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Search engine optimization (SEO) at one point was as simple as stuffing keywords all over your page, and you'd rank. Before the dawn of social media, it was one of the only ways to build traffic to your website, and became the focus of marketers everywhere. Then came the wonderful world of social media marketing (SMM) to help marketers build more of a connection to their audiences.
SEO and SMM work together to create a digital marketing strategy, so let's take a closer look at how businesses can use them both to draw in more traffic, and convert visitors into customers, and how to keep those customers coming back for more.
SEO is the process of making it easier for search engines to find and index your website, which in turn makes it easier for people to find you when they conduct relevant searches. Over the years it has evolved from throwing keywords around to a much more complex system involving a collection of on-page and off-page tactics to improve ranking.
This refers to the SEO tasks you do on your website – the ones you have the most control over. Even if your on-page SEO is perfect, however, there's no guarantee of a solid ranking. On-page SEO includes elements such as:
- URL structure: If possible, turn on permalinks and use keywords in your URLs. But, unless you know what you're doing where 301 redirects are concerned, don't go changing all your URLs to include keywords. You could seriously damage any ranking you have established.
- Title tags: Targeted keywords in the title tag – different, as needed, for each page of your website.
- Headings: Typically, the largest words on the page, these are a good place to use keywords since search engines place a bit more "weight" on them. But, make sure you're using keywords naturally, choosing ones that accurately reflect page content.
- ALT text for images: This won't be visible to a person unless they hover over the image, but is necessary for good SEO. ALT text is used to describe the image, so that those with vision impairments using a screen reader can still understand what the image is. When appropriate, you can use keywords here, too.
- Page load time: Google wants its users to be able to find what they're looking for, and fast, and you should, too. Nearly half of consumers expect a website to load within two seconds or less, and 40% will abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load. A one second delay in your response time can lead to a 7% reduction in conversion rates, costing you $250,000 a year if you earn $1,000 a day. To reduce your page load time, you should: use web-friendly images formats, compressed as much as possible, minify your code, reduce the number of plugins, consider the use of a content delivery network, minimize the use of redirects, and optimize for mobile devices.
- Internal linking: Link to other pages on your website only when it is useful to visitors. It can help the search engines connect dots and see more about the related content and value you're offering users.
- Page content: Gone are the days when you can just slap up 200 words about whatever you want and expect it to rank. Google wants to please its users with quality, so it expects you to provide quality and value in your content. If they come to your page after a search for something specific, they'd better be able to find what they're looking for – or you're going to lose that rank.
This refers to everything you to enhance your ranking that doesn't happen directly on your website. A lot of people think it is only about building links to your site, but it is more than that. It includes things such as:
- Backlinks: Backlinks are a huge part of off-page SEO. Each time you get a link to your website from another website, that's a backlink. There are many ways to go about building them – from reaching out to other sites and asking for a link, to using social media. The more useful your content, the more you'll find people link to it naturally.
- Social media: Maintaining an active presence on social media platforms, sharing your content and engaging with users without being a constant sales pitch can help, too. Social media can not only increase the number of links to your site, but it can help bring people to your site in the first place. Make it easier for people to share your content on social media by adding social sharing buttons to your blog.
- Social bookmarking: Adding your articles to websites like StumbleUpon, Digg, Delicious, and Reddit, can help bring in a new audience. It builds a backlink, too. When the new audience comes along from one of these sites, they may stay and explore your site, join your email list, or decide to follow you on social media.
- Review websites: Creating a presence on review websites like Yelp and Google+ carries its own weight in terms of SEO. Plus, you'll get more links to your site. They are essential if you're doing any kind of local or regional SEO. If you're using these as part of your digital marketing strategy, make sure you know what people are saying about you on those sites. Designate someone to monitor and respond to negative reviews, linking to relevant information on your site, and taking the resolution private to email. Encourage customers who've had a good experience with you to leave a review.
Off-page SEO gives Google an indication of how other users and websites perceive a website. If a lot of people are talking about it and linking to it, then obviously, they find it valuable and useful in some way, so Google will adjust the rankings accordingly. The higher your ranking, the more traffic you'll get. Though the data is from 2013, one study showed that websites in the number one ranked position receive nearly 33% of the search traffic. The second spot gets 17.6%, while the tenth spot gets only 2.4%.
SMM refers to the way you market your business across social media. As such, you may be doing some social media optimization (SMO), or working to enhance your company's presence across social media channels. You'll have a business page on the social media networks where your customers are most likely to be found. As tempting as it can be to be everywhere, it can be difficult to maintain a quality social media presence and weaken your strategy if you focus on too many networks.
Something worth mentioning is that while social signals – the number of likes and shares content gets – can affect your ranking, simply being on social media in general isn't going to positively affect your ranking. It takes more than creating a page or a profile. If signing up for an account was all it took, many websites would automatically rank higher, but we'd also be dealing with an even bigger spam problem. According to Facebook, up to 11.2% of their active monthly users, or 137.76 million accounts, are fake or duplicate accounts. This is just a 2014 estimate, however, because they really don't know how many are fake or duplicate. Based on that number, it's clear why just having a profile doesn't mean better ranking.
Social helps boost your ranking because the activity and sharing on social platforms helps increase visibility, and hopefully, links to your website. It is the increase in links that boosts your ranking in the search engines – so long as whatever is shared and linked to is valuable to your audience in some shape or form.
Before you begin the SMM process, make sure you've built your website with a solid foundation, covering your on-page SEO to the best of your ability. Then and only then should you move to off-page SEO and SMM efforts.
One Without the Other is Pointless
If you do SEO without any kind of SMO or SMM, you're missing out on a huge potential avenue for connecting to your customers off your website. You can use SMM to direct people back to your website, which helps boost rankings through additional traffic and social signals.
But if you do SMM without any kind of SEO – you're making it hard for people to find you organically outside of social media. It's kind of like pizza without cheese. You can get it, and it's all right, but when you put together, the results are magical. Unfortunately, however, there's no one right way to combine the two into the winning strategy for your business.
Crafting the Right Strategy for Your Business
The amount of SEO vs. SMM you do for your business will vary based on a number of factors.
Some keywords will be nearly impossible to rank for, because of the amount of competition that's out there. The more traffic a domain gets, and the older a website becomes, the more credible it becomes in Google's eyes. Thus, it's incredibly difficult to organically rank higher than heavy-hitters like Wikipedia, Amazon, and the like.
Some keywords will be easy to rank for. Where you stand in the rankings, and your business goals will determine the best approach for you.
How are you currently using SEO and SMM to draw in more traffic and convert visitors into customers?