Search Marketing and Social Media
As the algorithms used by search engines to analyse and rank website pages become increasingly sophisticated and complex, the way in which disciplines such as Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), Pay Per Click (PPC) and Social Media can be integrated for optimal results has become a primary concern for many businesses. We brought together Steve Morgan and Jason Stallard, members of Box UK’s Search Marketing team, along with Social Media Strategist Ffion Tudor to discuss the issue. The conversation began by looking at how SEO and Social Media can work together:
JS: I think at the moment we’re seeing the two channels start to merge considerably. Forbes may have stated that SEO was dead, but as a search marketing consultant I feel it is more that it has shifted towards incorporating brand, PR, content and especially social media considerations. Looking at services such as SEOmoz for example, you see that two of their biggest assessment criteria for the quality of a site are social signals at the page and domain level.
SM: Social media has changed the way people behave online. Link building used to be one of the main factors in off-site SEO, because people shared content through their website, blog etc. As people begin to share more through social networks, it makes sense that Google is starting to incorporate that information into their algorithms.
Sharing functions are often built into sites
FT: I agree. In social media there’s a lot of emphasis on participation - that brings people to your website through backlinking and referral traffic. With blogs as well it’s important to optimise them by making sure you have the right keywords included.
SM: It can also really help with outreach; if you’re doing content marketing then sharing through social media can help get it noticed and encourage people to link.
FT: Social ranking is important to SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), especially for long-tail in certain places such as LinkedIn.
JS: Search engines seem to be realising that people place more trust in people they know rather than taking what’s on the SERPs for granted. Knowing that your friend has recommended or bought a product or service gives a valuable trust factor.
SM: That’s a good point. Link building can be easy for black hat agencies to game, but it’s a lot harder to fake social. Like Jay said, we are shifting from valuing “this random website that links to this other random website” to “these two people, who have a relationship, sharing content among each other".
Dealing with siloes
It’s clear that SEO and Social are closely connected then, but many people still manage their activity in silos. How can they be convinced of the complexities of the relationship between the two areas?
SM: I think it’s more important than ever that someone considering using an agency thinks about whether they cover both search and social, and the extent to which activity is integrated. If they’re just using an agency for search or just for social media the two might not align, and opportunities might be missed.
JS: If you are heavily involved in the search marketing industry you’ll see numerous articles, blogs and forums that are referencing social media, as people realise how big an impact social signals may have on SEO.
FT: But it is true that if you’re not in the industry, it’s understandable that you may see them as two different disciplines, and possibly miss the potential for linking them up.
SM: There is a risk as well for businesses who want to focus solely on just one of these areas. SEO and Social align and integrate particularly well, so they may be limiting themselves or even hurting their efforts by overlooking this opportunity.
JS: From a social media point of view it’s about reassuring senior managers that the channels are being monitored and that any engagement adheres to best practice. There’s still a feeling that if something’s posted it’s gone and you can’t react to it.
FT: These sorts of fears are why it’s so important to educate people about social media; it’s often left to interns or not done at all because people don’t value or understand it. It’s about more than just posting – you need to engage.
JS: If done right, you can drive real SEO results through social activities. For example, if your company is in a competitive industry, you could post a related update on a social media network or profile to rapidly drive traffic back to your website.
Optimising social for search
As social channels obviously contribute to the search performance of a business, can they be optimised for increased impact?
SM: Reputation management is an interesting topic. If the majority of results for a search on your brand name are “owned” by you (ie. your social media profiles), this can push potentially negative results (for example, bad reviews) further down the listings where they’re less likely to be seen.
FT: This topic is linked quite closely to recommendations which can help raise the quality of the sentiment around your brand. As we mentioned earlier, people may be more likely to listen to these voices than to your own website.
