There is a disturbing amount of content floating around on the Internet pitting Social Media against SEO. In the last two months I’ve read a dozen articles, looked over a pair of infographics and joined in a forum debate on which one is a better investment of your time and money.
This is one of the problems with the Internet in general. Something that doesn’t have a clear cut answer and involves subjects that aren’t entirely understood by the general public is easily manipulated for post fodder by bloggers who are running dry on inspiration. After one person entertains the idea it spreads through the blogosphere quickly, and before long something as inconsequential as SEO vs. Social Media becomes an important issue for popular bloggers who often feel a pressure similar to a political candidate to make the right choice.
There are lots of good reasons to gauge the effectiveness of social media and SEO, but they’re two different animals, and both of them are essential to the Internet biosphere. If you run business online there is no excuse for not instituting both a social media and SEO campaign. If your business is primarily online you are going to want to explore every possible avenue on the Internet for growing that business. If your business is primarily physical, your existing customers and the population in your area who are already familiar with your brand make both SEO and social media two of the most cost effective funnels for leads and interaction available.
Both SEO and social media are spokes that should be built around a hub made up of content marketing. Creating the content is the biggest investment you will make in online marketing. Over time it will outpace web development and most advertising budgets, and it forms the basis of all the most successful long term marketing campaigns. One facet of online marketing that all consultants agree on is that you should own your content – you need to maintain a blog or website that can act as an archive and base of operations.
Your social media campaign will likely develop organically so most of the complexities will never be addressed in a strategy. You’ll want to keep all your followers engaged and supply your feeds with intriguing content; and there are several good reasons to curate content from others. A goal of every long-term social campaign that includes curated content should be to produce content that is higher quality and travels farther than the content they share from others. Having control over the presentation, the shell and the language lets you drive actions and create connections. It just wouldn’t be right for a soda company to share tons of content from other soda companies with their fans and never produce any content themselves.
Sharing your self-hosted content through social channels is almost an afterthought. You can even automate that process, so there is no need to invest time and money in social media as it pertains to sharing the content from your blog. Most of your resources will be used to address responses and to innovate when it comes what type of content you create for your blog.
Believe None of What You Read, but All of What Works for You
There are hundreds of articles published every day regarding link building, the latest Google algorithm changes and predictions about the future of search and best practices. What most people don’t tell you is that relevance and your on-site SEO matters more to Google than how, who from or why you got backlinks. Relevance is the key, and even though Google looked to metrics such as backlinks and keywords in anchor text in the past, the technology associated with discerning content relevance has outpaced even the most progressive aspects of web development.
Remember that most of the information related to SEO is highly speculative. Google doesn’t mind giving hints and loose guidelines, but they’ve never published the algorithm. Their advice is also based on what how they would like you to optimize your site so that their results work better rather than based on how to increase the traffic your website receives through organic search. I have based my findings on repeated research and testing. Social Media Sun itself has grown to derive the majority of its traffic from search engines, and we’ve only been online for three months. Our Google Page Rank was 0 until a week ago, which proves that page rank, backlinks and domain age takes a serious back seat to relevance.
Keyword Density is a highly debated topic in search optimization. After the latest round of algorithm updates most experts agree that a keyword density of 1-2 percent is adequate, with 4 percent of the language in an article compromising synonymous terms (i.e. an article titled “How to Potty Train Your Kid” will be full of words like toilet, teaching, and children; terms that are synonymous with your key-phrase). To combat keyword stuffing and other loop holes in search ranking Google has become more vigilant in sandboxing content for unnaturally high keyword densities. After several controlled tests performed over a period of 2 months with 3 separate domains and related keywords I’ve found that densities anywhere between 4 percent and 7 percent can both register on search, and be excluded altogether for terms that classified as mildly competitive (medium) by Google. I suspect that synonymous language, article length and topic scarcity all play into the algorithm’s decision to exclude articles for keyword stuffing. (Study completed during January 15-April 15 2012)
SEO Professionals are as Useful as Dirt Cleaners
I verified that even after two weeks online we were ranking right below the social networks that our articles were based on for several popular search terms. It’s not something SEOs want to admit – why would you hire someone to do a link building strategy and optimize your code if all it takes are relevant posts?
There are instances when an SEO professional is needed. When you’re constructing taxonomy for an application that will create pages, when you’re setting up your blog for the first time, and when you’ve taken over a website that has high profit potential, but was run by people who had no idea what they were doing are good examples. The problem is that most SEO professionals just want to make your site rank better for keywords that it should already be optimized for. Anyone can improve incoming visits from search, they just have to adequately target long-tailed keywords; and that is what most SEOs will do to show some results and get paid.
Backlink strategies are most important when the relevance of two pages are hard to gauge. This only happens when the key-phrases are extremely competitive. Backlinks alone will hardly ever increase your rank – the sites in front of you are often considered more authoritative, and generate backlinks faster organically than a whole army of mechanical turks could for your website.
What is Page Rank Good For?
Many bloggers use Google Page Rank to gauge the Authority of a given website. Page Rank and Authority used to be very important metrics in the search algorithm, but with Latent Semantic Indexing search engines have been able to more accurately decipher relevance. Google has said that Page Rank has nothing to do with your ranking in SERPs, and generally that is true. Authority has been demoted in the algorithm, and Page Rank now is used primarily for crawlers to know how often to crawl your website. If your website publishes very often and has highly dynamic content it will have a high page-rank and will be crawled more often than blogs that are hardly ever updated. Since it is also associated with authority, websites that are considered trustworthy sources of breaking news are ranked higher than websites that have a similar publishing schedule. After 3 months of publishing 5 articles each week – 1 every weekday – Google assigned a Page Rank of 4 to Social Media Sun. Domain age, backlinks and several other factors play into calculating Google Page Rank, but since the SERPs are ranked primarily due to relevance, Page Rank is an increasingly irrelevant metric.
