
o Coordinating your search and social teams
Part One of this Special Report outlined five trends driving the integration of social marketing and SEO. Now, it’s time to discuss the specific ways that marketers are generating SEO benefits from their social media activities.

Before engaging in any social marketing tactics, remember that SEO goals must take a back seat to your audience’s experience. Your primary concern when engaging with social media must be addressing customer needs, interacting with your audience and providing good content.

"We design for the customer first and optimize for search second. I don’t want to trade off the customer experience or the effectiveness of what I’m doing just for search," says Dennis Haugan, Senior Director, Digital Marketing, T-Mobile USA.

Within those parameters, however, there are many opportunities to use social media to distribute keyword-rich content and attract links that can boost your natural search rankings.

Here are seven tactics marketers recommend:

Tactic #1. Optimize social media profiles

Your team does not have control over the design of Facebook fan pages or Twitter feeds. You can, however, control the content on those pages.

Make sure all of your social media profiles:
o Describe your company using brand keywords
o Link to your website

Search engines are indexing this content and listing brands’ social media profiles in search results. The links placed in Facebook and Twitter profiles aren’t "nofollow" links, either -- meaning they provide link value, according to Robert Holland, Founder, Social Media SEO, an industry blog. Optimizing the content on these profiles can help you get more page-one search results for your brand.

Also, use your brand name for your account name whenever possible, says Kelly Gillease, Director, Marketing, Viator, a worldwide aggregator of travel activities.

"We’ve noticed that if you have a one-to-one match for your brand name and Twitter name, you’ll show up a lot more [in the search results]," she says.

Tactic #2. Use keywords in status updates

Your primary concern when writing status updates should be to address your audience and improve their experience.

But secondarily, you should use keywords that will be indexed by search engines’ real-time search features and build keyword relevance around your social presences.

"Anytime I do a social media post, I try to put in the SEO keywords that [our search director] has determined in her research," says Emily Van Winkle, Social Media Specialist, LeapFrog Interactive. "I always link back to the site as much as possible, and really try to tie the [website and social profiles] together that way."

- Use trend research to target hot real-time search keywords

You can get a glimpse into which topics are hot on the Web through tools such as Google Trends and the "trending topics" list on Twitter Search. Holland regularly scans these resources to identify relevant topics and quickly generate content to help attract searchers, he says.

"Since I write about technology and social media, I identify the phrases that are relevant to technology or search or Facebook or Twitter," he says.

Tactic #3. Closely coordinate your search and social teams

As mentioned in part one of this report, search and social data are complementary. The teams in charge of search and social marketing can benefit from each other’s data and analysis -- so make sure the lines of communication are open between the two teams.

- Christy Belden, Search Marketing Director, LeapFrog Interactive, ensures her team’s social specialist, Van Winkle, has updated copies of their keyword lists, and the two marketers communicate regularly. At times, Belden will suggest Van Winkle focus on a specific keyword in her social media activities.

"I always try to put at least one of those keywords in [Facebook updates] if it fits," Van Winkle says.

- Also, make sure your search team is aware of keyword trends identified by your social team’s Web monitoring, as this can aid in search keyword list development.

Tactic #4. Distribute content via social media to build links

Many of the marketers we interviewed emphasized that social media marketing is a great way to generate inbound links. Here are some tactics that have been successful:

- Syndicating content

Marketers who work at publications or other companies that regularly generate content can use social networks to distribute this content to a broad audience and entice followers to share and publish links.

Marshall Simmonds, Chief Search Strategist, New York Times Company, and his team maintain more than 200 Twitter feeds to distribute article links.

"First and foremost we’re trying to reach our audience. Any ancillary benefits and re-tweets are welcome, but it’s not the goal," Simmonds says.

Syndicating links also helps build your audience and expand your reputation, Holland says.

"That reputation is what naturally transcribes into a certain sense of authority in your market, which then transcribes to natural links coming back to your site."

- On-site social sharing tools

Many websites have recently added tools for sharing content through social networks, email and blogs. Adding these buttons to your pages makes it easier for visitors to share your content with their networks.

- Internal linking

On-site social media, such as blogs or forums, can also help improve your site’s internal linking strategy. Encourage your community reps to include links to relevant portions of your own website during online discussions. Also, link your website to your off-site social media presences, and vice versa.

Greg Finn, Director, Internet Marketing, 10e20, suggests putting together a "social page" for your website that collects all the links to your social media accounts.

Tactic #5. Target social news and bookmarking sites

News aggregators and social bookmarking sites, such as Digg and reddit, can generate a rush of traffic and new links for content that receive prominent placement there. These sites allow the community to "vote" on content submitted, and the number of votes dictates the link’s prominence on the site.

Dan Roberts, Senior SEO Strategist and Analyst, Hearst Digital Media, and his team regularly repurpose their magazines’ web content for social news sites. Those links may only make it to the front page of these sites 25% of the time, Roberts says, but the strategy pays off when they do.

For example, the team had a gallery of images on their Good Housekeeping website of pets wearing Halloween costumes. They had enough images to gather them into subtopics, including a "Star Wars" theme.

"Good Housekeeping is not the typical kind of brand that resonates [on sites like Digg]. But if it’s Star Wars, they’ll look at it," Roberts says.

The team built a page to host the gallery and submitted the link to Digg. The strategy worked, and within a week they were ranking well for competitive phrases around Halloween costumes.

"This was going into the Halloween season. It couldn’t be better. This was like a lightning bolt," Roberts says. "A success like this in search means that year-in, year-out, as long as we do things to protect those rankings and keep an eye on that page, it’s going to keep on giving."

Tactic #6. Protect your online reputation

Reputation management is a search and social issue. Your customers talk about your brand in social media, and potential customers find that information through searches. Those searches might be conducted in a traditional search engine, or they might be done on a social site.

Many marketers have already made reputation monitoring a central piece of their social media strategies:
o 89% of marketers using social media are working to improve brand or product reputation, according to MarketingSherpa’s 2010 Social Media Marketing Benchmark Report.

Make sure you’re monitoring online press, conversations and review sites for negative commentary about your brand. When appropriate, reach out to address the complaints and try to resolve the issue on the same page hosting the complaint. That way, visitors who discover a complaint or negative review through search will also see your response.

Tactic #7. Encourage social networking on your website

Your team can add loads of relevant, indexable content to your sites by hosting social features and fostering an online community there. It takes time to build a rich community that regularly posts to forums and message boards, but you can start small and work your way up:

- Create company blogs

Regularly publishing valuable content and responding provide activity around which an on-site community can form.

- Allow comments, ratings and reviews

Adding these features to a site can foster community interaction and generate relevant content.

- Be open to search engines

Not all platforms are designed to be easily indexed by search engines. Make sure your content is clearly visible to the spiders by asking vendors and consulting your search experts.

- Prevent link spam

Make sure your website’s social features are monitored for spam. Also, make sure all external links posted are "nofollow," so they provide no search engine value and therefore will be less likely to attract link spammers.

Useful links related to this article

Special Report Part 1: Social Media’s Impact on SEO -- 5 Trends to Guide an Integrated Strategy

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

Google Trends

Twitter Search





Hearst Corporation

LeapFrog Interactive

New York Times Company

Social Media SEO



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