How Social Media Impacts SEO

SEO is evolving at what feels like “ludicrous” speed. When I was getting started in 2006, on-page keyword density, a cursory understanding of HTML meta tags and links from article directories were about all you needed to know to get a page to rank high in Google.

SEO is evolving at what feels like “ludicrous” speed. When I was getting started in 2006, on-page keyword density, a cursory understanding of HTML meta tags and links from article directories were about all you needed to know to get a page to rank high in Google.

Then Google tweaked their algorithm and higher-quality link-building was the golden ticket to a #1 ranking. Fast forward to today and the old-school tactics of just a few years ago no longer work. That’s because SEO has evolved and grown to the point where engagement is the new measurement of success.

Old-School SEO Is Dead
In my experience talking with business owners every day, there is a huge misconception that SEO is simply about HTML meta tags and backlinks. That’s what I call old-school SEO and it’s been dead for a while now.

As mentioned above, SEO is now about engagement. To be successful in ranking high in Google, plus driving traffic and ultimately leads and sales from SEO, you need to focus on engaging your target prospects online. That means creating compelling content your prospects would want to read and share with their friends and colleagues.

And, of course, where do people share content online? You guessed it: social media! That brings us to the first way social media impacts SEO…

  1. Content Distribution
    To clarify, I am not saying that on-page SEO factors like HTML tags or off-page factors like backlinks are no longer important. They are—and always have been—the foundation of a solid SEO strategy.

    What has changed is the shift from old-school link-building tactics to more natural content distribution. Sharing content on social media accomplishes two important goals for SEO:

    • Your content can spread virally, which drives more traffic and more engagement with your website. This can also lead to more brand searches in Google, further reinforcing your authority.
    • Your content can get in front of other bloggers and news sources who in turn are more likely to link to your webpages. As mentioned already, backlinks are still critical for SEO so this leads to higher rankings.
  2. Control Your Brand in Google
    When you search for a company in Google, what do you see? Most likely, you’ll find the company’s website, Google+ profile page, LinkedIn page, Facebook page, Twitter page and any other social media profiles.

    Clearly, Google gives preference to company social media pages in their search results. This is good news because it’s not hard to set up your social media pages and nearly instantly dominate the results for brand searches.

    Why is this important? Well, before a prospect contacts you, they most likely going to do their homework online. That means searching for your brand in Google and reviewing the websites they find. By creating and maintaining active social media profiles, you put yourself in control of your brand in Google.

  3. SEO Expands Beyond Google
    Google is the top search engine, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore Bing. Bing has said they do take social media signals like the number of Twitter followers into account when ranking webpages. That means social media activity directly impacts your rankings on Bing.

    Plus, let’s not forget about searches on the social media sites themselves. That’s right, social media sites are search engines as well! Every day people are searching on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and others to find content and search for businesses. If you ignore social media, then you obviously miss out on the opportunity to get your business in front of those relevant searches.

Do you want more SEO tips? I created a simple checklist that walks you through specific actions you can take to improve your rankings and traffic. Click here to get my SEO Checklist.

Mentoring: Give a Little, Get a Lot

Last summer, I heard that my alma mater was launching a mentoring program between graduates and enrolled Seniors. Even though I no longer reside in my college town, I quickly volunteered to be a guinea pig for remote mentoring

Last summer, I heard that my alma mater was launching a mentoring program between graduates and enrolled Seniors. Even though I no longer reside in my college town, I quickly volunteered to be a guinea pig for remote mentoring.

The woman running the program was hesitant at first—her vision was to put grads and students together face-to-face and create events that would bring the mentor/mentees together outside of 1:1 meetings.

Even though I reside in the San Francisco Bay Area and my college is in chilly Ottawa, Canada, I convinced her to team me with a student who was studying abroad for a semester so neither of us would be on campus.

Luckily I was paired with a wonderful senior named Mitch who was spending a semester in The Netherlands and studying marketing. We hit it off immediately, swapping stories about our pasts, our work experiences and talking about his goals when he graduates (to work in sports marketing). Mitch proved to be intelligent, inquisitive and eager to learn about the real world of marketing and advertising.

