How to leverage social media for SEO

leverage social media

In any human community, conversation is powerful. In social media it’s all-powerful, because it’s the foundation of the community. In social media, there’s no physical interaction, so without conversation, there’s nothing. And that’s the key to social media for SEO. If your content is viewed as trustworthy and high quality, word spreads quickly. And because the word is spread by people who are, themselves, trusted, the trust they invest in your content, and their high opinion of it, spreads simultaneously.

Of course, it’s not just a question of writing great content and hoping the right social media communities will find it. There’s way too much content on the Web for that to happen. To make it happen, you actually have to make it happen.

Following is my recommendation for starting out in social media with a view to improving your search engine ranking.

Start a blogMost social media users are bloggers, so the social media model works best with blog content. (See ‘Host and optimize your own WordPress blog’ for more info on blogging.)
Post lots of helpful, interesting content on your blogSee ‘Creating great content & lots of it (‘Baiting the hook’)’ for more info.
Join Twitter and StumbleUponTwitter is a ‘Communication’ social media service and StumbleUpon is a ‘Bookmarking’ service. They’re the easiest services to use and deliver the most value.
Connect with like-minded peopleTry to find people who you can learn from, people who would be interested in what you have to say, and people who might learn from you. This is the starting point of your community. It will generally consist of both prospective customers and influencers (e.g. reputable competitors and related companies). To find these people on Twitter, use Twitter Search or ‘Follow’ @MrTweet to get recommendations on thought leaders in your field. Once you find someone interesting, Follow them. On StumbleUpon, search for interesting, relevant content, and check out its reviews to see who else liked it. If you like what they say, Subscribe to their Favorites.
Form relationships & contributeForm relationships with individuals on Twitter by contributing. Answer questions, offer advice, link to helpful third party content, be an accessible point of contact for your customers, and reveal your personality (human-ness). This is probably the single-most important factor early on in your Twitter career. You have to rack up brownie points.
Read, bookmark & comment on other people’s contentSpend some time each day browsing StumbleUpon content. You can do this by downloading the StumbleUpon Firefox toolbar and clicking Stumble for a random pick from your category picks or subscriptions. Or you can browse the StumbleUpon home page to see the most popular page. When you find something you like, be sure to give it the ‘ThumbsUp,’ and preferably a comment. People – particularly the author – will see your comments and will often check out your profile and your site
Announce your contentWhen you’ve written some really good content, and you think your Twitter followers will benefit from it, announce it and include a link.
People will visit your site to read itIf people like you (or at least find you interesting), they’ll visit your site to check out the content you announced.
People will add commentsIf your content is great quality, it will provoke discussion. People will add comments partly for the sake of the discussion, and partly for the sake of elevating their own social media networking presence. And Google loves a good discussion. Comments indicate relevance and topicality – exactly what Google wants in its SERPs. So the more comments you generate, the better your ranking.
People will talk about your contentBecause bloggers are always hungry for new post ideas, if your post is great, they’ll bounce off it with a post of their own. They’ll also discuss your post on Twitter (e.g. “Just read this great post on…”), in forums, and in countless other places where people connect.
People will link to your contentAnd usually when someone blogs about your post, they’ll link to it. If only to show their readers what they’re talking about. Importantly, because these links are voluntary, they’ll be guaranteed to come from relevant sites, with varying
– and generally keyword rich – anchor text. What’s more, they’ll be linking to pages that are relatively deep within your site structure; they won’t just be linking to your home page. These are exactly the kind of links that the search engines like to see. Natural links that prove your site has depth. (Of course, all of this discussion and linking also drives high quality traffic to your site.)
People will bookmark – or vote for – your contentIf they like your content, people will vote for it using their own social bookmarking service. Your post will then be listed on the ‘Most Recent’ page, which is highly trafficked by other bloggers in search of something to talk about. (More discussion, more links, more bookmarks. It’s a cycle.)
Your post will become more popular in StumbleUponThis is where it gets good! As your post gets more votes, it works its way up the StumbleUpon’s rankings. This means it gets more views, which means more discussion, more links and more bookmarks! Great content is viral. (And let’s not forget: throughout this whole process, you’re getting a lot of very high quality traffic to your site, too. Potentially thousands, daily.)
More people will join your StumbleUpon networkSome will just want fast, easy, automatic access to all future content you bookmark. Others will join in the hopes that you’ll bookmark their content. Regardless of their motives, though, once they’re in your network, they’ll be far more likely to bookmark and link to your content – partly because they’ll see more of it, and partly because they’re part of your community. They respect you, and probably feel inclined to promote you (either to do you a favor, or to boost their own credibility by sharing quality content with their own network). And once again, when they bookmark it, it’s promoted across their network.
More people will follow you on TwitterThey’ll see the quality of your content, they’ll be just as keen to see your 140 character tweets on Twitter as they are to read your 500 word blog posts. This, in turn, gives you a larger audience, which means more people hear your content announcements.
People will promote you because it benefits themRemember, millions of people are in social media for the same reasons you are: to promote their business and increase their search ranking. And just as you actively participate in order to enhance your network status, so, too, do they. It’s not like traditional advertising, where the only incentive to promote the advertiser is money. In social media, when you promote someone else’s content, you both win. It’s kinda like cross-pollination.
Join a few more social media servicesNow that you’re familiar with how to use social media, join a few more services to extend your reach and increase your brand awareness. By now, you’ll have a feel for what’s likely to work for you and what isn’t.
You’ll become an influencerOver time, people in your community come to trust you, implicitly. They’ll see that you’re committed to the community, and they’ll start looking to you for advice, and recommending you to others. You’ll develop a following of your own. In other words, you’ll become an influencer. When this happens, more people will visit your site when you announce content, and more people will see, and respond to, your bookmarked content. And they’ll all arrive ready to approve of it. So they’ll be easier to please and harder to displease, and, therefore, more likely to link to, bookmark and discuss your content.
Ask your network to bookmark your contentNow that you have some credibility and authority, and somewhat of a loyal following, you can start to call in favors. Asking people to bookmark (aka vote for) your content is one such favor. Twitter is great for these sorts of requests. So long as you don’t do it too often, and you’re appreciative when people agree, this approach can work well. (And, of course, this feeds back into the almost self-perpetuating cycle described above.)
You’ll become an opinion / thought leaderWhen this happens, you’ve hit the big-time. You’ll have thousands of followers – maybe even tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands – spread across multiple social media services. And they’ll all trust you, so they’ll believe virtually everything you say, almost without question. When you announce or bookmark new content, they’ll flock to it. They’ll expect it to be good, so they’re virtually guaranteed to approve of it. They’ll be keen to do you the favor or linking to it, bookmarking it and discussing it. They may even do so simply to get in your good graces. (Remember, it’s all visible.) And they’ll be impatient to link to it, because they’ll want to be the first to do so (in their quest to become a thought leader, just like you). So impatient, in fact, that they may not even read your content in its entirety before linking to it. In other words, your popularity and your brand have become almost a viral phenomenon. You’ll hardly have to lift a finger to keep the momentum going. For examples of this, take a look at the social media and search engine presence of the world’s 100 most popular Twitter users.

IMPORTANT: Even though social media services allow you to link back to your site (e.g. in your  profile, comments & updates), they’re usually nofollow. This means they’re of no value to your ranking; the search bots won’t follow the link through to your site and no PageRank will be passed on. So don’t go throwing your link around every chance you get. It won’t benefit your SEO and it’ll just give you a reputation as a spammer.