For businesses, simply participating on social media sites is just the first step toward seizing the opportunities that exist in this dynamic new environment. Optimizing your social media optimization efforts requires concerted actions in a variety of areas including:

 

* Having a firm handle on what you’re trying to accomplish with your social media activities – Knowing why you’re developing a presence on perhaps numerous platforms can keep the focus on driving results as opposed to simply interacting with various communities. Focusing on objectives can reduce wasted time spent on tangential issues, which in social media circles are virtually unlimited.
* Presenting new content on a consistent basis – The creation of unique and compelling content on a consistent schedule will keep members of your communities coming back to see what’s new. Be careful to publish only the content that is informative and adds value while staying away from the idea that any content that gets published is good content.
* Varying your content – Going multimedia with your content can keep your publishing schedule fresh while allowing the exploration of additional ways to communicate with your various communities. While text-based content is still vitally important, visual content in the form of images and videos tends to be shared more often. Incorporating a variety of content formats also enables you to present your information in the manner that is most conducive for communicating the information you’re sharing.
* Put the right skill sets to work – One of the biggest changes that social media presents to businesses is the democratized two-way communication between the company and its communities. While some people may be very comfortable in this type of engagement, others may not. Be sure that the people you have tasked with engagement can carry the job without serious mis-steps.

 

While social media offers many opportunities, it rarely offers instant gratification. Be patient with your social media optimization efforts, be consistent with your process, and the rewards will arrive over time.

As businesses charge headlong into the social media arena, misunderstandings in the areas of how these platforms actually work and the ethos that brings people to them can result in mistakes that can sidetrack even the best intentioned social media optimization initiatives.
 
These mistakes include:
 
* Going all sales all the time – Businesses that hit the social media scene with advertisement after advertisement may see a little uptake at the outset but will eventually see diminishing returns as their posts slowly take on the status of low value spam. This mistake is typically based on a perception that social media communities exist to be sold to, an error that will lead to varying degrees of failure for the sponsoring business’ efforts.
* All me all the time – Much like people who are only interested in conversations that focus on them, interest will fade for a business that constantly beats its own drum while ignoring the conversations taking place on related topics.
* Assigning social media to the new kid because “He gets it” – Part of the art of implementing a successful social media optimization initiative involves the skill required to carry a thread with valuable information. Tasking an inexperienced new hire with social media work because of a high “friend” count can make a company look bad when the conversation moves to a knowledge level that the kid isn’t prepared for but decides to participate in anyway.
 
While there are many other mistakes that can derail social media optimization initiatives, these are some of the most common. Fortunately, by taking the time to learn the culture of each social media platform and working to develop a credible presence in each community, these mistakes can be avoided.   
While the number of articles calling for the death of SEO at the hands of social media appears to be on an upswing, nothing could be further from the truth in terms of the benefits of having highly visible web pages at the top of search engine ranking for high value keywords. The error in many of these “demise of SEO” articles is that they presume that the process of search engine optimization can be completely abandoned in favor of launching campaigns on a variety of social media sites.
 
It is true that the expanding footprint of social media has led to changes in the algorithmic formulas that the search engines use to rank web pages, but these changes actually reflect the search engines’ acceptance of the growing number of signals that come from social media sites as genuine “votes” for web pages and associated content. The incorporation of genuine social signals and the steady elimination of manipulative SEO practices have made the ranking algorithms far more efficient at surfacing high quality web pages, which has been the objective of search engines from the beginning.
 
The fact of the matter is that while social media can generate signals regarding the relevance and quality of web pages that helps search engines deliver a high quality user experience, these signals are not the primary objective of these platforms, which limits their search functionality. This means that search engines will continue to provide value to users and that SEO, which must incorporate social media to be successful, will remain vitally important for businesses seeking to attract consumers, build their brands, and efficiently grow their revenues. 

