Marketers at small companies often ask how they can get their websites to show up higher in search results. They’re not sure where to start, and their budgets don’t allow them to explore every search engine optimization (SEO) strategy, nor spend heavily on pay-per-click advertising.
If you don’t want to read all the following material about how social helps SEO, just skip to the practical tips section below.
Social Media: The Poor Man’s SEO
Getting noticed by people and search engines for little to no money is where social media platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook come in. Just a few years ago, no one thought these sites – and others like Stumbleupon – made any difference to a website’s rankings in search results. Sure, it was a good idea to have people noticing you on social media sites, but no one thought that being mentioned there would help SEO.
Some examples of social “mentions”:
- A Twitter post – or “tweet” – that names your company and/or links to your site
- A Facebook status update that mentions your company and/or links to your site
- A comment on a post you make on your company’s Facebook page
- A recommendation posted on your LinkedIn profile
- A comment you share with a LinkedIn group
- Your answer to a question in Quora or other Q&A sites
- A share of your blog post in StumbleUpon
Search engines began using social mentions to help them rank websites in 2010. In 2011, respected search marketing professionals spent a lot of time analyzing the impact of social media activity on search engine rankings. Many have concluded that consistent mentions on the social Web – and plenty of them – really can get your site to rank higher in search results.
Here’s the best part: It’s easier and less costly for a small business owner to harness the SEO value of social media than to overhaul his or her site for SEO. Most business owners and small-business marketers aren’t SEO experts, and often don’t have the budgets to hire an SEO firm. But marketers are often very social people, and comfortable making connections with others who can help their business grow. Extending that behavior and mindset to places like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn isn’t all that difficult. And it costs very little, other than time.
Does Social Activity Really Help SEO?
Ian Lurie of Seattle marketing firm Portent Interactive tracked 15 companies in 2011 and found that a large number of “likes” on their Facebook pages was a better predictor of high Google search rankings than the number and quality of their inbound links.
Ian’s not the first to say this, and the whole concept turns SEO on its head. Search marketing experts have long held that inbound links – that is, links from other sites to yours – are the most important ranking factor for Google and other search engines. To hear that a social signal – Facebook likes, in this case – is more important really changes the SEO equation.
Here’s another wrinkle on the importance of social signals for search rankings: Search engines are smart enough to notice not just mentions of your company or product in social media, but also who is mentioning you.
Getting influential people to comment on your blog and Facebook page, and mention you on Twitter, may sound as time consuming as old-fashioned link building – that is, writing to people and asking them to link to you from their website or blog. It doesn’t have to be. You can get noticed quickly by following influential people, asking them questions, and commenting on their posts and tweets. Just make sure you add something valuable to the conversation. Do not just say “Great post,” and hope that makes you stand out from the crowd.
Because people on social media platforms have friends and followers of their own, getting mentioned or engaging in a conversation means you’ll be seen by lots of people who don’t already know you. Your message and reputation have the potential to spread far and wide, whether for good or for bad.
A simple example: Some savvy restaurants post their daily specials at 11:00 AM on Twitter and Facebook – just when people are getting hungry and starting to think about lunch. These posts are a great way to get people to come to your restaurant, of course. But wait, there’s more! As people start messaging their friends on social platforms to see who wants to join them at your place, you’re getting those valuable social mentions. These mentions tell search engines you matter.
Since your message can spread so easily, it’s good to follow social media etiquette and be a good citizen in this world. Watch how people behave, follow the people you admire, and learn from them.
Practical Tips for Building SEO in Social Media
- Post every day. You can comment on industry news, link to your blog, high-five someone else’s comment, retweet someone’s blog post, ask for help with something, provide help to someone else….the list goes on.
- Engage in conversation with customers and anyone else who mentions your company or your product. Thank people, ask questions, solicit feedback, etc.
- Search Twitter for mentions of your competitors and their competing products, to learn which words people are using. Now you start using these words, too. It will help you when people search for what you’re offering.
- For bonus points, you can use the hash tag – # – in front of an important keyword. This is how many people mark out and search topics in Twitter. For example, you might tweet “Read how @StephanieH improved her time with #WideRunningShoes on our blog” and include a link.
- Use a URL shortener such as bit.ly for links to save characters…140 isn’t as much as you think.
- If you see someone who could use what you sell complaining about a competitor, offer to help them somehow – but don’t disparage your competitor, or his product.
- Find the people who are influential in your target market, and follow them.
- Thank people individually for following you. Do NOT use an autoresponder. It’s a pity for someone’s first interaction with you to feel canned – and believe me, experienced Twitter users can smell an autoresponse a mile away.
- Post every day. You can post the same things on Facebook that you do on Twitter, with the added benefit of being able to include a photo and a much longer comment.
- Invite engagement by asking people what they think about something you’ve posted. Comments are noticed by search engines. In fact, Ian Lurie of Portent Interactive found a correlation between comments on a company’s Facebook page and high rankings in search engine results.
- Search Facebook for mentions of your competitors and their competing products. That will tell you which words people use when they’re looking for what you sell. Now you start using these words, too, so you’ll pop up in product searches.
- If you see someone complaining about a competitor, you can send an offer of practical help – or even a coupon! – to that person. Don’t disparage your competitor or their product…that’s not good etiquette.
- Give people a reason to “like” your Facebook page. You might want to offer access to special deals or coupons, or to some other benefit, such as a “fans only” video page.
- Join groups specific to your industry and to your target customers.
- Post interesting articles and news to these groups. Be careful not to promote your product or company too hard. Some groups will kick you out for being overly self-promotional. Make sure you read the terms for each group.
- Answer questions people post in your groups.
- Write recommendations for people you’ve done business with.
- Ask your good customers to write recommendations for you.
- Your blog
- Post about industry trends and issues.
- Post about business issues that aren’t specific to your industry, but interesting to other business people who may be reading your blog.
- Post about your own company’s news and developments. Your blog can be the modern-day press room – just make sure you tag news announcements appropriately, so company news can be found.
- Offer insights and advice based on things you learn in the course of business, even if you aren’t talking directly about your own product.
- If you have something thoughtful to say about someone else’s blog that is too long for a comment, write a post on your blog, linking to the post you are commenting on. You’ll be noticed by the blogger, and he or she may choose to link to your blog, too.
- Other people’s blogs
- Comment on people’s posts, but avoid generic comments like “great post.” Try to add something unique and interesting to the discussion. See the section above for when you have a lot to say about someone’s post.
- Ask if you may guest post if you think you have something to contribute. Many bloggers are happy to have guest authors post, if they’re adding value.
- News sites
- Comment on news stories that are relevant to your industry and your business. Don’t be snarky – be thoughtful. You can also share these news stories in your social accounts by linking to them. If people read the comments, they’ll probably notice yours.
Aliza Earnshaw is vice president of business development at AboutUs. A former business reporter and editor, Aliza still indulges her love of great writing and working with creative writers while pursuing business opportunities for AboutUs.