You may be wondering what social media has to do with SEO, and you’d be wise to ask such a question. In early 2011, Google’s Matt Cutts made a statement that Google does in fact incorporate social media signals into its ranking factors, whilst Bing struck a deal with Facebook around the same time to incorporate Facebook’s user data into the Bing algorithm. The bottom line is this:

Social Media Influences SEO – Confirmed

The big question is of course, how? Well, at this point there’s a lot of speculation and many theories going around as to what signals influence the rankings and how. Being a fairly new ranking factor, the correlation data is still fresh, and for that reason I’m not going to make any “definite” statements as to what signals do and don’t affect rankings. Rather, I’ll discuss the essential social elements that need to be taken note of so as to make sure that you take advantage of both social media and SEO as best possible. Social media is a huge topic, with new platforms popping up almost daily. We will however focus only on the bare necessities of Google PlusFacebook, Twitter, and Youtube.

Google Plus

Google Plus is the “new kid on the block” as far as social media is concerned, but considering that it is Google’s own product, it certainly deserves some attention. Some key factors to note:

  • Blog posts and pages utilizing Google Plus authorship/publisher markup (often) feature user thumbnails next to them in search results. This visual element equates to higher click-through rates (CTR).
  • Google seems to be making use of G+ data on the RHS of large search volume phrases. This again equates to more real estate and thus higher CTRs.
A screenshot of Google Plus

An "enhanced" search result - Note the "Latest Posts" on the RHS of the page...

Google Plus marks a new era in search with the hybridization of social and search. I’m not going to go in-depth, but rather recommend the following resources:

Facebook

Facebook is the most popular social media platform on the web with millions upon millions of users. From an SEO point of view, you should note the following:

The Like Button

Integrate a Facebook Like button on every page of your site. Set the URL of the like script to your homepage (not your fan page – if you have one) and display the like button prominently on your website. SEOMoz’s research has found a very strong correlation between a web page’s Likes/Shares and their ranking in Google’s index. To do this:

  1. Visit http://developers.facebook.com/docs/reference/plugins/like/
  2. Enter your homepage URL in the “URL to Like” field
  3. Deselect the “Send Button” option (Having this selected converts the code language to a trickier version, hence the suggestion)
  4. Adjust the width of the button to fit your site (190 pixels works really well in most cases, but its up to you)
  5. Deselect “Show Faces” (You can leave it active if you want, but I’ve found it tricky to implement into a fixed space as it only shows the faces of your friends who have liked the site, which means that the required space varies depending on the visitor…)
  6. Select an appropriate color scheme (light or dark) and font type
  7. Click the “Get Code” button and copy and paste the code to your site

If this all sounds a little confusing, you can easily delegate the task to your website designer. Its an easy task and they can’t charge you much for it.

The Facebook Like Button Script Generator

Above: The Facebook Like Button Script Generator

The Fan Page

Every website should have a Facebook fan page. You can use your fan page to keep visitors up to date with the latest news, to handle inquiries or complaints, and so much more. The reason I suggest a Facebook page as opposed to a group is that a page is crawlable by Google and the other search engines. Groups, on the other hand, are only accessible to members.

Setting up your fan page is really simple, and Facebook has different page types for different types of businesses, sites, etc. To get started, simply log in to your personal Facebook account, and click the “Pages” button. From there, Facebook will take you through the process. You can also heavily customize your page to match your website’s branding etc, but that is not of importance from an SEO perspective.

Facebook Pages Tab

Above: Facebook Pages Tab

Twitter

Twitter follows Facebook as the second most popular social media platform online. Twitter is a great tool for updating your clients/customers about your company, participating in conversations with them, reputation management and more. In terms of SEO, the strongest correlation factor is retweets. Retweets are when someone re-tweets what you’ve tweeted. In other words, the more useful/entertaining/important your tweet is, the more it will be retweeted and shared amongst the Twitter community. Also, the more influential and established those who retweet your tweet are, the better.