In our weekly calls, I answered a lot of questions (about marketing strategies and tactics and concerning specific job functions in the industry), but we also talked about some very practical things like how to put together a solid resume and a LinkedIn profile. Frankly, I was a bit surprised that in this social media crazed world, this very bright student was not that familiar with LinkedIn and how to use it to his advantage. Upon having further conversations with my college graduate son and his friends, it seems none of them were particularly savvy about LinkedIn and how leverage it to their advantage.

Helping Mitch with his resume was a fascinating exercise in marketing. His first draft provided a laundry list of all his summer jobs, but didn’t successfully position his experience and his growing expertise. As I quizzed him on what he actually did at each job, I helped him extract the salient messages he needed to convey about his skills and accomplishments—it was similar to working with a client to help them clarify and synthesize a product’s attributes and benefits, and how they stacked up to the competition.

For example, during his Junior year, Mitch worked for a marketing agency that was helping Microsoft increase its mindshare among college students. He described that job as “Independently reach and educate University students regarding the benefits of Microsoft products while entrusted with expensive technology.”

After some probing into what he was REALLY doing and the knowledge and skill set it required, we rewrote it to read “Manned an on-campus booth and answered questions about various Microsoft software products while retaining proficiency in Microsoft Windows 8.1 and the Microsoft Office Suite of products. Using Microsoft-provided software / hardware, performed a Pre- and Post- Attitudinal Behavior Study.”

Now he sounded impressive!

What was most exciting, however, is that this week Mitch advised me that a Netherlands-based sports organization that he follows on Twitter had tweeted about an opening for a marketing assistant. We quickly got to work refining his resume to match all the skills the job description required and crafted an introduction letter that further highlighted his skills.

We also did a LinkedIn search to determine who the position would report to and poured over the hiring managers resume. I encouraged Mitch to spend time on the company’s website, social media sites to become immersed in the brand, its mission, brand positioning, communications messages and key issues the company is facing.

Yesterday Mitch was contacted by the hiring manager and asked for work samples and to set up an interview. We then went to work prepping him with questions he might ask during the interview process. Honestly, I was as excited as Mitch was!

As I finish this column, I’m waiting to hear the outcome of that first important job interview, but either way, I’m confident that this young man will be a marketing rock star and any firm would be lucky to employ him. And, I relish the opportunity to help another grad enter the world of marketing fully knowledgeable with the skill set to market themselves successfully.

Setting SEO Strategies and Priorities for 2015

As you turn the calendar to 2015, it is time once again to revisit the SEO successes or unmet challenges from the previous year and set priorities for what must get done during this year. Setting priorities for SEO is difficult. SEO is fast-moving, constantly changing and highly tactical marketing. There is always the temptation to chase the changes in search algorithms and ranking factors, for these changes require tactical solutions. It is easy to focus so intently on tactics to meet these immediate changes in the search that the overarching goals can get lost in the details, deep in the weeds. Good tactical execution done without real strategies and clearly set priorities is like driving fast with no directions or destination.

As you turn the calendar to 2015, it is time once again to revisit the SEO successes or unmet challenges from the previous year and set priorities for what must get done during this year. Setting priorities for SEO is difficult. SEO is fast-moving, constantly changing and highly tactical marketing. There is always the temptation to chase the changes in search algorithms and ranking factors, for these changes require tactical solutions. It is easy to focus so intently on tactics to meet these immediate changes in the search that the overarching goals can get lost in the details, deep in the weeds. Good tactical execution done without real strategies and clearly set priorities is like driving fast with no directions or destination.

Here are three things to consider as you go about setting your SEO strategies and priorities for 2015. How have your customers changed in their use of search? What are your business goals for 2015? Are you looking to grow, introduce new products or services, or regain lost business or traction in your industry? Does your site reflect your business? Does it offer anything of value to the customer or is it a static billboard or catalog? How and when will you be changing it? Finally, look at your SEO program and set the goals and priorities.

What About the Consumer?
There is a clear trend toward consumers using mobile devices for their search. Are you ahead or behind your customers? Review your analytics and consider what devices your customers are using. If you have not seen a clear uptake in mobile, don’t simply rationalize that your customers are different and haven’t moved to mobile yet. If your mobile traffic is not growing in relation to other Web devices, you may be losing ground already.

