Columnist Eric Enge recaps a session from SMX West detailing fresh ideas for how search engine optimization (SEO) and social media marketing can work together to produce results.
The recent SMX West conference had many awesome sessions, and today I’m going to provide some compelling insights from “SEO and Social: A Match Made in Marketing Heaven.” One of the great things about this session is that all four speakers took a step back and provided fresh ideas on how to think about the integration of these two disciplines.
Let’s dig in!
Flexibility and a willingness to fail
Leading off the session we had Maggie Malek, head of PR and social at MMI agency out of Houston. She walked us through a process for getting search and social to work together.
If your business is like most businesses, it’s likely that various groups tend to work in silos. This is a problem for many reasons, and it’s critical to break down those silos. To make matters worse, the current landscape is a bit of a mess:
Worse still, that landscape is constantly changing. One of the other big problems we all face is that consumers have a natural ad block. Success will only come if we have a willingness to create authentic conversations with people and identify moments that matter.
Malek’s overall recommended process is captured in this chart:
These four pillars are key to success. But equally important is having flexibility and a willingness to fail. What that means is that there is no such thing as content without value. For example, a post that gets no engagement still provides useful information.
One last key point before we start walking through the process: To create a true breakthrough, you must come from a genuine place, and what that means is that you must “define your spirit” (I interpreted this as being clear on what you stand for).
Step 1: Lead with data
In other words, what are people searching for? Bear in mind, though, that Google is not the only place people are searching. They use Facebook Open Graph, YouTube, Amazon, Twitter, Instagram and more.
Malek also recommends that you use this data from search to act as the “head” for your efforts, and that info from social act as the “heart.” Basically, search drives an analytical process, but social enables you to connect with what people want.
It’s in social where you can discover things such as:
- What are people saying about your product to their friends?
- How are they interacting with your competitors?
- What customer service issues are they having?
- What type of content gets the most engagement?
Step 2: Create a content strategy
Some key points for this are:
- Plan for unbridled success. Your plan has to help us succeed, and in a big way, elsewise, why are we playing the game?
- Track the right metrics. We must measure our results and tune our content creation strategies over time.
- Pick your channels. Focus your efforts on the ones that create the best connections with you customers.
- Build a dynamic team based on brand needs.
Step 3: Leverage relevance and context
There are three major types of content:
- Hero content: Large-scale content that you create around major events. These are the ones where you are swinging for the fences.
- Hub content: Regularly scheduled push content for your prime prospects.
- Hygiene content: Always-on “pull” content designed for your core targets.
Make sure to maintain a publication checklist, so that all the right people get involved, and never release a piece of content without proofing it first!
Step 4: Ignite conversations and amplify
There are four parts to this step:
- Assign a dedicated team.
- Hire the most amazing writers as brand ambassadors.
- Have everyone on board with data review.
- Be ready to move (fast when opportunities or issues demand it!).
Step 5: Experiment, measure, repeat
Remember the process chart above? All these processes are continuous and interacting. Along the way, look for key opportunities to amplify at a moment’s notice:
- High organic reach = amplify
- Heavy website traffic = amplify
- Key cultural moment = amplify
Last, but not least, remember to fail fast, fail forward. Your path to success is made possible by your willingness to fail, fail often and learn from those failures as rapidly as possible.
Bridging the data gap with social
Hannah Thorpe, director at White.net, was the second speaker. She focused on how to analyze consumer behavior on social media to gain insights into SEO. Sound intriguing? I thought so, too.
This is important because over the last few years, Google has steadily made less and less data available to SEOs. First there was the big shift to “not provided,” and then the degradation of the quality of info available in Keyword Planner.
You can try to fill in that info using Search Console, but that data is incomplete and inaccurate. One might guess why Google took these data sources away, and a good guess is that they prefer that publishers focus on their audience and customers (analyzing their needs and behaviors) instead of focusing on the inner workings of a search engine.
Oddly enough, this turns out to be a great idea, and one place where we can get lots of data on prospect and customer behavior is social media. There is much more data available, more adoption of technologies and more cross-platform sharing.
Let’s start by seeing how social can help us with the keyword problem:
Clearly, there are some differences in how keywords and hashtags are used, though the data will largely be natural language-based. Nonetheless, this should still provide some great insight into terminology used by people.
Next up: what content should you be creating?
