Leveraging Social Content for SEO

More and more, search and social media are converging. Not only are users using social recommendations to find things, but the major search engines have started using “social signals” to determine the relevance and authority of different sites.

What this means is that if you want to continue (or start) to rank well in the search engine results pages (SERPs), you need to integrate your social media and SEO strategies. And there are three things you must do to do this effectively.

First, you need to understand what “social signals” are relevant to search rankings. Second, you need to optimize your content for how, why and what users share (and send out “social signals”). And finally, you need to devise and implement a social content strategy that’s geared for SEO.

Social Signals That Boost SEO

Overall, there are three main social signals that will support your SEO. The first set comes as no surprise as they’re generated by users on the two most popular social networks — Facebook and Twitter. Specifically, both Google and Bing seem to be factoring in Shares, Likes, and Tweets into their search rankings.

The second set of social signals is much more recent, and is part of Google’s response to Tweets and Likes — Google +1. While Google +1 was announced a few months ago, it was only this month that the Google +1 button for websites was fully rolled out. These buttons are meant to have a clear and direct impact on both rankings and personalized search.

The third set of signals is one that’s actually been impacting SEO for some years now, but is often overlooked because they come from users on “second-tier” social sites. Here we’re talking about social news sites such as Reddit, Digg and StumbleUpon boost rankings.

The final set of social signals are those that incorporate mentions of your brand. This may be in forums, discussions in blog comments and even reviews and testimonials left by customers on third party websites.

You see, links are good for SEO. Even if they don’t have targeted anchor text or go to the page you’re trying to rank, they at least boost the authority and trust of your domain, helping rank all of its pages a bit easier. Besides, if all your links have targeted anchor text and go to only a few products pages, it looks suspicious and might get you flagged. In other words, you need untargeted backlinks to your site if you want to rank in a competitive niche.

Well, these social content sharing sites give you just that. Basically, when content is submitted to one of these sites, users can vote for it. Every vote results in a link from that user’s profile. Win! And If enough users vote for a piece of content, it can appear on the homepage of Digg or Reddit – meaning a links from PageRank 8 pages. Double Win!

Sharable Content 101

Okay, so now what we know what social signals can support your SEO, the questions becomes: how do we get users to send out those signals?

Well, users tend to share content for one of six reasons. Because it’s either:

  • Useful/Informative,
  • Interesting,
  • Unique/Original,
  • Inspirational,
  • Funny/Entertaining,
  • and/or Sensational

So your job as a marketer is to identify the content on your site that fits into one of these categories, and position it so that users share it whenever possible. And it’s really not that complicated to do so.

If you think about it, there are all kinds of things all over your site that can fit into anyone of these slot and that users can share. For example, there are:

  • the Product/Services themselves
  • the Product Descriptions
  • any Product Reviews that might’ve been submitted by users
  • potential Images/Videos that accompany the product info
  • and even the Pricing itself

The point is that your site has an overarching value proposition to its users — whether it’s to entertain or inform — and there is probably all kinds of standalone components of that site that offer that value. For example, if you sell everyday products or services, you can always write creative product descriptions or include quirky photos that users will be more inclined to share on social networks.

Similarly, you can tap into UGC and open things up to user reviews. UGC is not only an effective way to make sure your pages are more frequently updated (a fundamental element of SEO), but you can induce users to auto-share their two-cents by letting them login through social media APIs, such as Facebook Connect.

Even if these social signals aren’t being generated around your biggest sellers or or the products you’re trying to rank for, the more social signals you get in general, the more authority and trust that your overall site will accrue, and the easier it will be rank any page on that site.

Social Content Strategy

So, now that you have a grip on why users share what they do, you can’t just expect to sit back and wait for them to share every quirky or interesting element on every one of your pages. Rather, you need a two-staged approach.

First, you have to create keyword relevant content that’s compelling and will resonate with social users. It might be a Top 10 blog post, an infographic, or a video, but it has to meets the “sharability criteria”.

Now, here, I can’t stress enough that it should be keyword relevant. It’s easy to come up with a semi-viral blog post about bikini model, but if you’re selling electronics or auto-parts, such a blog post will do nothing for your SEO. Getting social signals and ranking well for “bikini babes” is not going to do much for your rankings are targeted keywords.

Second, you have to get out there and promote that content. In the least, this means being social, but it may come down to investing cold, hard cash.

On the social side, it means creating profiles and building them up so that you have followers and access to influencers. This will include branded profiles/pages, but it will also require being active, social and helpful, and giving more to the community than you ask of it.

On the cash investment side, this might mean running ads, such as Facebook Ads, Sponsored Tweets, and StumbleUpon Ads. The content landscape is saturated and sometimes you just need a little push to get that initial ripple rolling. After that, enough people take notice that your content can go semi-viral on its own.

Social Content and Viral SEO

An interesting SEO benefit of social signals is that social users tend to share over more than one network. So while a conventional SEO link might only exist on one site, a social signal that started on StumbleUpon or Reddit will very likely spread to Facebook and Twitter, too.

Of course, that being said, like most things viral, social SEO signals will also run their course eventually. Search engines have started factoring in social signals because they come from real human beings. Since search engines are trying to serve up results that are relevant to real human beings, what better way than to look at what humans are already sharing with other humans?

So if everyone talks about you one day and then stops, you’ll probably rank really well for a while, and then plummet again. This means that you’ll have to attract social signals on an ongoing and consistent basis.

So bear in mind: social SEO signals is not a magical, self-autonomous SEO strategy. Like anything SEO, it require strategic though (keyword themes) and an ongoing investment in content and the relationships you build with users.

CT Moore (@gypsybandito) is a strategist, writer, and speaker who specializes in SEO and social content strategy. He’s consulted for both start-ups and major brands, such as American Apparel, Yellow Pages, and Microsoft Canada.

When he’s not helping brands leverage digital media to reach their business goals online, he also co-hosts the weekly tech video show, HipMojo. In his spare time, he enjoys blogging about starting a blog with strong SEO and social media strategies behind them.


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