How Social Media Sun Has Excelled with SEO
I’ve been regarded as one of the most exclusive and knowledgeable SEO bloggers for some time now. I have studied it in depth, written case studies, worked on large projects and read a ton of content. I hate to admit that roughly 90 percent of the SEO strategy associated with Social Media Sun can be summed up in a few simple rules, and is often ignored by SEO bloggers who would rather show off a new technique they’ve developed in regards to backlinks.
We accept articles from guests who often choose the topics themselves. Our own staff writes an article apiece weekly, and we cover subjects that we feel are important for everyone to become familiar with. There is absolutely no SEO strategy involved in writing the articles. You should be concerned with producing a comprehensive and accurate piece of content for your readers; SEO can wait.
Before editing each article I do a cursory search for keywords with Google Ad Words Keyword Tool. This usually means searching the platform name and the subject matter, as well as trying a possible title or two. I’ll go through the results and note the highest ranking search terms. Sometimes the title given to the article by the author is a highly trafficked search term and there is no need to change it. Sometimes there are phrases with relatively outstanding search stats that have little competition and can be applied relevantly to the article we already have.
Find a popular and relevant phrase and work it in as a title. It is best to make the terms appear first in the title; you can use a sub headline separated by a colon to add context to the title. You also want to re-write the first paragraph, or merely alter it so the key-phrase appears in the first sentence. Go through the article and alter the synonyms wherever possible so that your key-phrase achieves a decent density. You don’t want to overdo it, but if you originally wrote the article about “editing photographs” and you decide to title the article “editing images”, you’ll want to change the word photograph to image in the majority of instances.
Now that you have a highly trafficked key-phrase as the first words in your title, you’ve mentioned it quickly in your first sentence / paragraph and you’ve made sure that the article agrees with your choices, you’ll also want to change the URL of your article so it ONLY includes your key-phrase. For example the title of this article is “Effective SEO Made Easy”, and the hyperlink is entered as effective-seo-made-easy (Note: I did not optimize this post for search).
A good example of how to use relevance in an on-site SEO strategy to optimize your site for search is an article written by Candace Mountain that we published earlier this year, “What is Pinterest?” By editing the articles as you publish all the changes are made at the same time you’re revising each article for grammar and spelling. There is no extra work needed for SEO and the articles you’re publishing anyway for your content marketing strategy become your SEO strategy as well. The article Candace submitted was originally called “A Beginner’s Guide to Pinterest”, but since my cursory search showed that an alternate title could do very well on Google I changed the title and spent a few minutes going over the content.
You should never entirely re-write an article or alter the meaning of an article just to satisfy a popular key-phrase. Since there are lots of people searching for the term, there is going to be a piece of content that fits the search perfectly. If a specific piece of content misses the underlying topic then add the popular key-phrase to a list and keep it in mind for an article topic or a future title.
- Always fill in the description and ALT tags for images you include in your content. An effective way to add another route to your article is by naming the picture after your article, and filling in the descriptive tags accordingly.
- Use the categories and tags to your advantage. Include all of your keywords as tags and if possible as a category.
- When you first install your blog set up the post URLs so they are taken from the title of your posts, and don’t include things like dates and extra taxonomy.
- It is best to make sure your domain name is relevant to much of your content. An article about Social Media Marketing will do better on Social Media Sun than it would on AdamJustice.me because of the relevance in the domain.
- Set up your blog to pull meta data such as tags, a description and page title from the data entered in your title, tags and category fields.
- Always make your key-phrase the very first words in your title, and the only words in your URL.
- Always re-enforce your topic by including the key-phrase immediately in the beginning of your article.
- Do all of these things during the editing and publishing process to limit the time you spend on optimization.
With this strategy Social Media Sun has went from driving most traffic through social media shares to getting most traffic passively from organic search. Our traffic from Google increased by 624 percent from the month of March 2012 to May 2012. Since search traffic will likely grow at a consistent rate as long as we publish on the same schedule, Social Media Sun could be getting over 20,000 visits come from Google by our first anniversary in February 2013.
Without SEO the only content doing its job is your latest post. Do you really want to spend that much time or money producing content only to have it draw a few hundred visitors for a week and then never create another lead again? Other sites don’t waste their content marketing investment that way, and with these simple tips you won’t either.
There’s No Excuse for Not Optimizing
What is great about this strategy is that it is not only the least labor intensive form of SEO, it’s also the most effective. When you create quality content that is optimized on-site Google will rank you highly; end of story. If you are worried about getting backlinks and creating a web of routes to your website, don’t worry. Readers who are researching similar topics on Google will cite your articles, and often share them on their social networks long after you publish them. A piece of content that is high quality and does well in search will be attracting backlinks long after a post with a title that is primarily written to draw attention on social networks falls into Internet oblivion.
It may take an extra 15 minutes per post to draw in thousands of visitors every month from on-site SEO. Since it requires so little time compared to what you’re spending in other areas, there is no excuse not to do it. All it takes is Google Ad Words Keyword Search and some common sense.