Social can do a great job of letting us know what content people are looking for. You can look across the major social sites, of course, but forums can also be a great source of info. As a bonus, this content will naturally be targeted to users and not robots.
Last, but not least, how to you find the right people to target?
Social encourages you to know your audience and who is engaging. This makes it invaluable in understanding who you need to address with your SEO efforts as well.
So we may have lost much of the data we used to get directly from Google, but we can use social media to help fill the gap!
Driving performance for Avis Budget Group
Next up was Chris Pinkerton, a VP at Mediative. He walked us through a case study of work his team did for the Avis Budget Group. The situation they faced is that there were more than 1 million searches per month that Avis Budget Group (ABG) was not showing up for — 40 percent of these were coming from mobile devices, with many coming from, or going to, a social site during the same session.
In addition, the competitive landscape is weak at the point of social and local integration, but the customers aren’t. Pulling customers out of this “open market” was of strategic importance to ABG, and a combination of SEO and social enabled this to happen.
The following chart helps illustrates how SEO and social integrate to drive the desired result:
As an example, consider how keeping NAP (name, address, phone number) data up to date allows the social local ecosystem and content development work together:
Mediative pursued this campaign in a broad-based way, touching across all points in the pyramid as outlined above. And what kinds of results did this drive? Let’s have a look:
The campaign also drove significant organic visits from Facebook, and 7 percent of these converted into car rentals. This is an example of how search has fragmented into many platforms. Organic SEO also grew double-digit over the first year.
This also drove more activity in Google My Business. For example, at Newark airport, they went from four reviews with an average rating of 2.2 to 125 total reviews with an average score of 4.6.
As a result, competition is beginning to follow — but of course, ABG has the lead. The key aspect of this was a shift toward a more socially savvy audience, focusing more on local and more on mobile.
Leveraging Twitter to show up in the Google SERPs
The final presenter was Mark Traphagen, director of brand evangelism at Stone Temple Consulting. He shared data that shows how much Google indexes tweets, and what types of accounts and tweets are most likely to get indexed.
One key moment in this story is the Twitter–Google deal, which was announced in February of 2015 and went live in May 2015. As part of this deal, Twitter provided Google direct access to all the information on Twitter activity via a live data feed. In principle, this provided Google with very low-effort access to that information, making it possible for the search engine to index as much information as they would care to.
Stone Temple took measurements of the level of Twitter indexation prior to the announcement of the feed in January 2015, then May of 2015, and one more time in October of 2016. These data points make it possible to track Twitter indexation over time. Let’s look at the indexation of Twitter by Google over time:
It’s fascinating to see that Twitter indexation peaked in the May 2015 study, and that’s shortly after the integration by Google of the Twitter data feed, but in the last measurement in October of 2016 shows that the indexation levels dropped.
Why would that be? The likely explanation is that Google has thoroughly tested the best mix of factors to decide what tweets to index. It turns out that one of the big factors appears to be the number of favorites (aka likes) that a tweet gets:
It turns out that favorites appear to be better correlated with indexation than retweets. Why would that be? It might be because there are so many auto-retweeting bot accounts out there (estimated to be 48 million) that a retweet proves to be quite a weak signal.
The number of followers also correlates with higher indexation, and that makes sense, as people with more followers are more likely to have their tweets clicked on if they appear in the search results (people might click on a celebrity tweet).
It also turns out that having a verified account is a big deal, too. We know that the concept of identity is important to Google. If you look at the data for people who have an unverified account, regardless of social authority (Note: “social authority” as used here refers to Followerwonk Social Authority), the indexation level of their tweets will probably be about 5 percent.
On the other hand, with verified accounts, ones with low social authority (ranging from 0 to 39) are still only indexed at about 5 percent — but it scales up sharply from there:
The essential point is that leveraging Twitter to get more shelf space in Google depends on a few things. It’s critical to have a verified account, and to build your social authority over time. Then, it’s important to create tweets that attract a lot of attention — so that others like and retweet them.
For your overall strategy, this means building your own authority over time, and getting verified. If you don’t have those things now, then maybe you need to get help from someone who does. Consider finding and working with an influencer that is willing to work with you.
The session provided a great mix of different ways for thinking about how SEO and social can and should work together. Review the presentations for a more detailed look at what the presenters discussed!
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