Dave Chaffey - Insights Director at ClickThrough Marketing, The Search Conversion Experts

Responding to the news that search rankings are affected by social signals, Dr Dave Chaffey gives some practical tips on how to develop processes that increase the liklihood that your company will benefit.

Did you notice the recent “official confirmation” from Google and Bing that do take social mentions into account Google to rank sites? Here is ClickThrough’s summary of the announcement, and my own analysis with a link to an interview with Danny Sullivan.

In this interview, Danny Sullivan showed that not only were the number of mentions of a post used as a signal in the organic and news rankings, but that the authority of the person mentioning the post is also taken into account.

Of course this was no surprise to many, indeed many bloggers have found that their most popular posts as measured by Retweets in Twitter or Likes in Facebook do tend to perform better.  I remember listening to Rand Fishkin of SEOMoz speaking at E-metrics last summer saying that their tests showed several breaking news stories with no backlinks ranking well because of the number of shares via social media.

It’s also no surprise if we think about how Google could gather these ranking signals. It fits with Google’s data sharing agreement with Twitter which gives them the capability to monitor the popularity of web pages through Tweets mentioning them.  It is also possible through the the Facebook APIs to find out which pages are being shared most widely.

Still, I was surprised this announcement wasn’t more widely reported since it is really a call-to-action to think more about how SEO activities can be supported by social media activities and vice-versa.

Let’s think what the implications of this move might be for companies and how they manage SEO during 2011. I’ll start with the more strategic ideas and then blend in more tactical implications:

1.      Review how shareable your content is now. Complete an audit of  the effectiveness of your social sharing activities compared to competitors to review to what extent is your content shared now?

2.      Set goals to improve your shareability. How will you know that you are successfully making your content more shareable? Setup your analytics to measure sharing in a meaningful way for your business. Determine not just numbers but the quality of the interactions.

3.      Make it easy for users to share your content. In practice this means adding a Facebook Like Button or Twitter Retweet button, or on blogs a Tweetmeme or AddThis widget, which we use on this post. For more sophisticated publishers it may mean developing your own widgets to share. But more fundamentally you need to…

4.      Create content that is shareable. If your website is limited to product pages, then you will struggle. You have to develop more shareable content. Examples include anything that appeals to your target audiences and influencers who also want to appeal to your audience. Examples include humour, coupons and discount deals for consumer markets and humour, infographics, industry updates or advice for business or professional markets. Of course, this is all part of a broader content strategy which is a fundamental and ever more important part of online marketing.

5.      Build a hub to share content. For smaller companies a blog is a great way of sharing content in line with different customer preferences. For large companies, Facebook may be a more appropriate hub.

6.      Find the influencers. Who is sharing information? What types of influencers do you have, how can you segment them?

7.      Work with the influencers. What PR process do you have in place for approaching and rewarding authoritative figures but not forgetting the less influential?

8.      Integrate your PR, search and social activity. This is the traditional challenge of defining the right people, process, measures and technology to manage any marketing activity.

9.      Use the right agency resources. Make sure your agencies managing search, social media and online PR get it and have strategies to take advantage of this.

10.  Get different agencies working together. Find the right process and frequency for agencies to tackle this opportunity together, or find an integrated agency who can manage across SEO+Social+PR.

11.  Develop dual SEO plus social media responsibilities. Make the right people responsible for managing these activities. Throughout 2011 I met people in mid to large size companies  who had a shared search engine optimisation + social remit.

12.  Syndicate your own shareable content. Content isn’t only shared from within your own site, it may be shared on article sites, video sites, through Q&A or in professional markets through document sharing sites like Slideshare or Scribd.

I hope you find these ideas, useful, even if they aren’t straightforward! For many organisations these will be major strategic challenges which will require a significant amount of investment and change to the emphasis of their communications.

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About the author:

An acknowledged expert on digital marketing, Dave was recognised in 2004 by the Chartered Institute of Marketing as one of “50 marketing ‘gurus’ worldwide who have shaped the future of Marketing“. Dave is also author of five best-selling books including Internet Marketing: Strategy, Implementation and Practice; and eMarketing eXcellence.