Since the beginning, SEO stood for one thing: search engine optimization. SEO, at the base of the definition, involves a set of tactics that will help a company rank higher in search. At first, it was a fairly simple mix of keywords and HTML coding, but today search engine optimization has morphed into a severely complex definition that includes search engine marketing tactics (including both paid and unpaid search), online reputation management, video development, content marketing and social media marketing.
Many now think that the social media aspect has become such an important part of search that companies should switch their practices so completely that SEO actually becomes social media optimization and not search engine optimization.
But, is this prudent?
The problem with switching SEO gears completely is that search engine optimization and the core tenets involved with the practice are not dead. A company can gain heavily in search without involving social media at all. That said, social media has become an important part of the SEO process and can help companies gain even more spots in search over the competition.
One of the greatest benefits of social media marketing outside of SEO is the personal credibility it lends. Studies show that 92 percent of people trust a word-of-mouth recommendation from a friend… and internet users of today see no difference between a Facebook friend posting a recommendation and a friend in the grocery store telling them about a great product. And, since a Facebook post or comment has the potential to be seen by a much wider audience than a single interaction at the grocery store, the significance can become exponentially greater. This same string goes for other social media sites besides Facebook, such as Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Google+.
Word-of-mouth marketing was greatly replaced in the later 1990s when television and the internet started pulling more and more people toward screens. Fewer real-life personal interactions meant a huge shift in the strategies that marketing professionals had used in the past. SEO was born during this time, as people started heading to their computers to find information instead of searching in the phone book. Online search has only become more mainstream, and SEO has become even more important for those companies who want to be effective in the marketing game – but search engines have made this a bit trickier.
Constant algorithm changes keep internet marketing professionals on their toes. The basis of these changes is to help make search more intuitive for the end user, but in turn, they also make SEO a lot harder. Many of the SEO practices that worked in the past – even just two years ago, for instance – are almost obsolete now. Google’s most recent 2013 algorithm changes focused greatly on social media, so social media interactions have become even more important for companies who want to compete within search.
For the end user, the addition of social media mentions within search results can lend a lot of information. Google has experimented with highlighting local reviews in SEO listings and uses the information of those in a searcher’s Google+ Circles to provide results (a searcher must be logged in and have a Google+ account). This practice seems to be in its infancy, but it is easy to see where the benefits lie for users; for companies, however, the benefits could get a bit trickier, or be completely removed with some bad press.
Social media for SEO is largely tied to reviews, so an online reputation management strategy is imperative. This means that not only should your company be providing proactive placement of content on a regular basis to all social media channels that your company is involved in, but it is also imperative that reviews are constantly being sought and monitored. This means that your company should have a strategy for seeking reviews – often an incentive program for customers is used – and a well thought out content creation plan for social media interactions.
The most telling part of the term social engagement optimization is the word engagement. Without an ongoing plan for meaningful engagement with customers, your SEO benefits will see no boost. Many online marketers misconstrue engagement as a regular production calendar. They think benefits will come if they post every Tuesday and Thursday, but that just is not true. Engagement means meeting both your customers and potential customers where they are and giving them the information and interaction they need to make purchasing decisions. If your company is seen as helpful, and not just a provider of a good or service, customers are able to build a relationship that will keep you top-of-mind when it comes time for them to make an actual purchase. It might be a bit of a longer process, but it has the potential to build a more loyal following and lead to additional future sales.
Large companies may employ a person to handle this type of endeavor in-house, but the majority of companies who are reaching SEO success through social media are outsourcing these efforts. The best way to start your research is to look to your competition. If you can get a quick handle on the efforts that they are putting out, then you have an idea of the efforts that it will take your company to succeed – and eventually rise above them in search.
The largest advantage of incorporating social media into your SEO plan is the added benefit of credibility. Our personal interactions have changed a lot over the years, with many people becoming closer to their online friends than they are to their “in real life” friends. But, the way we use these interactions and the high regard we hold to the information shared has not changed. That means that positive online mentions for your company can give you the boost you need to see higher sales and profits.
If you have been researching ways to bring your company into 2014 with a bang, a robust SEO plan that incorporates social media marketing might be just the tool you need.