What you will learn: The difference between SEO and social media, and how to leverage the latter to get better results with the former.
Who should read this article: Marketing leadership.
SEO and Social Media: How They Are Connected
The line between SEO and social media can get awfully blurry, which causes a number of difficulties for companies trying to figure out:
- How to allocate dollars to social media and SEO campaigns.
- How to determine which social media services should be included in an SEO campaign.
In this article, I hope to shed light on both issues. Essentially, there are three strategic options:
An effective SEO campaign can be run with no corporate social media presence.
An effective SEO campaign can be run with a minimal corporate social media presence, either by ramping it up or working around it.
An effective SEO campaign can be run with a robust corporate social media presence.
In short, SEO effectiveness does not hinge on your current social media activity. Social media is helpful for SEO, but many of social media’s benefits can be obtained without a company having social media sites.
You don’t have to create or ramp up a social media campaign just for the sake of SEO, and in most cases it’s unwise to do so — reason being, a social media campaign should be more than an effort to improve SEO; social media should also be aimed at improving credibility, brand awareness, brand engagement and brand identity. A social media campaign structured narrowly around SEO will be poorly received and ineffective.
Situation 1: SEO for Companies with No Social Media Presence
Readers of your on-site and off-site content will share it on social media, even if you don’t have social media sites. By using SEO techniques to maximize social sharing and reading of your content, your SEO campaign benefits by attracting relevant social media traffic, which generates sales leads. Important SEO optimization techniques include:
- Creating relevant and persuasive meta descriptions for every page of on-site content. Meta descriptions are snippets of text that appear in organic search results and on some types of social shares (for instance, LinkedIn and Facebook). The stronger your meta descriptions, the more people notice and click those shares.
- Creating relevant and intriguing titles for off-site articles. Article titles almost always appear in social shares. If titles are bland, they will attract few readers. There is an art to creating effective titles, so make sure your SEO agency has a track record.
- Creating “evergreen” and topical content on your website. “Evergreen” content is content with high, long-term value to your target audience. Topical content addresses “hot,” newsworthy issues for your target audience. Both types attract a lot of attention on social media, and in addition to attracting relevant traffic they often generate inbound links to those pages, which are extremely valuable for SEO.
Situation 2: Companies with a Minimal Social Media Presence
In addition to implementing the three techniques above, companies with a minimal social media presence can do a few extra things to get more social shares, traffic and leads. Effective techniques include:
Sharing off-site and selective on-site content on a regular schedule on its social sites. Two things to consider, though:
- Don’t overdo it: too much self-promotion will drive your audience away.
- Don’t underdo it: sharing a piece of content three or four times spread throughout the day is a good benchmark. If you don’t share enough, you won’t reach a critical mass of views.
- Add social community buttons to your website. People often look for these in the page footer, but more prominent placement in the header or sidebar also is fine.
- Clean up and/or complete your social media pages to include company information optimized with strategic SEO keywords/hashtags. Since your social shares will attract new visitors to your social media properties, it’s important to put your best foot forward by displaying a persuasive company overview, along with high-quality, customized imagery. In addition, by using keywords/hashtags, it is easier for your target audience to find and connect with you on social media, further expanding reach and engagement. As an example, here is our LinkedIn profile:
- Write original off-site content on Google Plus and LinkedIn if you have a presence there. These pages index on Google, and can rise to the top in organic search because both websites have such high authority.
These tasks can be shared between you and your SEO agency, depending on campaign budget and internal resources. Generally, we recommend the client handle social media posting directly, and handling content creation collaboratively. As long as the scope of social media activity is clearly defined, the work will enhance SEO results.
Situation 3: Companies with a Robust Social Media Presence
In addition to doing all of the suggestions noted so far in more detail/depth/volume, companies with a strong, active social media presence have a number of options at their disposal to improve SEO a great deal. Two things well worth considering include:
- Invite guest authors to contribute to your company blog(s). If authors are selected based on relevance, credibility, skill and their social media followings, their articles will attract a new relevant audience, strengthen your credibility, and create new sales leads and secondary conversions. In addition, guest articles will likely generate new connections to your social sites, expanding your reach for subsequent shares of other content and setting the stage for future website traffic and leads. The key to success is selecting the right authors; a social media-savvy SEO agency is invaluable in targeting the right ones and pitching them effectively.
- Add to or rebuild your blog editorial calendar to include coverage of topics incorporating long-tail keywords. Long-tail keywords bring highly relevant traffic from organic search and social shares — traffic with a high potential for conversion. Over time, the additional keyword coverage not only brings new traffic and leads, but allows your main website to focus more intensely on high-volume, valuable keywords, and avoid adding a multitude of long-tail keyword pages to the main website — an approach that creates overly complex navigation and often worsens the user experience.
Metrics: Social is Not SEO
From an SEO perspective, social media is a useful tool for driving traffic and leads. While there is a correlation between social shares and SEO rankings, it is only a correlation, not a cause. For this reason, counting social shares in SEO campaign reports may be interesting, but must be taken with a grain of salt. Recently, Twitter began hiding share count data on its social share button, making tracking impossible without using a third-party company.
More important indicators of social media contributions to SEO include referred website traffic, and phone and form leads tracked to social media sources. By monitoring these, you will get a good idea of how much SEO impact is attributable to social media. This provides a factual basis for considering whether a social media ramp-up may be in order.