Another clear trend is that consumers are using social media to vet businesses and products. Social media today are clearly interlinked with search results. In setting 2015 priorities, you must look at how consumers are using social media relative to your business. Also, don’t forget to look at which social media sites are their favorites.

Are Your Business Goals Realistic?
If your business is growing, you will need to look at where online growth will come as you move to set your 2015 search directions. Do you expect huge growth from search? If so, you will need to look long and hard at how you will make this happen. Be reasonable in your expectations. In short, curb your optimism. Ground it in real numbers. It is not sensible to expect huge growth from search in a vacuum. Branding is ever more important element in search, so if your brand is weak, so too will be your ability to generate new traffic from search.

If you are introducing new products or adding a new line of business, you will need to make sure that you marketing program supports the product launch in all of the media that search influences. I am constantly surprised at businesses that simply add a page to their existing site and expect traffic. This may have once worked, but it does not work now.

Visit Your Site With Fresh Eyes
Come to your site as if you are a new customer. Do a search for your own products and follow the path. You may be surprised at what you discover. Does your site show up for the keyword searches that best describe your business? Did you turn up an outdated page as the key result of your search? On visiting the site from a search, did you easily find what you wanted? These answers may help set your direction.

Content is key for search success, and customers coming to your site will be looking for content that answers their search quest. Does your content fill the bill? One of my favorite exercises is to pull content from key pages and replace the name with “our company” and replace product and service offerings with “this product/service.” Then look and see if there is anything that can be learned about either the company or the product from the page. This is a quick way to find just how generic your content is. For small businesses, you can frequently trade in a different type of business. For example on the About Us page for an accounting firm swap in veterinarian for accountant and see if the page still makes sense. If it does, the page is virtually worthless for search since it offers nothing of real value.

Based on this high level review, you will be able to set your directions without getting lost in the tactics. You may discover that your first priority is to make the site more mobile friendly. You may also discover that without the addition of more and better content, being mobile friendly is not going to be as important as developing more content, and so it goes. Once the direction is set, you can relatively easily set the priorities and fit together the essential tactics.

Affiliates: Redefining the Original Performance Marketing Channel

As the original performance marketing channel, affiliate marketing has been effectively driving performance-based sales since the mid-90s. But the characteristics of an effective affiliate program have changed dramatically over the years. Whether marketers choose a closed or open affiliate program, or optimize their program monthly or annually, they should view affiliates differently today than they have in the past.

As the original performance marketing channel, affiliate marketing has been effectively driving performance-based sales since the mid-90s. But the characteristics of an effective affiliate program have changed dramatically over the years. Whether marketers choose a closed or open affiliate program, or optimize their program monthly or annually, they should view affiliates differently today than they have in the past.

When evaluating the worth of any affiliate in any given program, ask yourself questions that consider the increasingly mobile, social and local reality of today’s online world. A few starting point questions include the following:

  • Do your affiliates actively work for you?
  • Do your affiliates develop content around your products/categories to improve natural search exposure?
  • Do they generate new traffic/users to your site, both online and offline?
  • Do they use social networks like Facebook or Twitter to encourage brand interaction?

In some cases, the onus falls on marketers to do more to empower affiliates — i.e., arming them with vital brand information to help them drive high-quality sales and more volume. That includes the following:

  • insights on what the best-selling products are;
  • seasonal issues to be aware of, including holidays;
  • dates of catalog drops;
  • seasonal product lines;
  • anything unique about the marketer’s products;
  • proven tactics that have worked with customers; and
  • the type of conversion rates typically experienced.

Marketers should proactively provide affiliates with this critical merchandising information to help them work effectively for their brands.

Give affiliates relevant and timely content, such as how-to articles, important/relevant trends and customer reviews. Provide affiliates with compelling creative assets, including valuable promotions and special offers. Offering great resources for content can help affiliates perform better on natural search and/or increase the clickthrough rate of an advertiser’s promotions by establishing credibility with prospects.

Likely the most substantial change affiliates have had to deal with in recent years is the emergence of social media. Social media has opened up many new opportunities for affiliates. Marketers should seek out affiliate partners that add value by actively embracing this new medium.

