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Using Social Media to Boost Search Rankings

Guillaume Bouchard
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Social media can be used for more than branding, customer service, PR, and retention. It can also be used to support your rankings in the SERPs.

Of course, social media links are a bit different the kind of links you get from normal sites, so you have to build a separate social links strategy around how Google treats them.

The Low Down on Social Media Links

You probably know that you need to build links to your site and product pages if you want them to rank well. And the more links you get from authoritative domains, the better. Well, social media offers an opportunity to get links from authoritative domains.

The catch is that social media links have their drawbacks. First, you can't control the anchor text. Second, because they are often nofollow links or redirects, they don't always pass link juice.

This might make social media links sound pretty useless for search engine optimization (SEO), but they aren't. The right kind of social strategy can still pass a lot of link juice your way.

Trust vs Juice

Google wants to show their users the most relevant search results possible. And Google understands that social media users are real people. So when these real humans share links through their social media profiles, Google uses this to gauge the relevancy of a page.

In other words, while these links might not pass much juice, they do pass trust.

Basically, these links:

  • Will come from individual profiles that don't have a lot of authority of their own.

  • Won't have targeted anchor text.

  • Might be nofollowed and/or redirected. So each one on its own isn't worth much.

But if you get hundreds of them at a time, Google is going to conclude that your site is, indeed, relevant to actual human beings. Which begs the question: how do you go about getting hundreds of social media backlinks?

Social News Promotion & SEO

While some social networks are more for interacting with other users, others are geared more toward sharing content -- such as Digg, StumbleUpon, and Reddit, to name just a few. These are the kind of social sites you want to target for you social link building.

When content is submitted to one of these sites, users can vote it up or down. When a user votes it up, it gets a link on that user's profile page. Score.

If enough users vote for a piece of content, it appears on the home page. In the case of Digg or Reddit, both have a PageRank of 8. That means a link from a trusted site. Super score!

Then there's all the traffic that actually gets pushed through to your site. This usually leads to additional residual links, such as from bloggers and tweets.

Social Links Aftermath

So you've made a piece of content viral, and you have hundreds of social links -- what has that done for your products pages or rankings on competitive terms?

For starters, you've created an additional page on your site with a lot of trust and authority. For example, a virally successful piece of content will often a obtain a PageRank of 2 or 4 within a few months of going viral.

This does two things for your site:

  1. It's given your overall domain more authority with the search engines. This means that optimized pages across your domain will rank a bit better.

  2. You've created an opportunity to better interlink your site and redistribute some of that juice more efficiently. Basically, once your content page has amassed some authority, you can then link to one of your products pages from it, and send some of that juice over.

So, now that you get how social content sites can be used to support your SEO, the question is: how do you actually leverage them?

If Content is King, then Context is the Church

There are two main things you'll need to pull off a successful social content push:

  • A refined content strategy: The first step is reconciling your branded content with what appeals to social content users. You see, while some kinds of content works on with the social content users in general, certain kinds of niche content are more appropriate for some sites than others.

    For example, top 10 lists tend to be popular across all social content sites. But a list of top 10 travel resorts might work better on one site, while a post about the 10 most important medical breakthroughs will work better on another.

    So once you have an idea of what kind of content you'll be producing, research what social content sites it'll be most appropriate for. This will allow you to focus your content promotion efforts where you'll get better results.

  • A few power accounts on the social content sites you're targeting: Next, if you're going to get your content voted up, you're going to need access to power user accounts. These are accounts that are trusted by the social content sites algorithms because they are old/have tenure and have a lot of contacts/followers.

    Votes from these accounts tend to carry more weight. But more importantly, you'll need those contacts/followers to get others to vote up your submissions.

    Of course, you can't create a power accounts overnight. So you'll either have to take the time (about a year) to build them up, or you'll have to partner with someone who already has access to some.
Social SEO

We know that social media offers a variety of ways to target users. For instance, recommendations and Facebook ads let us target users with a certain interests and demographics.

But it can also be used to target users beyond their social networks, when they're out in the SERPs, actively looking for what you sell. In can also offer you ROI beyond traffic (which can be ephemeral) because it can help you increase rankings and build PageRank.


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