How to Master The Art of Social SEO

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The idea that social media influences organic search success is still very much up in the air considering the debate between correlation and causation.

While some camps stand firmly behind Google’s head of Web Spam Matt Cutts’s strong assertion that the world’s leading search engine will never use social signals to dictate visibility and rankings, there are others who prefer to pay attention to the reputable studies and tests that are demonstrating a direct association between volume of social shares and premier search listings.

Regardless of what side of the aisle you stand on, there is reason to believe that Social Media and Organic Search do compliment each other when integrated successfully.

From a theoretical standpoint, it is logical that search engines would consider social engagement as a specific variable that validates quality and meaningfulness of a particular online experience.

The World Wide Web is by nature a social environment that allows people from all over the world to interact with each other through the distribution of thoughts, concepts, services, and transactions. With this in mind, insisting that Google and other search engines shun social activity when it fosters and promotes dialogue, action, and reaction on behalf of online users seems counterproductive to the original intent of the Internet.

From a practical approach, there are numerous studies that demonstrate a clear cause and effect between the volume of social shares/comments a particular landing page receives and its ability to rank high on search listings, even if it’s only for a limited time.

Understanding Social SEO

I recently had the opportunity to serve as a keynote speaker at the 2014 SouthWIRED digital marketing conference in Atlanta, where I presented the concept of “Social SEO” and fostered a discussion on how strategists can complement their ongoing organic campaigns with social media.

Here are some of the more relevant points discussed in my presentation:

Why Social SEO’s Impact on Search is Relevant in Today’s Search Landscape

Social Media Signals | Social SEO

Screenshot taken 10/15/2014 of www.future-ink.com

It is very important to understand why Social SEO stands to have a significant impact on Organic Search.

It is far too easy to take Google for granted as a phenomenal provider of information, services, and products and the decision maker in all arguments including, “what was that actor in” and “where should we eat tonight?”

At the end of the day, Google is a business. And, just like any other business, their job is to make sure their clients are exposed to an experience that is seen as more authoritative and rewarding than their competitors so that people continue to return to them as a primary resource.

Now consider what traditional SEO is all about…

Manipulation.

Unintentional negative connotations aside, an SEO strategist’s job is to manipulate content in order to align with various ranking factors within Google and other search engines’ algorithms.

This means what consumers find at the top of a search results page comes with the psychological assumption that the first listing is in fact representing the best product, service, or information.

But is this really the case?

Of course not!

At the end of the day, the top listing is more about the authority of a particular website combined with how well optimized a specific destination or landing page is, not that the result itself is the most viable, usable, or rewarding product in the world.

So if Google and other search engines spend millions of dollars and man-hours trying to provide the most rewarding experience and authoritative results to their clients, why would they allow SEOs to dictate quality instead of leveraging behavior derived directly from the masses?

Taking this into account, Social SEO clearly stands to become the “next big thing” when it comes to supporting or even dictating visibility.

What Social SEO Is and Is Not

It is important to understand the difference between general social media habits and the ability to use a consumer’s social activity as a means of supporting organic search.

Most businesses are still skeptical that social media is a viable means of accelerating visibility and conversions because they see it as a digital photo album full of filtered “selfies” and cell phone videos of cats.

Social SEO is not about:

  • Making duck faces
  • Posting personal political rants
  • Showing the world how wasted you and your friends got last night

Social SEO is actually the application of social signals that derive from individual behavior, with “behavior” referring to action and reaction.

Every time an individual reads a blog article, browses a landing page or comments on a post, that action sends a signal to search engines that roughly translates to,

“Hey, Google! You may want to check out all of this great information and consider indexing/ranking it in the search results for other like-minded individuals to see and engage with.”

How Social SEO Works

Based in 2011, Google released a “Social Search” patent that allows them to use relationship connections in a social network to better answer searchers’ queries.

In this patent, Trust is a quantifiable term, measured as “intimacy,” which refers to individual behavior and action in terms of sharing or commenting on a particular form of content.

At its core, Social SEO is all about influencing influencers to engage with content, which boils down to asking the popular kids to talk about how they like your product best.