Social media offers affiliates an additional distribution channel to interact with consumers. Similar to brands, affiliates use social media to gain followers, generate traffic, distribute offers and promotions, and drive conversions for retailers. Social media enables affiliates to engage more with consumers than ever before, creating deeper relationships with consumers who opt in as brand advocates by becoming fans on Facebook or followers on Twitter. Seek out affiliate partners with loyal user bases; social media prowess often provides a good indication of this loyalty.

Careful consideration to these crucial questions will help marketers better understand which affiliates are their best channel partners and which might have the most untapped potential. After all, the original performance marketing channel is here to stay. Updating one’s view of the channel will help you remain strong and keep a competitive edge.

* Special thanks to contributing authors Leo Dalakos and Megan Halscheid of Performics.

Social Networking Suicide

No, I’m not talking about accidentally sending embarrassing personal information out through a “SWYN” link in an email.

I’m talking about Web 2.0 Suicide Machine. (Now just try to get Bruce Springsteen’s masterpiece “Thunder Road” out of your head!)

No, I’m not talking about accidentally sending embarrassing personal information out through a “SWYN” link in an email.

I’m talking about Web 2.0 Suicide Machine. (Now just try to get Bruce Springsteen’s masterpiece “Thunder Road” out of your head!)

In case you haven’t heard about it, Web 2.0 Suicide Machine, which launched in December, is an anti-social media site that lets subscribers “sign out forever” from social-networking services such as Twitter, LinkedIn and MySpace.

The idea behind it? That people are spending too much time on social media sites and it’s affecting the fabric of society as a whole.

“This machine lets you delete all your energy sucking social-networking profiles, kill your fake virtual friends, and completely do away with your Web 2.0 alterego,” it says on its website, where you’ll also see its logo, a pink hangman’s noose.

Here’s how it works: After logging in to the website and choosing which social network you want to be deleted from, the “Suicide Machine” servers begin walking through your targeted account, friend by friend, deleting your connections one at a time via a script.

It also changes your profile picture — to the pink noose, of course — and your password, so you can’t log back on to resurrect yourself.

Until recently, the service also let you kill your Facebook account. On Jan. 5, however, Facebook blocked the site’s access to its website.

“Facebook provides the ability for people who no longer want to use the site to either deactivate their account or delete it completely,” Facebook said in a Jan. 5 statement. “Web 2.0 Suicide Machine collects login credentials and scrapes Facebook pages, which are violations of our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. We’ve blocked the site’s access to Facebook as is our policy for sites that violate our SRR. We’re currently investigating and considering whether to take further action.”

I personally think Web 2.0 Suicide Machine is not a threat to the social-networking world — either from the consumer or marketer perspective. (After all, if you want to remove yourself from a social site right now, most sites let you do so by using the end-of-account tools on the sites themselves.) Instead, I think it’s really been created to send a message. And in that respect, it may be working. It got me thinking, for instance, about how much time I spend on social-networking sites — for business and pleasure— and what purpose that really serves in the long run.

Do you think you spend too much on social networking sites? Tell me about it here.

Awards Bring Out Key Elements of Social Media

If social media had an Oscars, the annual Forrester Groundswell Awards would be them.

Now in their third year, the awards honor companies for excellence in achieving business and organizational goals with social technology. The program was developed to support principles outlined in the Forrester book “Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies” (Harvard Business Press, 2008).

If social media had an Oscars, the annual Forrester Groundswell Awards would be them.

Now in their third year, the awards honor companies for excellence in achieving business and organizational goals with social technology. The program was developed to support principles outlined in the Forrester book “Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies” (Harvard Business Press, 2008).

On Oct. 27, Forrester honored 13 winners at its Consumer Forum 2009 in Chicago. For the first time, awards went to business-to-business and business-to-consumer companies, as well as nonprofits. For a complete look at the winners and finalists, click here.

To me, the awards are unique because winners are awarded based on the following actions: listening, talking, energizing, supporting and embracing. These concepts represent the strategic goals Forrester advises organizations to consider when using social technologies to interact with their customers. I found this particularly refreshing, especially in an age when marketing awards seem to be a dime a dozen and don’t really get to the heart of what matters when it comes to making money.

What’s more, this year, for the second year in a row, the Groundswell Award selection process allowed the general public to rate and comment on all entries on the Groundswell website. Forrester took the community’s evaluations into account when selecting winners, but chose winning entries based on proof of business value, and not which applications were the most popular.

