Social Media for SEM Savvy Small Biz Owners

I’ve often evangelized the “niche only” view for a small business owner or DIYer who wants to take advantage of social media sites like Digg, Reddit, and StumbleUpon. Those sites are where folks search online for the latest cool news and popular bookmarks.

I recently spent a day immersed (offline) in social media (define) listening to the thoughts of some well-respected social media marketers. Those newly-minted marketing specialists (whatever happened to viral marketers?) made me think about ways those new sites (think Facebook, today; MySpace, last year) can help small business owners broaden their marketing horizons.

Let’s discuss a few points about social media that really hadn’t resonated with me.

More Traffic, Less Conversions

Social media campaigns and traffic generally has lower conversion rates — especially from sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, and Reddit. A huge percentage of the people from those sites will never buy anything a business has for sale.

The challenge, then, is monetizing the traffic. In other words, it’s great traffic if you’re making money by selling banner ads on your site. Selling anything else? Well, don’t expect the cash register to ring with every click.

So what’s in it for the small business owner? A huge amount of traffic potentially means a larger total sales volume. Plus, I didn’t see the potential for higher search engine rankings resulting from a Digg homepage article that goes viral. (Viral marketers! Have they mutated into social media marketers?)

Small business owners can expect anywhere from zero to thousands of links if an article on their site is voted by Digg members onto the Digg homepage. Those thousands of links can potentially drive search engine rankings higher — and those higher rankings for your relevant keywords (define) can increase ROI (define).

Eureka! I’ve always evangelized the importance of playing in the social media space within your niche — and that will still work — but this is a way to try out the big social media sites and still gain something tangible without worrying about converting every visitor to your site to justify the cost involved in setting up the work. The links will bring the traffic via better search engine rankings.

Know Your Audience

Tailor the article you write for the social media site’s specific audience. Digg’s audience was described as male, “computer geeks,” and “anti-SEO/SEM.”

More accurate demographic statistics can be found on Quantcast, an Internet media measurement service participates in. Quantcast reports Digg’s audience is 58 percent male; 42 percent female, with 40 percent of the total audience between 18-34 years old. An estimated 43 percent have no college education, a statistic that indicates the audience skews young.

So, an article such as “How the Right Handbag Will Make the Perfect Outfit Even Better,” might not get as many great links as an article such as, “Top 10 Things You Can Buy a Chick to Get a Date.” But first, you need to decide whether your small business brand wants to be associated with articles about buying chicks stuff to get a date.

Hook, Link, and Sinker

Search the site you want to target and figure out what the hottest topics are. Tailor your article along the same lines, but offer a unique hook or idea to go along with it. Think about the “hooks” that can be used to draw them in.

Todd Malicoat shared a great list of hooks at Pubcon that he borrowed from Nick Wilson’s May 2005 SEO blog post, “The Art of Linkbaiting,” which coined the phrase “linkbaiting.” Old school journalists may recognize the “hooks” from their Journalism 101 class on how to hook their readers in their ledes.

For example, the “resource hook” is a “top 10” list (see Letterman re-runs) that people can refer to and use to make a decision on buying your products. Similarly, the newfangled “attack hook” or “contrary hook” is simply contradicting a popular view. My best recommendation? Unless you’re a certain kind of specialty retailer, skip Todd’s “sex hook.”

Five Percent Chance of Success?

Not all viral campaigns will be successful. There is more risk involved than there might be in other areas of search marketing. If 5 percent of your attempts are at least somewhat successful — then you’re doing really well.

For a DIY kind of person, that percentage might be lower, but there is still potential to gain some great rankings through the links you could receive.

Here are some other things to remember:

  • Don’t overload on ads. Social media users apparently don’t click on AdSense ads or banner ads.
  • Get established at the sites. Don’t expect to write something, publish it, join Digg, and give it a scoop — then hit the first page. They’re fickle over there — it’s definitely a time investment, but it can be worth it.
  • Can your site can handle Digg traffic? We’re talking 60 to 100 hits a second.
  • Write good content. Viral links are not bought, paid for, or likely to get you banned by Google. We hear so much about paid links causing havoc to Google rankings. If people are linking to your content because they like it, you’re going to gain some great relevant links — and be rewarded by the search engines.

These are some examples of how a good social media campaign can kick start your link building (define) and, consequently, your rankings. It can also be confusing and time consuming. Don’t be afraid to outsource, and if you decide to try it out yourself, don’t expect immediate success — but don’t give up either.

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