As Larry Kim, CEO of Facebook Messenger marketing platform MobileMonkey and founder of search-marketing company WordStream says, ‘Our experiments show that search and social marketing are changing more than ever.
SEO definitely has a relationship with social media that’s worth highlighting — a relationship that has both direct and indirect elements. But the first thing to know is that this isn’t a case of the simplest answer being the correct one. Despite the fact that it might seem as though a larger social following should equal a higher ranking on Google, it’s just not the case, or at least, it’s certainly not as straightforward as that.
As Larry Kim adds, ‘There are a lot of theories about how social media affects SEO. However, my tests have found that the more social engagement, the more clicks from organic search. Instead of spreading yourself thin in areas with little return — I call these donkeys — find unicorn opportunities that result in 95 per cent of the reward.’
So let’s look into what is going on and where the unicorns may be hiding.
WHAT PLATFORMS SHOULD I BE ON?
Social media is a minefield for the unwary. It can feel very hard to know what platforms are worth your time and which ones aren’t — and everything gets thrown for a loop when another new platform suddenly appears. I touched on some details about different social avenues in the last chapter — particularly Facebook and LinkedIn. But it’s time to look more closely, and to look at ongoing usage, rather than just that initial set-up.
Remember, this isn’t a recommendation that you go out and start trying to tackle and conquer every single platform that’s available. Instead, think about what you want to get from your social presence, and the time and energy you have to expend towards this part of your business’s marketing.
A reported 2.9 million New Zealanders, 15 million Australians and 2 billion people worldwide can’t be wrong. Facebook offers flexibility in what kinds of content you can present to your followers, from video to text to photos to in-situ, visually interesting articles. There’s powerful advertising and business functionality available to users too, so if you’re looking at spending money to generate leads or just likes for your page, there’s plenty of tinkering that you can do to get in front of the appropriate people.
Twitter is more popular among some groups of the population than others — so do a bit of research to see whether you’re likely to strike a chord or not. In New Zealand, the dominant themes are political discourse and people engaged in creative and cultural communities — as well as, of course, a sizeable number of tech folks. And don’t forget the up-at-1 a.m.-for-feeding parent Twitter community!
You’ll need to master the art of being concise and engaging, and speedy in responding to tweets. While the previous character limit of 140 has doubled to 280 in recent times, it’s still the platform for rapid-fire conversations and sharing of opinions — and you have to make sure you can be heard above all of the noise.
For photos and short snappy video, Instagram is definitely a platform to be on — as long as those photos and snappy videos are beautiful or otherwise visually interesting. It doesn’t have to be exquisite images of all your products laid out, or of luscious sunsets — but it should be well-composed images taken with a decent camera (decent phone cameras do, of course, count!). It’s also owned by Facebook, which makes interconnectivity between the two apps nice and painless. You can create posts on Instagram that seamlessly get shared on Facebook — and you can easily include Instagram as an option when developing advertising with Facebook’s tool.
LinkedIn is an obvious choice for anyone who runs a B2B-focused company. You’re getting connected to people while they’re in work mode — and you can see what kinds of positions they are in, so you know whether you’re resonating with people in the right roles and in the right industries.
You’re probably safe to stick to the platform best suited to your business of these four. There’s an argument to be made for Pinterest too, but that’s suited to a very niche range of industries, and it doesn’t have quite the same numbers locally. Google+ involvement can mostly tie into your Google My Business page and posts, which we’ve covered already. YouTube is considered by some to be a social media platform but, for business purposes, it really functions as a video hosting and discovery platform, rather than a place to engage in a conversation with your customers, whether current or potential.
And beyond — there’s more than you could really imagine. Tumblr, Flickr, WhatsApp, Snapchat . . . and that’s before you take into account the millions of users on Chinese platforms like WeChat and Weibo. But for the purposes of this book and this chapter in particular, when I’m talking about social platforms, I’m talking about Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.
THE SYMBIOSIS OF SOCIAL AND SEARCH
For Linda Coles of Blue Banana, SEO is an integral part of her arsenal. As a marketing professional focused on social media and content creation, she understands the importance of working in a space where social and SEO are aligned. She also writes thrillers — so she knows a thing or two about marketing both her own products and those of clients in different ways!
‘Websites have been around forever, and social has been around for what seems like forever, but
is actually only really a good ten years. Websites are tried and true — and all social drives back to a website,’ Coles says. ‘In those early days of social media, everyone was all about gathering connections, no matter how tenuous — a race for us all to see who could max out at ﬁve thousand ﬁrst. But times change — and so have our social habits.’
Coles notes that Google is constantly working in the background, changing its algorithms and its focus from week to week. ‘And the question is whether or not they take into account what is happening on social. But social drives trafﬁc back,’ she says — which inherently affects how things rank in search.
