How Social Media Influences SEO

Posted by Murray Sye

on Mon, Dec 2, 2013 @ 07:42 AM

More and more, search engines have begun to incorporate social context into their search results. And it's high time we delved into what role social context is playing in SEO, and how marketers can adjust their inbound marketing strategies to match the changing character of search. So today, we'll look into what is being called "social search" and learn how it affects marketers.

What is Social Search?

"Social search" is an evolving term for the way in which search engines factor a user's social network – also referred to as social graph – into how results are displayed after a search query.

In social search, content that has a social connect to you in some way is prioritized. A Social connection could mean someone you are linked to via Facebook, Twitter, or any other major social network.

Alternately, some forms of social search prioritize content that has been shared by social media influencers, even if those experts aren't directly tied to you.

Examples of Social Search

1) Google+ Your World

In early 2012, Google unveiled Google Plus Your World, a unique integration between Google search results and the Google Plus social network that, when activated, prioritizes content that has been shared or received a +1 by your Google network.

In addition to Google Plus World, Google social search results from multiple networks are now mixed throughout your results based on their relevance, and content with ties to your network are displayed with a higher relevance than their counterparts. Searchers only see social results when they are logged into Google and have their social networks connected.

2) Bing Social Search

In summer of 2012, Bing announced a new version of its search engine. It included an entirely new layout that closely integrates a searcher's social network into the results displayed for a given search term.

According to Bing, the social results – which include the ability to directly ask advice from your Facebook network – "complement the standard search results without compromising them, offering you the chance to start a conversation and get advice from your friends, experts and enthusiasts right within the search experience."

3) Facebook Social Search

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has indicated that he's interested in launching a social search engine powered by Facebook user activity. He explained, "Search engines are really evolving towards giving you a set of answers... like, I have a specific question, answer this question for me. And when you think about it from that perspective, Facebook is pretty uniquely positioned to answer a lot of the questions that people have."

According to Zuckerberg, Facebook handles close to 1 billion search queries per day already. Many of these searches are for individuals or company pages, but the potential exists for inquiries related to decision-making or reviews.

Social Search and Inbound Marketing
Even if the social search playing field hasn't been completely defined yet, one of the key takeaways from the early actions of Google, Bing, and Facebook is that as marketers, we need to start seeing our search engine optimization strategy and our social media strategy as utterly intertwined. Here's how you can do just that.

Step 1:
Make sure your social media tools are informed by your SEO tools.

The best way to come out on top of social search is to have a fully integrated marketing platform where social media and SEO are fully linked.

Having a blog with a built-in social sharing and as-you-type-SEO recommendations definitely helps (we're with HubSpot, using their all-in-one marketing software). With or without that kind of technology, however, there are some steps you can take to leverage the growing use of social search.

  • Audit your existing strengths – Take a look at your top ranking and most shared content. Is there overlap? If you've found a type of content that is simultaneously strong in search and frequently shared, it's worth optimizing that content even further.

  • Update company profiles – If, as in the example above, I search Bing for "Inbound Marketing," a few things will happen.

    1. Bing will give me traditional search results.

    2. Bing will show me friends who have written or shared "inbound marketing" content.

    3. Bing will bring in "People Who Know" who include the keyword "inbound marketing" in their profile or frequently shared content.

    For the latter circumstance, it doesn't hurt to put your main keywords as part of your company's profile online. The combination of that profile and the strength of your content and shares will add up.

  • Make your top keywords social – Make a list of the keywords for which you want to rank highly. Does the content you share on social media and your blog cover those keywords? Zero in on one or two of your most desirable keywords and find ways to make content under those keywords more shareable.

    At a bare minimum, include social sharing buttons on your content. Beyond that you may want to experiment with encouraging social sharing through pay-by-tweet downloads or using easy share links throughout your posts, like what we're doing here.

Failure to respond via social channels can lead up to a 15% increase in churn rate for existing customers. (Source: Gartner) Tweet This Stat!

Step 2:
Find and encourage your social media influencers

The reason social is such a natural extension of search is that it adds both relevancy and authority. Think about this: According to Nielsen Research 92% of consumers worldwide trust recommendations from friends and family more than any form of advertising. This is up from 74% in 2007. As recommendations from peers become more prominent online, the influence they levy will weigh more heavily into activity on search and social sites combined. For this reason, it's wise to start thinking of your company or organization's fans as extensions of your inbound marketing team.

  • Find your influencers – Spend some time to get to know the people who consistently share your content. Pull together a list of contacts with more than a thousand followers and a history of engagement in your content. Knowing your social media influencers will help you expand your reach online and ultimately increase the rate at which your content gets found online.

  • Nurture your influencers – Once you've discovered your evangelists, think about ways to nurture and encourage them. At the simplest (and possibly most meaningful) level, find a way to thank them for spreading the word about your company. As a second step, consider inviting them to a special open-house or providing them sneak peeks of upcoming news or announcements. HubSpot's software allows you to easily compile a smart list of social media influencers in order to nurture through email communication.
37% of brands would like to use social media engagement to create customer-tailored marketing campaigns. (Source:
Tweet This Stat!

Step 3:
Watch for changing factors in social search

While there are a few core principles at work in social search, individual factors will continue to develop in the near future. As you're considering the social channels you use, think about the role each plays in your search engine of choice.

  • Don't rule out Google+ – When Google+ first entered the social media space, many marketers wondered if it was really worth diverting marketing attention into yet another social network. Forbes magazine's Paul Tassie even wrote it in a eulogy last year. But when the parent company of said social network is the biggest search engine in the world and starts to integrate its content into search results, it's worth dipping a toe in the water. My advice? Take these quick steps to create and optimize your Google+ page and then experiment with how content does on it.

  • Don't rule out Bing – Not only did Bing account for 30% of all searches the spring of 2012, Bing also has a more divers social search offering than any other search offering than any other search engine. With Facebook, Twitter, Quora, Klout and Foursquare tied in, Bing may give social active companies an edge.

  • Keep your Facebook pages active – While search is clearly not Facebook's primary purpose yet, Facebook does have a team of engineers, including form Google engineer Lars Rasmussen, working on an improved search engine for the site. Furthermore, data from HubSpot's social media scientist Dan Zarella even shows that there's a relationship between Facebook shares and link building – a major aspect of off-page SEO! 84% of B2B marketers use social media in some form. (Source: (Source: Aberdeen) Tweet This Stat!
Step 4:

Remember the golden rule

Years ago, when HubSpot first started teaching people about search engine optimization, one rule was essential: Above all else, create good, useful content. The rest will follow. From Panda to Penguin, and everything else you've learned from the previous experts, search has changed quite a bit in the last few years, but that cardinal rule has held strong.

Even with the rapidly growing influence social sharing has on search results, the good news is if you're creating good content, you're already half-way there. Useful content is by nature more search-friendly than sales-oriented content. It is also more likely to be shared. The increasingly formal relationship between search and social is really just a natural extension to what has always been true – content that is relevant and can be trusted as authoritative will continue to drive both your search and social marketing.

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Written by Murray Sye

Murray is the CEO and Creative Director with the award-winning
Toronto HubSpot agency partner, WhiteSpace. You can
connect with Murray on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn.

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