Social media has received a bad press in recent times, and it most likely reached an all-time low last year. As people become more aware of how their data is being harvested and resold, maintaining a Facebook or Twitter account is becoming less of a priority among the public. Indeed, the growth of encrypted communications platforms like WhatsApp and Snapchat (particularly among younger users) emphasizes the threats faced by publicly visible platforms.
Even so, rumors of social media’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Facebook remains a giant, with over two billion registered accounts on its databases. YouTube is the world’s second largest search engine after parent company Google. And while LinkedIn may not immediately spring to mind as a social media platform, its huge roster of professional and executive members represents a significant percentage of the American public. Indeed, LinkedIn is possibly the most underrated and underused social platform, since most account holders create a basic profile but fail to exploit any of the other tools under its hood.
Getting the message across
For businesses, social media remains invaluable for disseminating messages and communicating with audiences. From Twitter’s customer service role to Instagram’s photogenic marketing opportunities, social media can be pivotal in reaching new markets or promoting products and services to existing consumers. One of social’s greatest attributes involves boosting a website’s search engine optimization by creating business accounts and populating them with relevant content intended to drive traffic to a homepage or some other customer-facing resource.
Spreading the load
Social media and SEO go hand in hand because there’s only so much content a website can absorb without ending up bloated and off-putting. Written content isn’t the killer attribute it used to be, and many other factors influence individual website rankings nowadays (ranging from the site’s age and traffic levels to the use of HTML attributes like meta tags and XML sitemaps). However, regular deployment of keywords remains important, particularly when they’re incorporated into compact phrases known as long tails. In this article, ‘SEO’ might be a keyword, while ‘social media and SEO’ (which appears four times throughout the text) would constitute a long tail.
Once upon a time, website content came loaded with keywords and long tails to boost SEO. However, the search engines got wise to copy that was being written for them rather than for humans, and the algorithms used by Google and Bing evolved to judge readability while scanning page contents. At the same time, attention spans are dwindling and people aren’t willing to read a website the way they might study a newspaper, for example. Cramming sites with thousands of words of copy represents bad content, and so is a website containing dozens of subpages, unless they relate to specific products or services. Even here, less is more in terms of written content.
Social media accounts provide a platform for endlessly publishing keywords and long tails, without creating a bloated website. A short tweet including a link to a relevant web page will enable specific words and phrases to be targeted off-site (and often repetitively) without affecting the site’s readability. The link itself is also important; the number of inbound links is considered by each search engine algorithm. Indeed, links from social accounts score particularly highly in Bing’s calculations, which is worth considering in an age when most SEO guides focus exclusively on Google. Microsoft sites represent almost a quarter of the American search engine market (a proportion that’s been growing since 2011), so Bing shouldn’t be overlooked in any SEO campaign.
The social network
Social media and SEO work together in other ways, too. An active social account reassures Google and Bing that a company remains active and engaged with its audience, while quick response times to inquiries imply proactive customer service. A short social post linking to longer web copy will hopefully get people onto the site and keep them there – search engines now factor into their equations how long people spend on a particular page before navigating away. Longer visits suggest highly valuable content is situated on a website, while traffic volumes (another key metric) generally benefit from multiple inbound links to a new blog post or a product page. Every social platform also has a very different user base.
To achieve the optimal balance of search engine optimization using social media, it’s vital to focus on a couple of key platforms. Don’t try to maintain a presence across ten different social networks at once, as this quickly becomes confusing:
- If your business is visual, Instagram is an obvious tool to use
- An ecommerce business really needs to be on Twitter for real-time interactions
- YouTube is ideal for companies involved with physical services like car valets or construction.
A short time-lapse video or stills montage often does the work of a dozen marketing flyers. Adding keyword-laced titles, captions and accompanying text to social media updates also squeezes a bit more SEO juice out of each post.
Blogging provides another bridge between social media and SEO. Adding a blog page to a website (even if it’s actually called something more formal like News) establishes a platform for keyword-optimized content to be uploaded on a regular basis, without altering fixed pages elsewhere on the site. Make sure any inbound links relating to these blogs go to the correct page rather than the homepage; people quickly abandon a site if the first page they visit doesn’t contain the information they were expecting to see.
Finally, it’s worth bearing in mind that even a negative comment or review through social media can be turned into a positive. Witness the number of TripAdvisor resorts that respond to every review, often explaining or apologizing for criticisms made by reviewers. Being seen as proactive and conscientious can elevate a company’s stock among prospective customers, who appreciate things don’t always run smoothly but want reassurance any issues will be handled sensitively and effectively.