SEO Goes Social

By Wednesday October 31st, 2012

What is "social search?" and how it’s changing the face of SEO, again. (sort of...)

I’ve written before about swimming with the tide of Google’s continuing mission to improve its search algorithm instead of trying to fight it. With the release of the Penguin algorithm this past May and its subsequent updates, they’ve proven my point once again. Search optimizers who previously only focused on relevancy (via strong keywords and tags) and authority (through inbound linking), will now have another important issue to take into account: social context. It’s not just Google getting in on the action either, Bing and Facebook are both heading towards compelling changes to their products that point to a growing focus on individualizing search results based on your social connections. So, what exactly are these changes and how do we as marketers ride the wave?

Social search, the newly minted term to describe this trend, simply means that your individual social connections are factored into the search results that you receive. That is to say, an article or piece of content that several of your friends have “liked, “+1ed” or are otherwise connected to will be more likely to display than one that isn’t. This isn’t to say, of course, that previous metrics of authority such as Google’s “Page Rank” will no longer factor in, but the focus is slowly being shifted to the more personalized authority of your social network. Small businesses rejoice! You’re no longer to be pushed off of Search Engine Results Pages (SERPS) by businesses with huge SEO budgets and thousands of strong inbound links. Well, at least not totally.

So what does this mean for our SEO strategy as we move forward? Of course, there’s no actual connection (yet) between online social presence and the search engines we use. That would, of course, require you to actually attach your social accounts to your Google account, and to log in before searching. Nonetheless, this is a trend to be prepared for. Here are a few pointers that will make all the difference as we plunge into the future of social search.

1. SEO and social media strategy must go hand in hand.

I’ve already ranted about the importance of combining your SEO and PR efforts to create and spread strong consistent content with an integrated strategy. Now here’s another ingredient to throw into the mix. Good online marketing plans will already make sure that social and search initiatives are integrated, but in the era of social search, it will be even more imperative that our social media strategy be completely intertwined with SEO. Use your keyword research, not only in content creation, but also in social media posting and dissemination. Make sure your Facebook and LinkedIn company pages highlight the terms and phrases you want to optimize for. Overall, make sure your initiatives are working together to strengthen each other with consistency and clarity, instead of just creating white noise around your brand’s online presence.

2. Keep an eye on the puck.

Gretzky’s quote about “skating to where the puck is going to be” has gotten quite a bit of airplay recently, but for good reason. When looking to develop a strategy for these constantly changing marketing mediums, it is imperative that we keep an eye to where things are headed. It would be easy to ignore Google+ altogether in social media marketing strategies, especially with limited budgets and time, but with the search engine algorithms looking to shift focus to social search, it’s probably smart to pay attention. Also, don’t be surprised to see Facebook and Twitter both weighing in on the search engine game. Twitter is already one of the best ways to find out about things the instant they happen, and Mr. Zuckerburg mentioned recently that Facebook already fields “a billion search queries a day.” This is to say nothing for Siri’s bid to enter the game, with Apple’s recent poaching of one of Amazon’s top search technologists. Things are changing quickly. Make sure you are positioning yourself ahead of the curve and not behind it.

3. Content, content, content.

This brings us full circle to my main point at the very beginning of this treatise. The single best thing that any of us can do to strengthen both our SEO and social media efforts is to constantly strive for great, informative, useful content. This has not changed since the science of SEO sparked into existence, and it never will. Time put into SEO or social media without first making sure you have great content is utterly wasted. Find out what type of content has been most effective. What are the most shared topics from your blog posts? Which keywords are bringing the most search traffic? Focus on these topics and keyword phrases for your next blog entry. Make sure the successful keywords are appropriately placed in the content, titles and anchor tags. Then allow (or encourage) your network to take it from there. If you build it, and it’s useful, they will come.

Social search may not be changing the way we organize our SEO campaigns yet, but it always pays to be ahead of the curve, and it certainly won’t hurt to make sure your social and search initiatives are working together to form one cohesive campaign.

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About the Author

Matthew is a partner and Chief Strategy Officer at Brolik. As CSO, he manages the digital marketing team, helping Brolik’s roster of clients achieve their online marketing goals. When he’s not coming up with his next big campaign idea, you might find him in the recording studio or enjoying an IPA with a funny name. Check him out on Twitter.