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Lee Odden

3 Phases of Social Media SEO – Where Are You At?

By Lee Odden     Online Marketing, SEO, Social Media

Social SEO PhasesAs Google puts the squeeze on traditional ranking signals and subsequently, Search Engine Optimization tactics, the growing emphasis on social signals has many SEO practitioners getting more serious about social engagement.

While search marketing has been a key part of our consulting practice since 2001, our Online Marketing agency’s work with Public Relations and blogging since 2003 has helped us develop an appreciation of the influence and engagement outcomes possible with social media pretty quickly, vs. solely as a promotion channel for links. That sentiment is growing rapidly as of late with many traditional SEOs.

You too, may have noticed an increase in SEO practitioners (both agency and client side) singing the song of Content Marketing and Social Media. As this shift has occurred over the past few years, I’ve observed a series of phases of approach. According to your situation and market, your mileage may vary with these characterizations, but maybe you’ll see something familiar and get a clearer picture of where your SEO and Social Media integration is headed.

Phase 1: SEO With Social Profiles, Sharing Widgets & Blogs

Many Search Engine Optimization pros started their social media adventures with bookmarking and news services like Digg, StumbleUpon, Delicious and Reddit.  Promoting content to these channels, especially through “power users” could inspire content to go hot, hit the home page and attract spikes of traffic. The increased exposure attracts more links and subscribers.

Social bookmarking services and profiles within social networking sites allow for users to include links back to their own websites creating a potential source of link traffic and light signal for search engines. Many of those links were subsequently made “nofollow”.  Such links are simply a matter of filling out forms and ultimately no more impactful than directory submissions.

Blogs are used to publish content in a more search engine friendly way than most CMS are capable of and commenting on other blogs provided great links until they too, were made “nofollow” by most bloggers and blog CMS.

Success is measured in SEO terms: links, rankings and traffic.

Phase 2: Social Media Optimization

Coined by Rohit Bhargava, SMO has had different meanings for different people.  Marketers develop the social profiles they’ve created into more robust sources of information with some building out of social networks. Developing social channels helps to create an audience to promote content to in the hopes of attracting links.

Blogs are often the hub to the social media spokes for optimized content promotion for traffic and link acquisition. Attention to building blog subscribers and email lists is stressed.  There’s an honest appreciation for creating useful content for specific audience segments and a developed skill in the art/science of content formats, types and writing headlines that inspire sharing.

Success is measured primarily as SEO outcomes like links, traffic and conversions. Social KPIs like fans, friends & followers are monitored as well as basic engagement metrics like comments and interactions. But those metrics are more about “social proof” than social ROI.

Phase 3: Integrated Content, SEO & Social Media Plan

By now,  SEOs are more likely to identify as Online Marketers and understand the key to a killer social SEO strategy is content.  Audience categorization becomes persona development which guides content marketing strategy.  The keyword research expertise from SEO is factored into Editorial Planning of web and social content.

While content is planned for certain outcomes with segments of the community, it’s an adaptable online marketing strategy that allows for opportunistic content marketing and social promotion based on social media monitoring and trends. Social media savvy isn’t just for Marketing and Public Relations, but as much of the organization as possible.

Anyone in a position to create content, engage with customers and prospects online has basic skills with search and social keyword glossaries, social search and social networking on behalf of the brand.

To maximize the relevance of the Content Marketing Plan, search keywords and social topics representative of customer interests are factored into scheduled editorial for web, social and mobile content.  Content creation and promotion is coordinated across functional areas like Advertising, Public Relations and Marketing as possible.

The findability of content is improved through keyword and social topic optimization. Social content that is easy to find through search can help grow the social network.  As the network grows, so does word of mouth for inherent promotion of useful content that attracts links, shares and comments. Those social signals can be gauged by Google in combination with other SEO ranking factors to improve search visibility of brand web properties.

It would be realistic to add other phases, but I’m trying to be more practical with this post. I think this approach of an adaptable, customer-centric and content focused strategy that leverages topic optimization for both search findability and social engagement is where many online marketers will find themselves sooner than later.

What do you think about these phases? Phase 3 is a tall order to fill and I think many marketers will see a blend as their reality. If you have an appreciation for the impact coordinated Social SEO & Content can have, how would you characterize your organization’s approach?

I’ll be elaborating on these phases and more later this morning at OMS Minneapolis in a session called “Develop a Killer Social SEO Strategy“. I hope to see you there.


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