When a particular brand’s followers and fans interact with their website or a specific form of content, they are in a sense recommending this destination to their respective social connections.

It is through these “recommendations” that rankings can improve at scale.

Social SEO Ranking Factors | Search Metrics

Screenshot taken 10/15/2014 of www.searchmetrics.com

Common Misconceptions That Diminish The Power of Social SEO

While some people have read that social signals don’t matter to SEO, it’s possible we don’t fully understand some of the disclaimers offered by Matt Cutts and other industry leaders/authorities.

The fact is, there is an unfortunate history of SEOs swarming around misinformation and overusing singular tactics and strategies as a means for improving visibility and rankings.

This was the case with:

  • Infographics in 2010/2011
  • Press releases in 2011/2012
  • Guest blogging in 2013
  • Social sharing in 2014

From Google (and Matt Cutts) perspective, they are primarily concerned with the state of their own platform and do not want everyone under the sun to focus squarely on implementing one or two tactics, especially when it comes to content development and optimization.

What they do want is an all-encompassing, robust, rewarding online environment that is diverse in form, feel and nature.

The reality is that all forms of content can, and should, be used to help promote the authority of a specific online destination, as long as it is relevant to the brand and that content is not being created for the mere sake of creating it.

Take infographics for example: Matt Cutts never actually said that infographics were a poor means of building links, but instead said, “The infographic may be neat, but if the information it’s based on is simply wrong, then it’s misleading people.”

This supports the notion that Google and other search engines look to offer a quality, diverse online experience able to satisfy and align with any individual user’s needs and demands.

Originality, credibility, and authenticity determine results, not the form of which the content you are creating takes on.

The Impact of Social Signals

Based on the perception of value, search engines determine what forms of content to provide online users. In 2014 and beyond, rankings are partially determined by the volume of social shares and comments a particular online destination receives.

So when a particular form of content is optimized and supported by a significant volume of social responses, brands can catalyze results dedicated to:

  • Immediate search visibility
  • Increased traffic/conversions
  • Increased word-of-mouth advertising
  • Increased brand awareness
  • Increased transactions

Why Today’s Search Landscape Demands Social SEO

Since the dawn of the Internet, search has evolved, and it continues to do so. Today’s results are no longer solely determined by the volume of keywords that exist on a landing page or the amount of links a website contains.

Search strategists and managers need to know that today’s search results are populated based on many data points, including:

  • Who you are
  • What your personal search history looks like
  • What you do online
  • The brands/identities you follow
  • Where you are physically located

Organic Search Results | Social SEO

Now consider just how much information is published and exchanged in one minute:

  • 2 days’ worth of video content are uploaded to YouTube and other video based platforms
  • Over 2,000,000 searches are performed over Google
  • Over 100,000 Tweets are sent
  • Close to 350 blogs are published on WordPress alone

With these considerations, the desire to provide personalized search results combined with the social dynamics of the web are exactly why today’s search landscape demands social approval.

Conclusion

Social SEO is the use of social signals to advance a particular brand’s visibility within Organic Search results. Search engines like Google and Bing use these signals to measure the validity and credibility of a particular form of content or of an online destination.

As search engines continue to incorporate additional social factors into their algorithms that measure quality, brands will need to invest in Social SEO in order to remain competitive and to achieve optimal results pertaining to online brand awareness, traffic and conversions.

For more information on this subject, make sure to check out the entire presentation through the video below.

“SouthWIRED 2014 Digital Marketing Conference: Mastering The Art of Social SEO”

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88BefpMCuJE]

Featured Image: Created by author for Search Engine Journal

Julian Connors
Julian is an experienced search marketing director who has developed complex, wide-scale search and social campaigns for brands that include: P&G, Crest, Papa Johns, Staples, and more. A published author on the concept of "Social SEO", Connors contributes to a number of recognized publications and speaks at digital marketing conferences throughout the country.
Julian Connors
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  • http://www.brickmarketing.com Nick Stamoulis

    Even if Cutts isn’t going to come out and say that there’s a direct relationship between social links and ranking, it’s obvious that it will help indirectly. A piece of content that gets more social shares is more likely to be noticed and earn natural inbound links. We know that’s a ranking factor!