‘That widget you want to sell, the service you’re trying to sell — in order to do any of that these days, either you have to spend money on advertising or write content and share it via social. But the question is then, what do you write about that will attract people — on Facebook, on LinkedIn, and maybe on Instagram and the other platforms?’
THE OFFICIAL WORD FROM GOOGLE
Since 2014, Google has claimed that social media has no impact on its ranking algorithm. Matt Cutts, then the tech giant’s head of web spam, put out a video explaining its reasoning. Basically, it considered that the changeable nature of social media meant it was an unreliable source of signals. As such, it couldn’t be depended on for ongoing and accurate information.
Despite Google’s official position, there are many different ways that people and businesses have found that social media does, in fact, play its part in affecting search ranking — just not necessarily in an immediately obvious way. The team at Hootsuite, a widely used social media scheduling tool, ran an experiment in early 2018, where a group of inbound marketing, data analytics and social marketing teams joined forces and took to Twitter. They organised a set of pre-existing blog posts into three different groups — a control group, with no social media sharing; an organic group, with links to the articles shared on Twitter; and a paid promo group, with links to the articles shared on Twitter with a paid boost.
The ultimate result was that the control group saw no change in search visibility, the organic group saw 12 per cent growth and the paid promo group saw 22 per cent growth in their search visibility. That’s nothing to be sniffed at — and definitely suggests that social media is playing some sort of a role.
It’s also worth mentioning, of course, that what is the case now won’t necessarily be the case forever. So even if we ignore the results of experiments like this one, and take Google at its word, you can never be sure what shifts in approach and algorithms may come with time. Better to take a careful and considered approach to how SEO and social could and might intersect now, and be in a powerful position if Google changes tack, rather than wave it off as unimportant and be left in the lurch should such a change take place.
Ultimately, it’s good digital housekeeping to be thoughtful and consistent across your web presence — you might as well take a little time and do things properly, whatever the end result may be. And let’s not forget to highlight search engine Bing in this instance, which has confirmed that it does officially take social media into account in the development of its rankings. It’s not a huge factor, but it does play its part.
THE LINK LINK
One school of thought when it comes to seeing the impact that social media seems to have on search results is the fact that creating a post with a link to an article is invoking one of the core tenets of this whole SEO enterprise — links. So regardless of what claimed connection, or lack thereof, there is between social media platforms and Google rankings, posts on social are driving inbound links, and people are clicking them.
There’s also a potential extra useful link avenue for users browsing social platforms on their phones. Each of the main four platforms has an in-app browser — so if you click a link in a tweet or in someone’s Instagram bio or story, instead of being transported out to Safari or Chrome or whatever other internet app your phone runs, you’ll be using a bespoke browser within the app itself.
Usually, these browser functionalities will also make things as easy as possible for further sharing. So if someone clicks on a blog post you’ve shared in a tweet and then has a look through your other articles, if they come across one that really resonates with them, it’s a quick and easy couple of taps for them to then share that article with their own network. This gives you a whole extra link, to up that inbound volume.
Of course, social is about more than just words — and Linda Coles of Blue Banana is a proponent of ways to use visual and multimedia elements without reinventing the wheel.
‘You can use the same information but in a visual way for other platforms. Evergreen content can be developed in different ways. Record an audio, put it on LinkedIn. Make a video, put it on YouTube. Make images, put them on Instagram. Put it all into a downloadable document.’ The crux is to tailor to the platform, rather than take the ‘spray and pray’ approach.
‘And it’s got to be interesting, even though not all products are sexy or glamorous,’ Coles says. She presents the example of one of her clients, a glass company — not necessarily the sort of organisation that you’d expect to be killing it on social media. But it made a 15-minute video on the future of glass, which got really good engagement. Now, some 10 years after the video was originally created, some of the things that the company predicted have become part of our lives — demonstrating to potential customers today that they know their stuff, both today and tomorrow.
Another example among Linda Coles’s clients is Life Care Consultants, based in Hamilton.
‘I’d been working on their social media for quite some time, but for a long time they didn’t have a very good website — then it finally materialised.’ The change was significant — not only was it modern and relevant, but it included news and blog areas so that all kinds of areas of expertise could be highlighted in different ways, from wellness to general health and safety.
‘There was lots of useful content on there that was easy to link to,’ Coles adds, highlighting again the vital importance of that linkable content. ‘And it was created in a way that meant you didn’t feel like you were being sold to — instead, it talked about issues like mental health in the workplace.’ Here we see again that it’s all about thoughtful, purposeful and linkable content.
They don’t see their website as a dusty brochure in the sky — it’s now something that generates money for them,’ Coles says. It’s that idea of your website functioning as your welcome desk and the receptionist behind it all in one — it needs to be slick and informative.
