Lee Odden

How Does Social Media Affect Search Marketing?

Lee Odden     Online Marketing, SEO, Social Media

Social media and search engine marketing: Are they two peas in a pod, complementary or two very distinct channels?

I think the answer is all of the above, depending on the situation.  The growth in attention to social media as a marketing, communication and community building opportunity deserves attention by all sorts of online marketers, especially those in search marketing.

How does social media affect search marketing?

Searcher expectations have changed.  – Searchers no longer have the sole expectation of searching to find information for a specific outcome. As people spend more and more time connecting, sharing and interacting with the social web, they now often expect to interact with what they find in the search results.

Searchers have always been able to save the useful things they find in search results by bookmarking or saving to the favorites in the browser. Bookmarks are now social, to be shared and leveraged via the collective wisdom of preferences from other likeminded searchers. The growth and popularity of socially enabling web applications (social bookmarks, news, networking, messaging, publishing & media sharing) drive consumer expectations for social interaction with search even more.

Another aspect to searcher expectations is that consumers search social media sites (Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo Answers, MySpace) to a small degree, as an alternatives to standard search for information, references and recommendations. People don’t trust formal marketing messages and there is something inherently more trustworthy about recommendations made by others willing to take the time to review products/services and share their opinions. Marketers realize this of course and as a result, there has been an increase in the number of “fake” reviews on ecommerce sites.

So, how do searcher expectations in regards to social media affect SEO efforts? Does it affect landing pages for PPC or other online search advertising?

Keywords and links aren’t the only tactics SEOs employ with content optimization. Usability comes into play as well and making it easy for consumers of a web site’s content to socially save, share, submit and interact with that content helps meet increasing social expectations.

With PPC and landing pages it’s the same thing, but not to the degree that it takes away from the objective of the conversion of course. The objective for a landing page is to motivate a specific action, not bookmark the landing page – but why not make it easy if customers choose to do so?

With online advertising, there are increasing numbers of companies enabling rich media ads with social features. Links are added so that viewers of the ad can share, rare or comment. This isn’t practical with text based PPC ads but with video or graphical ads used in search, it might be something to consider.

Difference in Context of Search and Social
– It’s important to understand the difference in how/why people spend time searching compared to time spent with social media. This is an area I am looking for more research on, so please share links if you have them. Fundamentally, a searcher has a question, unmet need or pain point to be solved and initiates action through a query on a search engine. The result is being presented with matching search results & ads. Depending on the searcher’s stage in the research process or buying cycle, they’ll drill down to a solution or continue searching.

Time spent with the social web involves many types of interactions with likeminded individuals in a community or network, one of which is looking for and sharing recommendations. As I mentioned earlier, people do not tend to trust formal marketing messages. While it’s the goal for search engines and search advertisers to make their ads more useful and relevant to searchers, that is not always the case. The investment in time with a social community, whether it’s Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, along with the quality of interactions builds trust that’s difficult to duplicate in online advertising as we know it.

How can marketers’ efforts in social media channels do a better job of going beyond applying the same old rules and take on more of a give to get strategy?

This is where the give to get principle comes in. Effective social advertising is less about attaching marketing messages to content and more about being the content. This isn’t new in advertising or direct marketing when you think about it. TV commercials and direct mail as entertainment and art have been popular for years. The difference is that marketing online is so ingrained with advertisers and marketers as a direct marketing channel, they don’t yet understand the opportunities from building community, creating something of value that persists and not just as a campaign,  as a way to communicate their message.

Rather than looking at social media sharing sites as just another place to dump their existing content, online marketers should consider understanding what is important to social communities through content, link and tag analysis (a keyword based listening exercise) and create content  that meets those needs. The content created can add to the SEO efforts for search based discovery as well as through the social web.

Push and Pull SEO Effect of Social Media Marketing.  Social media marketing efforts that create conversations and buzz can influence queries on keywords used in search the same way advertising and the result of public relations through media coverage can drive search traffic.

In social web situations, a great idea can spread quickly, driving people to search for more formal information. The push is the instigation of a new concept in social media situations, providing useful information and provoking discussions about it. The pull (searching for) comes from the idea catching fire and people searching for more information on it.

Another aspect to the push and pull effect involves content that is created by marketers and/or discussions that come out of a social media marketing effort that can also rank in the search results. Creating socially enabled content that is optimized for keywords phrases with established demand allows a brand, product or company to occupy multiple positions on the same search query.  By socially enabling that content with save/share/comment features, marketers facilitate distribution within social communities.

Here, the push is the creation of optimized content that includes features to make it easier to travel within social communities. So many people are empowered to link to content on the web through blogging, commenting on blogs, user generated content and reviews that the optimized content can achieve desired visibility within standard search engines.  The pull comes from people searching standard search engines for things they need and finding the optimized content.

How have you seen social media affect search?  Do you see the benefit of a Social Media SEO effort? What major changes in consumer behaviors between search and social media did we miss? Please share your comments and any research or resources.

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on integrated content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely on a beach somewhere doing absolutely nothing.