    • http://www.JasonGiovanniCorrigan.com Jason Corrigan

      Hey Nick,

      Thank you for your comment and I agree that anyone who has been in the industry long enough knows the difference between reality and what Matt Cutts says at times.

      What’s really interesting to me is seeing where the world of digital marketing will go in another three to four years. I personally believe visibility and rankings are going to be mostly dictated by social chatter, shares and PR.

      What about you?

  • Dawn

    Not quite sure how you can be cheerleading social seo so hard when your view of traditional seo is so bleak.
    Only the black hats aim to manipulate with shady intent as any good white hat seo would be there simply to classify data and enhance a business’ website.

    • http://www.jasongiovannicorrigan.com Jason Corrigan

      Hello Dawn,

      Thanks for your comment and your perspective!

      I am not bleak about SEO as in I think it’s going to “die” or anything, just that it will continue to do what it has always done, which is evolve.

      You also lost me on the last part of your comment. Care to elaborate?

  • Blair Sanders

    Interesting concepts. Despite the negative stigma, social media is still a marketing gold mine. It’s good to see that we can use social media as a means to boost search results.

    The more we use social media to share content and information, the more we expand our audience. We need to take our content to our audience, and in many cases, our audience dwells on social media. These are good thoughts to think about.

    • http://www.jasongiovannicorrigan.com Jason Corrigan

      Hey Blair,

      Thank you so much for reading the article and leaving a comment!

      You are right on the money when it comes to understanding how many environments yield potential qualified customers and fulfilling space within these areas to maximize conversions/transactions.

      Social SEO is about catalyzing visibility, as well as introducing new channels that help refer qualified consumers to a particular brand.

      What type of Social SEO experience do you? Any insight on how brands can expand off of the points I made?

  • Naima Othman

    Very informative as usual! Anyone can create a social post, but it takes knowledge, dedication and experience to benefit from social SEO. I can only imagine how many businesses use social media to improve brand awareness and rankings. Unfortunately, most businesses are doing it wrong and don’t take full advantage of social media due to ignorance or limited time. People will have to go beyond social posts in order to be rewarded by search engines. Social SEO will always be a cherry on top of search strategies. ​

    • http://www.jasongiovannicorrigan.com Jason Corrigan

      Naima,

      You are extremely flattering and I appreciate your comment!

      What advice would you offer a particular brand who as you say, “are doing it wrong”?

  • http://goodeatsmundial.tumblr.com Jessica

    Thank you for such a well informed and in depth piece! I learned a lot reading through this. I only wish I could have made it to SouthWIRED in person! Thanks for sharing the video as well.

    • http://www.jasongiovannicorrigan.com Jason Corrigan

      Hey Jessica,

      I wish you could have been there too! Any particular points you thought were most interesting or stood out?

  • Kaitlyn

    Thank you for insight article on the often overlooked concept of social SEO. Personally, when I’m researching a business or restaurant I go straight to their Facebook page and see what people are saying about them. To think that someone’s share of a business on their personal Facebook page would not give that particular business more credibility and higher rankings doesn’t make sense to me. Then again, I still have a lot to learn about how SEO and social media’s paths inevitably cross. Thanks again for the informative topic!

    • http://www.jasongiovannicorrigan.com Jason Corrigan

      Hey Kaitlyn,

      Thank you so much for your comment and as I said before, it’s critical that businesses and brands understand how to use social media in ways that go beyond @mentions, tips and advice, etc.

      Knowing how each audience per platform behaves and the type of expectations they have is the only way you can increase conversions and transactions.

      Simply sharing your blog articles across your social handles is not enough.

  • Jill Brown

    Well written article, Jason, thanks! Agree with all, but are all social networks equal here? Can Facebook really have direct social benefit when Google can’t access it’s interactions? I think of it as a huge source of indirect benefit – exposure vs direct SEO signals. And what do you think about G+ as a social network – worth it?