Search and Social: The Best of Friends

by Ben Straley

With so many companies wondering how to harness Facebook, Twitter, blogs, viral video, and content sharing these days, it’s got many search marketers thinking about how to leverage social media to boost the effectiveness of their SEM and SEO programs. And they’re right to be investigating the intersection between social and search, because it’s an untapped link-building, keyword-boosting goldmine.

Despite the potential of integrating SEM and SEO programs to social media marketing techniques, many search marketers, accustomed to working with the most measurable form of marketing around, are nervous about embracing new and largely unproven social media marketing techniques as part of their overall strategy. But by ignoring the word-of-mouth circulating about your brand, you’re losing out on valuable SEO and SEM traffic.

Or maybe you’re convinced you need to get started with social media, but you don’t know how. We work with brands to help them measure the impact of word-of-mouth on their marketing programs, so I’ve tackled a lot of tough questions from marketers who want to make sure their social media programs generate real results.

One of the questions I hear the most is: “How can I integrate social media into my already hugely successful paid search and SEO programs to make all of my marketing initiatives deliver more ROI?”

The answer to that question is two-fold. Before you integrate your search and social programs, your company’s marketing team needs to find out with certainty what the latter delivers in terms of ROI and brand engagement. (Engagement is a bit harder to measure than the straight marketing ROI that comes from clicks and conversions, but several tools offer a pretty accurate reading on the engagement results of a social media brand campaign.)

Make sure everything your company does in the social media marketing realm is measurable. Either use a tool to precisely track what results you’re getting from social media marketing and the real impact of word-of-mouth buzz when it comes to sales and brand recognition, or hire a social media marketing agency that knows its stuff.

Several free tools are available — such as Google Trends and Nielsen BuzzMetrics’ BlogPulse — that allow you to get some sort of handle, with varying degrees of precision, on the activity generated by your social marketing campaigns.

Once your company has figured out what results its social media marketing programs are delivering — whether the program is a simple Facebook page or a sophisticated mix of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, blogs, and buzz-building — you can start to integrate social media with search.

This is where the fun part begins for search marketers. You will need to work closely with your company’s brand marketing team to create a closely aligned social-and-search program that generates more ROI together than these programs could on their own.

Step 1: Social Media to Drive Traffic

Take advantage of the amazing link-building power of social media to drive SEO traffic to your site.

When people share links with friends to your campaigns and website, talk about your brand in blogs and on social networks, read and interact with content and videos related to your brand via social networking sites (Facebook and others), or become a follower of your brand via Twitter, they are generating tons of links online that include your brand and product names.

Social media activity drives a huge increase in searchable content about your brand. Tuning into and responding to these buzz-creators is an essential component of any company’s marketing strategy today.

But tracking the flow of word-of-mouth about your brand should not be an isolated activity for the brand marketers in your company; as a search marketer, you need to know what conversations are taking place and where, so that you can optimize your website and campaigns to reflect these critical conversations as they occur.

Step 2: Social Media for Keyword Research

Analyze the online conversations about your brand to make strategic keyword buying decisions.

You already have lots of ways to analyze the value of a keyword: clicks, conversions, and ROI. But what about the “buzz value” of a certain term? People may be talking about one of your campaigns or your products for a day or two, and then move onto another conversation. Most paid search marketers miss these micro-trends, because they appear and disappear in a matter of days.

Instead, use social media tracking tools to see exactly what people are saying about your brand in real time, and then buy keywords associated with those conversations on the fly. You’ll see a huge uptick in click-through on those terms during the “buzz” period about a certain topic, and then it will die down as the conversation shifts.

Then, it’s time to move onto the next keyword buy, based on the latest micro-trend concerning your brand.

Step 3: Social Media and Search Synergy

Measure and analyze ROI of search and social together.

Many marketers get search, and others get social — but few understand how to combine the unique characteristics and strengths of both to drive lasting branding, a lift in sales, and maximum marketing ROI.

It’s easy to begin measuring the impact your search marketing efforts are having on the performance of your social media marketing campaigns — and vice versa.

Start by correlating changes in natural search traffic with changes in traffic volumes from social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Similarly you can correlate the number of back-links from the aforementioned social sites with the organic search traffic you’re monitoring through site analytics. These simple tests will begin to quantify the benefits your marketing program receives when search and social work together.

A little harmony between social and search goes a long way. If you follow these simple steps, you’ll be on your way to boosting ROI across both types of marketing simultaneously — and everyone could use a dose of marketing success right about now.

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the June Issue of SES Magazine.

Ben Straley is the CEO of Meteor Solutions. He has spent the last 13 years leading marketing and business teams for both venture-backed startups and large, publicly-traded companies, such as Starwave, Sanctum Corporation, and Ignition-backed Judy’s Book. His current company measures word-of-mouth with the same precision as paid media. As CEO, Ben manages the business and secures key partnerships. Clients include Microsoft, AT&T, comScore, Disney, and other high-profile brands.

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