The Twitter Button

Ideally, you want as many people as possible to tweet about your site. The easiest way to achieve this is to integrate a Twitter button on your site in a prominent place (ideally next to or below your Facebook Like button). The easier you make it for visitors to tweet about your site, the more likely it is that they will. To get a Twitter button, do the following:

  1. Visit http://twitter.com/about/resources/tweetbutton
  2. Choose your button style (with a counter, without, etc)
  3. Copy and paste the code to your site
Twitter Button Styles

Above: The Various Twitter Button Styles

Twitter Account

In addition to having a Twitter button on your site, you should also establish a Twitter account for your site. This is really easy – all you need to do is visit http://www.twitter.com and register an account. Be sure to customize your account to make it stand out, and upload a profile picture (company logo, a portrait of yourself, etc) as this adds a lot of credibility to your account (as opposed to the thousands of spam accounts on Twitter).

Next, make a few tweets about whatever might be suitable to your industry and target market. Tweet about your site, other sites, whatever – as long as its of value to your target market. This legwork is in preparation for the next step - marketing your Twitter account.

Promote your Twitter account wherever you can – on your website, in your email newsletters, offline media – wherever you can! In the beginning, you will be tweeting to pretty much nobody – don’t be put off. This is a necessity – you can’t expect people to follow you if your account is empty! Don’t forget to do the same for your Facebook account…

Over time, you will start gaining followers – remember that the more value you provide on Twitter, the more people will retweet you, which will lead to more followers. It’s all a game of quality over quantity, so don’t buy followers or retweets or anything like that – they’re useless and targeted. Also, following others often results in them following you back, so follow a few select people to get the momentum going. But don’t overdo it – that’s just spammy.

Youtube

Youtube isn’t exactly a social media platform as such, but it is certainly an interactive form of media, and is incredibly powerful. Your success on Youtube, like any other platform, relies on providing quality content. Purely promotional content simply doesn’t fly. This said, there’s no need to invest thousands in camera gear, scripts, props and video software – a simple webcam and microphone will do (which most laptops have in any case). You can get started on Youtube with any topics that may be of interest to your target market – some ideas:

  • How To Videos
  • Industry News
  • Latest Specials
  • Product/service Comparisons
  • Humor (this is a tricky one, but can go very viral)
  • Debate/Interviews

A great idea is to use your article marketing content and convert it into video. If you’re producing great articles, chances are they’ll form a solid foundation for a video (or video series). The possibilities with Youtube are really endless, and the more you do, the more ideas you’ll get for content. Don’t be shy – amateur videos are what Youtube is all about!

Rebecca Black's Friday Video

Above: Rebecca Black's Friday Video - 156 Million Views & Counting

To get the maximum SEO benefit from Youtube, keep the following in mind:

  • Use keywords in the titles – much like article marketing, try use your keyword in the title to increase your chances of ranking. It is much easier to rank Youtube videos that your own site (due to the SEO authority that Youtube has), and it is often easy to rank a video for long-tail terms with little to no SEO effort.
  • Place your URL in the description – preferably right in the front. Remember to use the full http:// version to ensure that you get an active link.
  • Upload a video transcription – Youtube does auto transcribe voice to text, but it is often flawed. Download the transcription and correct it to ensure maximum “readability” by Google.
  • Embed your video – Embed your video on your website once published – doing this counts as a link to the video, and therefore assists in SEO.

In Summary

This lesson simply introduces the relationship between social media and SEO – and is by no means all there is to it. The most important takeaway here is that social media does influence search, and above all, quality, useful content is what works. The biggest benefit of using social media as an SEO tactic is that the benefit is two-fold. Not only will it assist you in rankings, but if done correctly, will provide it’s own ROI. It’s a no-brainer – social is here to stay.

For more information on social media, I recommend the following resources:

In the next lesson, we look at SEO No Nos – like all things, there’s a right way and a wrong way – here we discuss how to avoid getting burned…

Click here for the next lesson.