Friday, November 29, 2013

Want SEO? Get Social

Social media has not only created a completely new medium for discovering content, it is also transforming how the traditional information sources aka search engines, are delivering content to us. 
Recent research suggests that social sharing has now become the number one driver for SEO rank. In other words, Google and Bing are monitoring the social sharing activity for each site and are assigning substantial weight on that activity to determine the search rank.
Let’s look at some recent, convincing evidence:

From the Horse’s mouth 

Nothing beats hearing directly from the horse’s mouth. However, when that horse is named Google, the information is usually very hard to come by. In this instance though, we did find something that is as clear a shift in SEO ranking in favor of social sharing as you can possibly ask for. And yes, this is directly from Google.
Here’s what the Google blog said about site ranking back in October, 2012. The highlighted text shows that Google is encouraging webmasters to create high quality sites that other high quality sites will want to link to.
Google blog on SEO, Sep 2012
Fast forward to 2013, the same blog has now been replaced by the following text. The highlighted text now shows Google encouraging webmasters to create high quality sites that users will want to share.
Google blog on SEO, May 2013
You can see both the posts yourself by using the WayBack Machine archive: 
The new blog post can of course be seen directly on Google blog as well. Kudos to Erik Baeumlisberger for first discovering this small but highly significant change.

More Evidence

Still need more convincing? Take a look at the following two research reports.
The first one is a research report by Searchmetrics where they conducted a correlation study to find out which factors play a role in SEO ranking. Seven out of the top eight factors are related to social. Yes – you read that correctly. Seven out of the top eight factors are related to social.
SEO ranking factors USA 2013Of course, correlation does not imply causation. The following study done by ShopSocially was to determine whether they could systematically improve the SEO rank of a page via genuine social activity. They helped drive qualified, genuine Facebook Likes for over 200 pages and studied the change in SEO rank. Here are the results. Impact of Facebook Likes on SEO  
As is evident in the ShopSocially graph, the more likes a page had, the higher its resulting SEO rank.
So what can you do to make your content more shareable?
1. Great Content: For starters, stop creating content to please search engines and start creating content that real users will connect with and share. This chart should help illuminate this tip:
Social Media Share's Motivations
2. Proactive Sharing Options: The standard sharing widgets are so common these days that users have almost become blind to them. These passive sharing buttons typically get 0.1% or less engagement rate. A much better strategy is to make sharing more proactive and rewarding. Here’s a recent example from PlumDistrict:
Proactive Sharing prompt from Plum District 
They are offering a 10% off coupon to users for Liking them on Facebook. The engagement rate is a whopping 5.5%!
3. Proper OG tags: Ok, so you have got great content/products and you’ve used the proactive call to action strategy to get users to share your site. But you also want to make sure that you are maximizing the benefits from every shared post! 
Here’s the anatomy of a share snippet:
Anatomy of a Share Snippet 
The Title, Description, Image and URL are all picked up automatically from your webpage based on the OG tags. You need to make sure that they are configured correctly to maximize the impact from each shared post. 
The fifth element - Share Blurb, is written by users and can’t be controlled. However, you can certainly influence it by using an appropriate prompt such as “What do you like most about this product?” See an example from below:
 Clever use of Sharing Prompt  
So there you are. If you want SEO, you’ve gotta get social. Hope some of the ideas outlined here are useful.