The influence of social media on search engine optimisation and internet marketing has grown exponentially in recent years, and our industry has undoubtedly had to evolve to account for that growth. This evolution we have undergone simply doesn’t mean informing clients about how social media engagement might influence rankings in the SERPs, but we have had to apply some fundamental changes to the way we operate as an agency. If we don’t acutely understand how social media can be leveraged for inbound marketing purposes, or reputation management, or how the search engines are using this information to personalise search results, then we risk being left behind in the rapidly changing searchable web ecosystem.
This need to understand the impact of social and personalisation was exemplified earlier this year when Google rolled out their Search Plus Your World (SPYW) update for users of Google.com. SPYW utilised the social graph of the Google Plus network to integrate personal results, Google Plus profiles and ‘People and Page’ suggestions directly into the SERPs.
The personalised results enable signed-in users to find information, which Google deemed to be relevant specifically to them, by using posts or pictures that have been shared by their connections on Google Plus. The ‘Profiles’ now appearing in the SERPs suggest accounts on Google Plus that they might be interested in following based on their search query. The ‘People and Pages’ suggestions are similar, helping users find the profiles of influential people, brands or companies on G+ who are related to a certain topic or area of interest. This blend of personalised and social search is something that Google seem completely committed to, and it really serves to highlight the importance of offering integrated web marketing services.
It’s not just the organic SERPs that are affected by the Universal search results that Google now shows, PPC is also impacted. For example, the space to the right of the organic results that was once reserved for PPC ads is now given to the Google Plus ‘Suggested People and Pages’ results. SPYW also means that G+ brand pages can be connected with their AdWords accounts, meaning that all the +1s that have been accrued by the AdWords account will be accredited to the corresponding Google Plus page. There is even the possibility to blend SEO and PPC efforts in campaigns by using natural search to rank for certain products and services, then utilising the PPC adverts to highlight reasons why shoppers should click and convert. Again, the signs point to integrated web services, and a holistic internet marketing campaign, rather than focusing purely on SEO, PPC, or social media marketing individually.
The principles that Google’s +1 button, G+ and SPYW are founded on are solid. Content recommended or shared by people we know or trust is likely to be more relevant to us than content shared by strangers. I think this summarises the importance of social media marketing for search marketing campaigns – the most successful online businesses aren’t strangers to their customers. We can trust them.We know the content they share is relevant and therefore valuable. We can rely on them to be trustworthy. These are the values that internet marketing agencies need to strive to implement into campaigns for their clients.
However, the importance of embracing social media and result personalisation extends beyond SPYW. For example, we have known for some time now that Google and Bing are both influenced by social media activity. Google’s Head of Web Spam, Matt Cutts, has confirmed this in the past, as well as stating that Google also look at the quality of a social user. In this way then, social media engagement is comparable to link building in that the quality of the users (how many followers they have and how much they usefullycontribute etc.) who share a piece of content is just as important as the quantity of users that share it. Also, like link building, social media marketing is reliant upon building relationships, both with industry influencers and with potential customers or clients. If we can use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and the other social networks to display passion and knowledge for an industry, we can build trust and make it more likely they positively endorse us or our clients via their social accounts.
Encouraging people to share your content, or recommend a business through one of their social media accounts is a concept central to SMM success. At Click Consult we recently ran a test where we monitored the percentage of users visiting our clients’sites who were also signed into Facebook at the time. We monitored traffic to both B2B targeted websites and B2C targeted sites from a range of different industries, so the results we generated were as natural as possible. The results made for interesting reading, and we found that on average nearly a third of traffic coming to our client websites was signed into a Facebook account. If we were able to get even half of that traffic to ‘Like’ a page, or Tweet about the services on offer, then that would increase the social outreach of our clients vastly, and it could make a huge difference to how successful their overall marketing campaign is.
This leaves one question – where does social go from here? I think agencies need to treat social engagement like we would treat any other form of conversion, be it a product purchase or a newsletter. From the moment a visitor enters a website, we need to be giving them reasons why they should endorse that site, on their social media profiles. The influence of social media on the search rankings is only likely to increase in the coming years, and it’s something search marketing agencies need to factor in to all the strategies they build.