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The Seven Ways Social Media Impacts SEO

Social media optimization is the art of fully leveraging your social networks to extend your messaging to as many people as possible.  There is a subset of those activities that can have a dramatic effect on search engine optimization.  In this article I will be discussing the value these activities can bring to your SEO campaign in addition to how using SEO metrics to help paint an ROI picture around your social media campaign.

Social media and SEO have been converging in many ways for quite some time.  Initially, in the early days of search when Altavista was the number one search engine and Google was just an algorithm (not a Website), the SEO value of social media was primarily based on how much user generated content existed on your forum pages and whether those pages ranked for anything.  When Google arrived and links became the center of attention in the SEO world, social media channels were (and are) very popular for link development, especially in the blogosphere (blog spam also became very popular as a result).

In today’s more sophisticated search landscape, there are a number of ways that social media is playing a role in search engine optimization.  The following list is a comprehensive view of the different ways that social media can influence your search engine optimization campaign and provide value:

1.    Real-Time Search

Real time search refers to the inclusion of social media activity into Google’s main search index.  Whenever a keyword phrase has a certain threshold of activity in the social media sphere, it triggers a scrolling box of related social media activity to appear somewhere in the Google search results.  Getting consistent exposure in this real-time search box, although temporary, can yield significant results.  The best way to target real time search is not to produce one-off targeted messages, but rather to have a consistent alignment with social media strategy and SEO to ensure your company is producing a constant stream of keyword focused activity throughout various social media channels.  This type of alignment is beneficial in targeting real-time search as well as some of the other areas that SEO and social media intersect.

A great example of effective tactics that target real time search is T-Mobile’s integration of Twitter into their Lithium-based social community.  Lithium is an enterprise level social CRM solution that has a number of SEO friendly features including social Twitter integration.  Twitter integration is effective because it produces an abundance of keyword focused conversation within their communities that appears in Twitter, and in turn, is picked up by real-time search.

Real-time search isn’t something you necessarily target with specific messages. Instead, make sure your social media campaigns are centered around keyword-focused language and those conversations are happening in places where Google can find them (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, etc).

2.    User Generated Content

User generated content is another way that social media can directly—and powerfully—affect your search engine optimization campaign.  When you have active communities on your site such as forums, blogs, or any other social media platform that allows users to contribute questions, answers or content, those users tend to have conversations that are centered around the main themes of your site. These types of conversations naturally create content that are specific to various permutations of your targeted keyword phrases (the long tail).  Ultimately, your community members become your biggest assets in creating cost effective, ongoing content segments that are extremely efficient in terms of driving SEO traffic.  Contests with worthwhile prizes are a great way to incentivize your community members to actively participate and put more effort into content creation than they might otherwise.

3.    Link Building

The most common way, and in many cases, most impactful way that social media impacts SEO, is its capability to generate link connectivity.  In other words, social media can be a really effective tool for link building.  Generally speaking, there are two ways that social media generates links: directly and indirectly.  Direct links are links that are created from the social media platform you are engaging with.  So profile links, links created as a result of commenting or adding content, and links that result from the sites functionality (like social news site Mixx.com) are all examples of direct links.

Indirect links are those generated by bloggers and Webmasters who hear about your content through social media.  Some examples include; a blog post that gets written about or referenced, someone adds your content to Mixx.com, someone retweets your message about your new video, someone sees the retweeted link and links back to your content, or when a Webmaster links to your community from his resource site.  Due to the viral nature of social media, a compelling digital asset (link bait) can be an enormous source of links that can really pay big dividends to your SEO campaign.

4.    Brand Related Search

Another very important way that social media affects search is its propensity to drive brand-related search activity. “Brand-related search” refers to anyone who searches for your organization using words or phrases containing your company name, the names of your products or the names of people in your company. Typically, brand-related search generates more traffic to your website than a “non brand related search,” but determining how much of that traffic is generated as a result of your social media efforts is the tricky part—until now.

Thanks to the latest social media attribution technology at www.attributionanalytics.com, we are able to clearly see the influence that social media has on brand-related searches.  The Attribution Analytics technology allows us to determine who previously visited one of our social media properties (i.e.: company facebook page, twitter page, youtube video, etc.) before conducting a “brand-related search” in Google.   In many cases, there is a huge percentage of brand-related searches that were exposed to the brand previously through social media.  Oftentimes it can be inferred that the user had never visited the Website before, because if they had, they would’ve navigated directly by typing the URL of the Website into their browser.  In the past, this activity was always assumed to be the result of the effectiveness of social media in creating awareness. However, Attribution Analytics provides data to back up these claims and gives real credence to the powerful effect that social media can have in driving brand awareness, interest and by extension, brand-related search activity.

5.    Ranking

Social media is even making its way directly into the ranking algorithm.  This behavior can be seen in Google and Bing, but is most prominent in YouTube which uses metrics like number of comments, ratings, number of embeds and other measures of user engagement to help determine how relevant videos are to search queries.  In the case of the traditional engines like Bing and Google, ratings (and local Yelp ratings) are the most obvious element of social media having a direct impact on rankings. With the emergence of tools like Radian 6, additional metrics like sentiment and even number of mentions in relevant social spheres could begin to play a role in how important Google thinks a site is.

6.    Reputation Management

Reputation management is another critical element of an SEO campaign for many companies.  These companies recognize the power of their brand and want to control as much of the front page real estate in search results around their brand as they can.  Having a robust group of social media properties that are all linked to one another can provide you with a number of top listings for your brand.  To accomplish this, you’ll need to ensure that you are actively participating in these communities and providing value to the end user in order to attract the type of links that will allow your brand the greatest opportunity to rank well.  There are a number of companies who successfully control the majority of the top 10 listings that appear for their company name because Google considers their social media sites to be more relevant to their brand than most other sites (which of course makes sense but in the search world requires effort to obtain).

7.    Social Search

With the increasing popularity of sites like Facebook and Twitter, more attention is being paid to the search engines that power those sites.  This is a growing field of exploration but it should be noted that Facebook recently became the most popular site on the Internet and the amount of traffic that goes through their search is significant. Moreover, Twitter’s search traffic is equally impressive, and YouTube’s popularity has made it the number two overall search engine in the world.  As these sites gain more sophistication in their search engine functionality and gain in popularity, more attention will be required of companies to attain top rankings in searches.

There you have it. A high level view of the seven ways social media impacts search engine optimization.  Each of these categories has specific strategies and tactics to maximize the amount of SEO value your social media is providing you.  Using the SEO value of your social media campaigns to help justify the ROI of your expenses can be a very helpful tool in getting additional resources dedicated to social media projects.  Additionally, better understanding of the SEO value of social media will allow you to make the most of your efforts and ultimately, help you achieve your business goals.