Lee Odden

Social Media for SEO vs. Customer Engagement

Lee Odden     Online Marketing, SEO, Social Media

Social Media SEODuring an internal discussion at TopRank Marketing, the topic of defining social media came up and one area of interest was the difference in outcomes when it comes to incorporating both social media and search engine optimization. The social media tactics and expected outcomes when used for a SEO program are very different than social media intended to improve customer engagement outcomes. I think this is an important distinction because while social media and SEO work great together, the outcomes and business value can be very different.

Social Media for SEO

SEO helps connect customers with brand content through search engines. Content associated with both qualitative and quantitative signals tends to be rewarded with higher search ranking, driving traffic and hopefully, sales. In the scheme of things within the customer lifecycle, SEO is a tactic focused on aiding information discovery at numerous touchpoints, with an emphasis on the top of the funnel. Customers have some idea of what they’re looking for and search until they find it.

SEO practitioners have traditionally used social networks, news and bookmarking services to create and promote content in an effort to attract links. Those links can send traffic but are also signals for search engines to discover and rank content. Social participation is focused on mining topics and content formats that are most likely to resonate with the social community in order to increase the likelihood of becoming popular and subsequently exposing tremendous amounts of traffic and links from those readers empowered to publish – bloggers, commenters, journalists, site owners.

Since Google and Bing have started incorporating feeds from social media services like Twitter, Facebook and others, it has been revealed that links, text and author authority can also be used as signals for determining content ranking on real-time, news and traditional search.

SEO practitioners that hang a shingle out with “social media marketing” on it are essentially focused on content promotion through social networks, news and bookmarking sites to attract links.  Social networks and news sites can be very effective channels for indirect link acquisition.

A simple example might involve a marketer doing keyword research on search and social phrases to decide on a topic for an infographic. The content and name of the infographic are keyword optimized for the target audience that searches for those terms. The infographic would be posted to a blog with embed code for other blogs and promoted via social channels, public and private.

As the blog post with the infographic spreads in distribution and sharing amongst the social channels of interest, it gets noticed and linked to. Often times the link to the infographic will use the supplied name, which of course, includes the target keyword phrase.  Links with anchor text that reflects a desired keyword phrase from many other, relevant websites and blogs along with links in social channels like Facebook and Twitter provide search engines with robust signals to use in ranking that content.

So, the basic nature of social media for SEO outcomes is to create signals like links and to inspire others to create links that can drive awareness, traffic and as a signal for search engines resulting in better search ranking.

Social Media for Customer Engagement

Studies have shown that many corporate social media initiatives are managed by Public Relations departments and outcomes often focus on awareness, influence, engagement and relationship building.  Better relationships with customers and industry influentials builds the brand, inspires trust and positive association with what the brand stands for.  A strong brand drives sales because customers are aware of and trust the brand as a solution.

Social media programs centered around customer engagement might focus more on creating an experience for customers through content, tools, peer networking or special programs that allow them to contribute and be recognized.

An example would be a coordinated effort to connect industry professionals within a specific vertical market with a brand that offers a solution. The brand might create a community or forum with a blog component to publish useful information and industry news. That hub can then be surrounded by a Facebook fan page, Twitter, LinkedIn participation and a YouTube channel – all providing useful content that demonstrates effective use of the kind of solution offered by the brand and linking back to the hub. Community discussions are inspired by brand moderators and as the community grows, strong voices emerge and are recognized and empowered.

Content is created within the community as questions are asked and answered fueling the ongoing social content strategy for public information hosted on the blog and the outposts. The goals of such a program would be to create a destination of information that educates, informs and engages the target customer in a way that leads them to the logical conclusion to buy or refer the brand.

Social Media for customer engagement is to build awareness, trust and often results in higher value per sale, shorter sales cycles, more referrals and better customer retention on top of industry news and blog coverage.

Social Media and SEO: There’s a Better Way

Nothing brings tactical Social Media & Search Engine Optimization together for both discovery and engagement outcomes than content. An effective content marketing strategy coordinates target customer and influencer personas with social content plan and SEO tactics that help brands achieve both goals: improved search engine visibility of website and social content as well as social experiences that foster customer engagement.

I challenge marketers to stop thinking in silos and do some due diligence with their Search, Social Media and PR agency partners to come up with more elegant solutions to this opportunity. So much effort is wasted by not coordinating SEO, Social Media and Content Marketing together that simply nailing the basics can provide a competitive advantage.

Or maybe you’ve done this already? How is your business working to coordinate search, social and content marketing? What challenges do you face with inter-departmental coordination? With strategy and implementation? With reporting?

I’ll be speaking on this very topic at BlogWorld East in New York May 24th and at SES Toronto June 13th with examples of coordinated Social Media, SEO and Content Marketing in action. Hope to see you there.


