SEO can no longer afford to ignore social. Search engines are increasingly investing in trying to map a business’ online social presence; as Duane Forrester from Bing explained at PubCon last week, consistent social engagement sends a clear signal that a website is a legitimate ongoing business, not just another fly-by-night content spinner.
We all agree that social is important – plenty has been written on the ROI of Social Media. What we don’t all agree on: is social media part of the SEO job description?
It’s astounding to me that in 2011 SEOs are still saying they don’t “do” social media – that it’s the social team’s or the customer service team’s job. Are you kidding me? An SEO who’s not leveraging social media is leaving some serious link building opportunities on the table. I’m talking about using social media to make existing link building tasks easier and more effective. The ROI on this strategy is as simple as tracking your link profile’s growth.
There’s no more anxiety-inducing activity in a link builder’s life than the cold link prospecting email. Building relationships with influencers in order to build links is hard work; do it wrong and you could turn a link prospect off for life. But real, scalable quality link building means finding authority sites and cultivating relationships with them. Why wouldn’t we use a tool specifically designed to build relationships to do it?
Start by using a social monitoring tool to find people who are already having conversations about your keywords. You’re looking for two things here: 1.) people with a lot of influence (Klout score is a basic, albeit imprecise, indicator of this) and 2.) people who have their own website or blog (or regularly contribute somewhere) so they can link to you. Next, follow them – I recommend Twitter since not everyone’s ready to be Facebook friends with total strangers. If you’re doing this across a lot of different topics you may want to create new Twitter accounts for each – but you’ll need to maintain each of them, so don’t go crazy.
Now just start talking to your targets – DON’T ASK FOR THE LINK RIGHT AWAY. Share their stuff. Reply to their questions. Getting an email from someone you don’t know? Creepy and unwelcome. Getting a follow, retweet or reply from someone you don’t know? Flattering! Social media is the best tool out there to perform that first, soft touch on the bloggers you’d like a link from. By the time you actually ask for the link you’re not some scammy marketer; you’re a friend.
Once you’ve built relationships with your link prospects, social media is also the easiest way to maintain them. Keep engaging in the conversations your new friends are having, and you’ll naturally find and engage with other influencers in their circles: new targets!
Social Engagement as an SEO Signal
Now we’ve almost entirely eliminated the awkward link ask email from our repertoires (can I get a hallelujah?) – but that’s not the only way SEOs should be using social media.
In addition to getting old-fashioned links, you can use basically the exact same strategy to target people who don’t have their own websites, but are sharing content with thousands of people every day nonetheless – right there on the social media sites! All you have to do is replace “ask for the link” with “ask them to share it” and you’ve got your social media strategy fleshed out as well.
There’s a reason search engines are starting to look at social media shares, Likes, retweets, etc. as a ranking factor, and it’s not because social media is the new shiny thing in town. It’s because social shares send the exact same signal as links! Search engines want to know – do other people think you’re as cool as you say you are? Approach social media shares as though they’re just another form of links for double the street cred.
Link building is social! Social builds links! Chocolate in the peanut butter! Peanut butter in the chocolate! Dogs and cats lying down together!
There’s one more area an SEO can use to get social media-driven links and shares: your existing customers. Don’t just put “find us on Twitter” on every page of your site and call it good – engage with the customers who already love your product and make them your ambassadors. Give them special perks (free stuff, early access to new products, exclusive badges) in exchange for them sharing out content when you ask them to. Create a private group on Facebook/Google+/wherever they already are, so you don’t have to contact each one individually every time. If you can, even have in-person meetups! Fun!
Over time, some of your new link prospecting buddies will become your social media ambassadors too – add them to the group and send them great content to share!
This is going to take some time to get set up, what with finding and engaging with influencers, building content and curating your connections. Once you’ve built your communities, though, you can usually maintain them with about 30 minutes a day. Spend 5 minutes replying to people’s posts, 5 minutes sharing other people’s content, and 5 minutes on your own content, twice per day (hat tip to Pete Myers’ Google Plus in 15 Minutes a Day post, which has changed how I do this stuff). You don’t have to talk to everyone every day; just make sure you don’t talk to the same people every day, and you’ll be keeping top(ish) of mind with most of them.
Next time I see you, if you’re not using social media as an SEO tool you better have a darn good reason why not. Otherwise, no chocolate for you.