Here’s a look at some of the winning companies and their programs, via the Groundswell site:

NASCAR Fan Council/Vision Critical. NASCAR and Vision Critical, which won in the B-to-C Listening category, created a community of 12,000 fans and used it to reduce research costs by 80 percent. NASCAR also took the community’s suggestions and changed its restarts from single file to double file, which fans loved.

Lion Brand Yarn Blog and Podcast/Converseon. These companies won in the B-to-C Talking division for a program where Converseon identified influential bloggers and social networks dedicated to knitting and crocheting. Lion Brand Yarn then created a biweekly podcast and targeted it to these groups. The podcast eventually generated 15,000 to 20,000 downloads and a blog featuring “knit-alongs.” This drove impressive e-commerce sales for the brand, including people who ordered the knit-along projects. Also, those who visited the company’s social media sites were 41 percent more likely to buy at the website.

Scholastic Book Clubs Reading Task Force Community/Communispace. These companies won in the B-to-B Embracing division for a program that involved redesigning Scholastic’s school book sales flyer, which is its main vehicle for book sales through schools. Using a community of 200 teachers and 100 parents created by Communispace, Scholastic embarked on a 10-week collaborative process to talk to members about how to improve the design of the flyer. The process generated ideas such as including student recommendations and showing interior pages so parents could judge the reading level of the books. Results? The new flyer has already generated a 3 percent increase in sales in test markets.

I think all of these programs exhibit great, unique uses of social media and technology, and show how the medium can bring about real, specific ROI. What do you think? Post your comments here.

5 Social Media Best Practices for Publishers

When it comes to social media marketing, some magazines and newspapers are doing it right, while some could improve their strategies. These issues were discussed at a session called “Social Media Marketing For Newspapers & Magazines,” held during the Search Marketing Expo East conference in New York, Oct. 6-8.

When it comes to social media marketing, some magazines and newspapers are doing it right, while some could improve their strategies. These issues were discussed at a session called “Social Media Marketing For Newspapers & Magazines,” held during the Search Marketing Expo East conference in New York, Oct. 6-8.

During the session, Adam Sherk, a search specialist at New York City-based search engine optimization firm Define Search Strategies, revealed the results of a survey showing that between the first and third quarters of this year, traffic on magazine sites coming from social media sites ranged from 0.6 percent to 18 percent of total traffic. Definitely a wide berth.

The session also discussed best practices in terms of getting a high percentage of social media traffic to a magazine or publisher Web site.

With this in mind, Chris Winfield, president and co-founder of 10e20, a New York City-based social media marketing consultancy, offered the following strategies for serving up a successful social media plan.

1. Research. “Find out where your visitors are already coming from,” he said. If they’re coming from Facebook, for example, start there. In addition, Winfield said that marketers should determine on which sites people are talking about you and who is already linking to you by tracking your inbound links.

In addition, “figure out what has worked so far in terms of social media marketing,” he said, “what hasn’t and what sites have the most potential for growth.”

2. Decide. “Once you figure out where your audience hang outs and what the demographics of these people are,” Winfield said, “decide if you should continue focusing on these areas. Also decide which specific media sites are right for your content and focus on those as well.”

3. Get your content up to snuff. “Make sure your content is easy for consumers to consume,” Winfield said. “Make it easy for people to share your content.”

But, Winfield warned publishers not to go overboard with social media buttons that users can click on to share content. “It’s a turnoff and people are not going to use them,” he said. He also suggested looking out for evergreen content that can be “easily updated and prettied up.”

4. Make internal changes. “Get key employees and stakeholders on board with your social media marketing plan,” Winfield said. “Get your existing readers on board. You’ll want to educate them and explain to them how your strategy works and how it can help them.”

While it’s important to make internal changes, Winfield cautioned attendees not to alienate their existing audiences.

5. Open up. Once your strategy is up and running, Winfield advised to maintain it by continually adding fresh content to your blogs, while also having a good RSS strategy.

“Many companies are not really sure what they are doing now when it comes to RSS feeds,” he said, “and they don’t understand how important a good RSS strategy can be.”

When working with microblog sites, such as Twitter, “don’t just be a feed,” he noted. “This can be boring. You want to be more than that — to gain new followers.”