There is a lot of talk around the web these days about the convergence of social media and SEO, but I feel like what has happened with social and search is more like a marriage, and they skipped the engagement period altogether. It is merely a convergence of technology and methodology.

Change is the only constant in the online marketing industry, and change comes quickly.

Not too long ago most businesses were viewing SEO and social media as two completely separate initiatives, with completely separate budgets and separate teams dedicated to managing the success of the campaigns. Nowadays, most businesses (at least I hope) realize that SEO and social media are a couple and go hand-in-hand with one another’s success. 

While 97% of marketers agree that social media provides benefits and value to their business, from a discovery, brand awareness, and customer engagement prospective, many marketers still miss the link between SEO and social, and don’t leverage its power to the fullest extent.

While engaging in social media alone can provide impressive results, properly planned tactics can also have a positive impact on your search results. While social signals are something merely on the radar for some businesses, the bottom line is that marketers who have recognized that the future of search is already here can gain a significant competitive advantage.

Focus on the future

First and foremost, marketers need to focus on where SEO is going, not where it has been. However, this can be quite tricky considering that no one, not even the search engines, really knows where social media is heading. It is all speculation at this point, but one thing is for sure; social media is here to stay and its importance in society and search alike will only increase as time goes on.

US online spending is expected to grow 23.3% throughout 2012, reaching $39.5 billion by the end of the year. The number is expected to rise to $46.5 billion in 2013.  The question on every marketers mind is, “How do I get a larger share of that revenue?” The answer is to always think about your potential customers with every marketing decision you make. You can do this by making your business as visible and as easy to engage with as possible on as many online channels as possible. Have a presence where your customers are searching, wherever that may be. 

Fitting your site into search

The search engines boil down to one basic concept: helping users find what they’re looking for. And Google will continue to serve its mission “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” and social media is just another avenue enabling Google to better fulfill its mission. It only makes sense for SEO and social to be treated as one. They are both discovery avenues that create brand awareness; drive leads, engage customers, and, bottom line, create valuable content.

The impact that social signals have on the overall search algorithm is continuing to increase as search becomes more personalized. Large amounts of social shares indicate that a mass amount of people not only found what they were looking for on your site, but also liked your site enough to share it with others.  It also shows the search engines and the sites visitors that your site is up to date and that your site invests in making the user experience a positive one. 

Viral content is like the mass endorsement of the public. Every share, like, re-tweet, +1 , subscription, and pin means one more endorsement for your website, simultaneously increasing your social capital and your search creditability. By gaining a massive amount of social shares, you’re not just boosting your SEO signals and your site visibility—you’re also creating content with value for your customer base. 

Viral content is a win-win for both your brand and your search rankings.  In the SEOMoz 2012 industry survey, they found that over two-thirds of online marketers generated content for social and search ranging from blog posts, press releases, social posts, info-graphics and whitepapers. So what was the breakdown? See the results below.

There have been many investments into social media and SEO technologies as well as substantial innovations that make social search a long term relationship.  The beauty of social search is that social media puts the human element back into search to achieve a perfect mesh with the spiders, algorithms and technology. 

Social search has the searcher ultimately relying on people (and not algorithms) to deliver the most meaningful results. Because of its potential to drive traffic, increase awareness, and build links, it is no wonder that social media has become somewhat of a golden child for SEO. The 2012 SEOMoz industry survey also showed the breakdown of marketers main objectives for utilizing certain social media channels, and it’s not surprising to see that content marketing and SEO are among the top reasons that online marketers use select social media channels.

In order to fully understand the depths of the social search marriage we need to better understand the cause and correlation between social shares, links, and rankings. Combining SEO and social media produces far better returns than investing in any of them individually or exclusively.  

One thing is for sure, social interactions beget more social interactions and create a larger social presence on the web, thus increasing links, all while helping people find the information that they are looking for. Google crawls 20 billion web pages every day, and if social signals are able to assist Google with determining the relevancy of a website to a search query then the searcher will have a more personalized search. 

According to Google, social media and social networking are about relationships and relationships prove relevance and relevance is at the core of organic search. As social media continues to play a larger role in our day to day lives and in business, the importance of social signals will only increase. Social signals such as +1s, likes, re-tweets, shares, subscriptions, and pins are all endorsements of your website. Even Googles own Matt Cutts believes that social will continue to become a larger piece of search in the future. 

At the recent 2012 SES San Francisco Conference Mr. Cutts said that: 

Google wants as close to ideal rankings and best quality search results possible…I can see social becoming a bigger signal in the long term. In the short term, Google won’t leave links behind. Ultimately, Google doesn’t want people to worry about Pandas or Penguins. Google wants to reward sites that have good signals.

So, make sure that your site is giving Google good signals. There definitely is a correlation between certain social signals and higher rankings. But which signals carry more weight?  

Social search has marketers jumping on board and increasing their budgeting demands for content creation specifically for SEO and social media. Webmarketing 123 released their Sate of Digital Marketing 2012 report that found that 52% of US B2C marketers and 41% of US B2B marketers planned to increase their social marketing budgets in 2013. 

And it’s no wonder why, with an astounding 92% of consumers saying that they trust earned media such as word of mouth (Social Media- word of mouth on digital steroids) and recommendations from friends and family , above all other forms of advertising. The power of social search is exponential. Though, the challenge for many SEO’s, is to effectively marry social media tactics with real business goals. 

When’s The wedding?

So how do you marry your SEO and social strategies for optimal brand awareness?  You need to make sure to give your content hungry site and social profile visitors every opportunity to further socialize and amplify your content. Make it as easy as possible for them to facilitate to social sharing. As SEOs we know that a little creative thinking goes a long way in using social media sites to promote a business. In one way or another, these collaborative communities provide endless opportunities for viral and word-of-mouth marketing.

By integrating social media marketing tactics with SEO best practice, social SEO uncovers new markets and opportunities, increases subscribers and site visitors, and allows your business to be found by those in need of your products or services. Your goal with social search should be to maximize the visibility of relevant content for those that may be looking for it, wherever they may be looking for it. May it be in a general Google search, a Facebook search, a YouTube search or a question asked in a forum, give them the info they seek, and your rankings will be rewarded. 

Think about the context of the content that you are distributing throughout the web. Content has always been king but context is the Queen B that runs the house. It’s not only the quantity, and quality of social interactions that matters, but the context as well. You need to be deliberate with your content creation. Create content that is optimized for how your customers are searching for what you have to offer. 

Once you have done this, socialize your content across all of your company’s social profiles such as your company blog, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, LinkedIn and YouTube.  What types of content should you be producing, optimizing and socializing? 

  • Website content
  • Blog posts
  • Social media posts
  • Optimized videos
  • Optimized images
  • Case studies
  • Whitepapers
  • Press releases
  • Articles
  • How to guides
  • Local directory listings

The list goes on. By properly socializing your company’s content, you are not only giving the searchers the valuable information that they seek, but you are also proactively managing your company’s reputation and increasing your overall visibility on the web. 

In this day and age, managing your company’s online reputation is a critical piece of social search. By affectively optimizing and socializing all of your company’s content you are reducing the risk of being attacked by Googles black and white furry friends (Panda and Penguin). Socialize your content and seize your opportunity for increased search visibility now and going forward.

What are your thoughts on the marriage of social media search? Is this relationship one for the records, or are we looking at a nasty divorce in the long term? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.