Social is an area of constant change — just like Google’s algorithms. Coles specifically notes the change a couple of years back on Facebook, when reliance on organic traffic was no longer tenable for the vast majority of businesses. Organic content is necessary, and can yield good results — but for real cut-through on social these days, it is pay to play. Coles is quick to mention, however, that it doesn’t have to mean spending a lot — just spending carefully.
At this point, you’re hopefully on board with the idea that Google is really a fan of quality, rather than just messes of keywords crushed together. And this is another place that ocial can come to the SEO party. Content that is shared via social media at just the right moment — managing to capture likes and shares and engaged commenters — is a great mark of quality.
Not only that, but if you really hit the nail on the head, you might end up reaching other creators and influencers who will in turn share your content, further pushing those links back to your website. More than that, though, powerful influencers will carry greater rank authority — as discussed in chapter 12 — so will boost your ranking potential in more ways than just sheer numbers.
Linda Coles is a big supporter of a pillar-based approach to web content, which serves both the search and social sides of marketing equally well. Hailing back to around 2006, the train of thought is that if you create four pillars of content, you’ll have the structure to hold the ‘building’ up — the building in this case being the integrity of your website. The pillars guide the creation of the rest of your content, both on your website and across your social media platforms. They are the four main things that you need to communicate or get across, which will be different for everyone. For example, if you are a construction company you might want to cover your construction expertise, the machinery or methods you primarily use, after-sales support, and a case study story that sees you shine.
‘The first thing you want to do is think about that pillar content and what you want it to be — and then break it down from there. There will be lots of little subjects that come underneath each pillar,’ Coles explains.
‘Putting content on your website and sharing it is the goal, and the best place to start is with your frequently asked questions. What do your customers continuously ask you? That’s going to be a pillar of content. Do you distribute nationwide? If so, write a blog about it, and share that blog on your social platforms.’
In her own recent development of her presence online as an author, Coles used those FAQs as a starting point. The pillars for a crime fiction author might be the books themselves, the recurring characters in the series, where the books are available, and information about the author.
From there, the subjects develop. Once you look into the characters, you might wonder whether or not you need to read from the beginning of the series in order to understand character development and plot movement. So that becomes another piece of content, on both your website and your social accounts — do I need to read the books in order? Is it a trilogy? Are all the books in the series already released? Each of those points can create a post, anywhere from four or five hundred words upwards. You’ll have a sense of what the attention span of your target customers is like.
HANDLING YOUR HORSES
Let’s say you’ve got a company that lends itself to an ongoing visual story as well as a text-based one, and you’ve also noticed that a lot of your competitors seem to be active on Twitter. That’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter without breaking a sweat. So how, then, do you handle running three different social media accounts while also doing everything else on your plate?
For many people, the answer will lie in using a scheduling tool of some kind. Hootsuite has already been mentioned, but other tools like Buffer and Sprout are also popular. Basically, you connect all your social accounts to this one platform, which enables you to use one single dashboard to schedule your posts and undertake varying levels of monitoring and management.
If there’s one post that you know you want to blast across all your platforms, a tool like this can be a lifesaver. Rather than logging into each profile separately — including getting your phone out to post to Instagram — you can do it all in one place, with one core post that you can tailor to each platform as necessary.
Remember that the posts themselves are indexable and searchable by Google — so this is another time to think about what you’ve learnt as far as what works and doesn’t on the keyword front. Instead of ‘An update on our visit to Sydney for XYZ Conference’, why not make the text of your post ‘Our 9 top lessons from the 2018 XYZ Conference — and our 3 recommendations of what to do with a spare afternoon in Sydney!’.
Linda Coles offers the following story about a car dealership. Volkswagen opened a small concept store in Pukekohe, south of Auckland — very small. You’d think they wouldn’t be able to sell many cars with so little space, but that turned out to not be a problem.
Firstly, the facility itself had technology that allowed potential buyers to see the interior and exterior of every VW car, but beyond that useful element, it seems buyers aren’t so dependent on the physical any more. The average person used to visit a car yard 6 times prior to making a purchase, but now it’s only 1.5 times. People research online — the only thing they need from the physical encounter is to see the colour in real life and take a test drive.
If anything similar to that figure change — 6 to 1.5 — can be seen in other industries, it really highlights just how important online visibility and calibre of web presence are to ensure that people can find you and trust you as a critical part of the research process. It’s where people are, and where we’re looking, so social plays an important role within that.
» Social media is an integral part of the digital marketing equation, regardless of what your main focus is.
» Different platforms lend themselves to different kinds of businesses. Take that into consideration before signing up for everything you come across.
» Even if Google doesn’t officially acknowledge social media as a contributing factor to its algorithm,
the links driven by social still play a part.
» Use appropriate keywords where possible to maximise the indexable nature of social media platforms.
» Make use of scheduling tools if you havemultiple platforms to manage.