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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 B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. Avatar Black Seo Guy says

    Straight seo is what I stick with the most. Social media is great but its something you can’ control at all..

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

    • That’s why a lot of SEOs refer business to agencies like @TopRank – we do both and have been for over 5 years. SEO since 1997. 🙂

  2. Avatar Anonymous says

    great piece here Lee…and I’ll be in your audience in Toronto to learn more too, eh!

    can’t wait…and pls post your slide deck here too….would love to come “prepared” with pertinent on-point questions too!



    • Good to hear you’ll be at SES Toronto Jim. I’ll probably do a pre-event post, but slides won’t go up until after the conference. I’m sure there are plenty of questions to be inspired by what we’ve written or presented on this topic in the past. Check out our Slideshare page: http://www.slideshare.net/toprank

  3. Where did you get the apple/orange image from? It’s great!

  4. The combination of SEO and Social Media is definitely the future, or even the present. I see the two of them becoming more and more interdependent as we move forward. We also do both.

  5. Avatar Alli Waxler says

    Interesting. Where can I learn more about SEO…?

  6. What will be the your recommendation to get the high authority of individual profiles ?

  7. SEO is part of the whole package. If anyone is working with a PR agency or online marketing agency that isn’t talking about search as part of the strategy, they should run. If you can’t be found, all your social media work and engagement shows little return. Thank you, Lee – I’ll be at BlogWorld and hope to attend your session and say hi.

    • Looking forward to meeting you Lisa 🙂

    • I don’t believe every campaign needs to have a search strategy, I have run purely social campaigns for clients, but that said most do.

      But I do believe that a search strategy should include a strong social campaign, social is critical for organic SEO and it will only become critical in the future.

  8. Avatar Joshua Barnes says

    You’ve made excellent points. I agree that marketers tend to get myopic in their approach…curious what your thoughts are on everyone taking a sales persons perspective to expand their abilities and drive better results?

    • I’m a bit biased about sales skills, since that’s my background. Being focused on a goal, determined and persuasive are essential sales skills that translate to effective communications (marketing & PR). When you’re tasked with advancing towards a goal, being persuasive is essential.

  9. Avatar Jonathan Kidder says

    Do you think Google Profile will play a role in SEO and Social Media? http://bitly.com/gvZ0uG

    • Google profiles show up for queries on people and sometimes brands – plus they can cluster some of your social activity in one place, but no matter how much you can do with a Google profile as you’ve written about in your link drop, it really doesn’t matter if the profile doesn’t inspire some kind of outcome of value for people.

  10. I like the example you gave of a social media program.
    I’m currently doing something along those lines with one of our clients who work with Augmented Reality, which is a fairly new concept that’s been generating a lot of talk over the last couple of years. We’ve created Facebook/Twitter/YouTube and LinkedIn pages and invited several industry professionals to start discussing AR on their facebook page, this content then feeds all the other social media sites and the blog on their site, generating a circle/flow of information (and backlinks) around what they do and their brand…
    Social media is great for SEO, but it needs to be properly implemented. Having a facebook page for the sake of it won’t help any business, unless they are actively using and promoting it.

  11. Avatar subashini says

    SEO vs SEM can be seen as a question: are these two terms actually the same thing? They sound similar–search engine optimization vs search engine marketing–but they actually refer to two different parts of the same marketing scheme.

    • But this isn’t about SEO vs SEM – it’s about how the mix of social media and SEO can affect outcomes differently depending on the approach.

  12. Great post! Very informative and helpful. Thanks for sharing the insights.

  13. Very informative and insightful post!

    You have touched on some excellent points. I agree that brand awareness is very important. Establishing ones credibility and building trust is essential in any industry be it marketing, PR, or even journalism.

    Also, I agree that marketers often get blind-sided by wanting to create more “search engine visibility,” that they fail to focus on tactics that will keep readers coming back. You mentioned, “Nailing the basics can provide a competitive advantage,” and I think this point cannot be stressed enough because it is not always about the quantity that is necessarily important, it is about the quality.

    I’ll admit, I am still an amateur when it comes to implementing SEO so i’ll leave this to the social media and PR pros! However, my social media instructor advised me to think of SEO as a holistic process that includes technology, marketing, and keyword analysis.

    Is keyword analysis really something I should incorporate as a SEO tactic? – Will this bring traffic to my blog and or website? I would love to learn more about the hidden treasures of social media.

    Thanks for the post.

  14. This is a great article. In my e-marketing college class we are learning about the importance of utilizing both of these aspects in running a successful blog. Advertising blog posts on facebook or other networks can certainly help generate traffic and visibility of a new blog (company, website..etc).. that coupled with the correct SEO will make sure that potential clients or viewers will be able to find/access the site which will up traffic! When we added meta-tags to our blogger site it helped us become more visible in search engines.. this is a great tool!