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  • User Experience and SEO

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    Prior to Google’s implementation of the Hummingbird algorithm in the second half of 2013, search engine optimization and delivering a positive user experience with published content were distinctly different practices. Despite Google’s mission to surface high value content, its algorithms were easily manipulated with SEO tricks that didn’t necessarily deliver the information that the search engine users were looking for. At the same time, content that delivered relevant information often earned lower rankings than poorly written articles that prioritized packing in keywords over adding value.

     

    Hand it to Google, the search engine has stayed true to its commitment to deliver improved user experiences and is now far less vulnerable to manipulative practices. Its ranking algorithm now factors a variety of signals that result from positive user experiences, including:        

            

            Links from authority sites – Content that contains valuable source material, topic-relevant information or delivers a positive user experience in general can earn links from authority sites to provide additional information or to be cited as a reference. These links carry an increasing amount of weight in the ranking algorithms due to the quasi-vetting process from originating authority sites. This is a completely different ranking methodology than the one which rewarded web pages that had thousands of spammy backlinks purchased for a few pennies each.       

            Social actions – When content is posted to social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, user can elect to share that material with their friends and/or followers. Sharing or liking posted content is referred to as a social action, which is an indication that the content delivers a positive user experience, whether it’s entertaining, informative or a combination of the two. Steady and/or increasing social actions with specific web pages can then boost rankings due to the implied legitimacy of independent referrals.    

             Active and positive comment threads – Quality content draws engagement in the form of active commentary threads. Content that is generating shares and likes will also elicit commentary, with the actions reinforcing each other when being weighed by search algorithms. While these reinforcing actions are great for SEO campaigns, they are equally capable of driving higher rankings for negative content, such as news stories.    

     

    In today’s SEO campaigns, manipulating the algorithms has become increasingly difficult. This is due in part to the growing sophistication in algorithm methodology that can detect spammy links and content. It is also due to the evolution in the way people communicate and share information on the web. The paradigm change now forces SEO and content distribution campaigns to focus on the same primary goal; delivering a positive user experience. 

  • One SEO Change to Implement Now

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    As the sophistication of search algorithms continues to increase, search engines are improving their understanding of what their users are looking for with their inquiries. Prior to replacing its search methodology with the Hummingbird algorithm in 2013, search results typically showed results that had a high percentage of the same keywords included in users’ inquiries. While the pages that were returned based on keyword matches generally reflected some relevance to the search, there were also results that had nothing to do with the nature of the inquiry.

     

    Two of the primary reasons for these unrelated results were black hat techniques that were used to trick the early algorithms into granting high ratings, as well as words that were spelled the same but had different meanings, known as homonyms. An example of a homonym is the word “lead”, which can either be a noun as in the metal or a verb as in “to guide”. An inquiry such as “lead dog” could list sculptures of dogs made of the metal as well as dog teams in the Iditarod race. Refining the search to “what is a lead dog Iditarod” could still return mixed results. With the implementation of the Hummingbird algorithm, searches provided results based on the context of the inquiry, rather than trying to find pages with identical keywords.

     

    The change to contextual search, in addition to providing a higher percentage of relevant results for all users, was also influenced by the more conversational nature of inquiries from mobile device users. When voice commands are used, it’s more natural to ask a question than limiting inquiries to a few key words. As the search phrases became longer, keyword-based algorithms struggled to return listings that answered the questions that were being posed, which required follow-on searches and lead to a less than optimal user experience.

     

    For businesses that have not changed the foundation of their SEO initiatives to the new search methodology, previously high rankings are likely to start falling, if they haven’t already. The key to success in context-based search is to modify content so that it answers the questions posed verbally by mobile users. As a simple example, a searcher may pose the question “Where is a pizza place in Anytown?” Content that answers that question, which would earn a higher search listing, would include something like “Jack’s Pizza is located at 123 Main Street in Anytown.”

     

    As Google and the rest of the search engines try to deliver the best user experience possible, the focus is on eliminating listings that don’t deliver the answers sought by searchers. To that end, the listings that are presented will increasingly address the full context of inquiries with the delivery of specific answers. In this environment the SEO campaigns that are modified to answer questions, rather than match keywords to searches, will deliver website and storefront visits which will drive revenues.  

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