LinkedIn's 'Recommend' button
SM: These profiles can often have a lot of weight in the SERPs, and simply creating a profile on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn may be enough to start ranking for brand terms. If you want to give your profiles more of a push you should be making sure your brand name is mentioned consistently, and also look to add follow buttons across your site and in any directories you are listed in; it all goes hand in hand. Be careful not to go overboard though; I’ve seen some cases where people have included major keywords in their social profile handles; this is not only unlikely to have an impact, but also looks less genuine.
JS: Related to this is Google’s authorship markup update which pulls through authors’ social media profiles into the SERPs themselves. It’s already prominent in the search results, and I think it’s to be one of the biggest factors we’ll see in the coming months.
SM: Early studies are suggesting that this can improve your click through rates (CTR), so you may actually get more clicks with the author photo than someone in a higher position without one. There was an article on SEOmoz recently about someone who increased his CTR by 35% by optimising his author profile photo.
With Google authorship making the people behind the content more visible, will we see companies focus on getting their employees involved in social media?
JS: I think this depends on the kind of business you are. “Thought leadership” is phrase you hear a lot at the moment, so if your company has a lot of consultants it makes sense to optimise any content they produce.
SM: It is a balancing act; you can’t expect everyone to contribute, especially if they do it in their spare time, but it does make a company less faceless, which is a lot better for relationship building.
The discussion so far has been centred on organic search, but what about the impact of social media on paid search?
JS: Social media networks have realised that they hold valuable data: customer profile information. With this key weapon in their armoury these networks have started to offer customers tools that allow them to target a much larger set of user segments (based on age, demographic, interest etc.) than search engines typically offer. I think the uptake of these tools is going to grow over the coming months.
However, the question that still raises its head is whether or not a user wants to be hit with an advert within a social network, and whether they will even engage with the ads once they have spotted them.
Facebook ads admin page
SM: People don’t want to be bombarded with ads whatever the context, but especially within social; the proof is in the low click-through rates these kinds of ads often receive. However, this isn’t to say that they’re a bad platform to use. If managed carefully you can get a lot of impressions without overwhelming users, and although you might not get many clicks, this makes it a highly cost-effective solution for brand awareness.
So, what’s the future of the search and social relationship?
JS: I think it will be interesting to observe the ongoing relationship between Facebook and Bing. I think if they’d worked initially on strengthening the relationship the industry might be quite different now. I’m surprised that Google+ and Google Search haven’t worked on a better integration so that you’re not “in a search engine” or “in a social media network” as such, but instead have a more fluid concept of and movement between the two systems.
SM: Statistics such as those that show YouTube to be the second most popular tool used for search after Google support the idea that, rather than searching through Google to find a video, people are going straight onto the social networks.
FT: People want instant information, and different people also like to get information in different ways, from blog posts to social updates to videos. This has made multimedia a central concern of content strategists.
SM: It’s ultimately about choice. We’re seeing more people offer a variety of options in their content; for example creating a video but also providing a transcript. It will also certainly be interesting to see what happens to Google+ in future; you hear reports saying that it’s a ghost town but then there are others that say it’s got more signups than LinkedIn. Being integrated with authorship markup suggests it’s here to stay, even if it’s not the most popular.
JS: From an SEO point of view, the popularity of Google+ seems to depend on how much it monopolises the algorithms of Google’s search engine. Google and Facebook seem to have such a user base that whatever they do people are likely to go with it.
FT: It’s even been reported that Facebook is addictive, with 60% of people checking it first thing in the morning!
Whether approached from an SEO, PPC or Social Media perspective, the integration of search and social has deep, lasting and far-reaching consequences for Digital Marketing strategies. No matter their size, industry or target audience, businesses should be assessing how effectively their activities are aligned in order to optimise and improve online performance, while ensuring they remain up-to-date with the latest trends so they can react quickly to any updates or announcements.
Are your Search Marketing and Social Media strategies integrated, and have you incorporated other disciplines such as Content Strategy and Analytics into your plans? Let us know your experiences using the comments box below. You can also find out more about Box UK’s Digital Marketing services or get in touch with a member of our specialist team.