Many of you have noticed the growing importance of social networks such as Facebook to search engine optimization. Yet they can also be giant black holes, sucking useful customer interactions that could have resulted in a link back to your site into their own ever-growing walled garden. Even so, simply making a Facebook fan page and hoping it will somehow improve your SEO will only go so far.
Social media sites have trained users to be comfortable with common online interactions of which you can make use. Users “Like” sites, pages, or stories because Facebook has trained them to. Other websites enable users to “Share” and “vote” just as easily. You, too, can make these functions available to users of your website.
Before trying to leverage social media for any SEO strategy, you need to ensure that what you develop will bring real value to your users, as well as providing a benefit to your website. Consider what Google and Yahoo will flag as spam. If your social media app is genuinely useful to a user and helps them to perform a function, or assists them with a genuine problem, it will pass any review without problem.
This will eliminate the fear of waking up one morning to find that your client’s site has been de-indexed. You’ll also avoid that gut-wrenching feeling that marketing people sometimes have. It’s called a conscience, and yours will be clear if you heed this caution.
By far the easiest way to attract some kind of social interaction to your SEO campaign is to allow people to share content that you publish on your website—with their friends, and on their websites or social feeds. Sites such as Digg are great for sharing cool little infographics (more on this below), while Delicious and other bookmarking services still pass on link juice from their pages. Being bookmarked on one of these sites can be a very valuable backlink to any given piece of content you publish.
If you use WordPress to publish content, the job of integrating content-sharing functionality into your site is made easier. Simply installing one of the following plugins will give users a whole range of options for syndicating links that lead back to your pages:
ShareThis: A plugin that’s compact and not too ostentatious. This can be handy when dealing with developers who dislike adding too much to pages!
AddToAny: This plugin helps users to share, save, and read your pages on any service. It’s a nice customizable application with lots of funky little options.
Tell a Friend: This is less focused on SEO than the other plugins, but it does allow your visitors to contact their friends directly and easily to recommend your content.
All four options are easy to integrate into a WordPress site. Your users are likely to already be familiar with their functions, and they can give you some significant benefits, particularly if you have users who are passionate about your service.
The key to making these work for your SEO campaign is to begin with original and well-written content. From within this content you can then link to other relevant and semantically related parts of your website. Opinion-based articles generally work a treat for uptake, regardless of whether the opinion is positive or negative about a particular topic.
An infographic is a graphical representation of a certain set of data in an attractive and easily digestible form. This can range from the composition of several common coffee drinks to a detailed breakdown of the way US federal tax dollars are spent.
There has been a lot of discussion lately about the use of infographics to attempt to game the search engines. Reddit had a fantastic expose and discussion a month or so ago, which led to the posting of a neat little infographic about the problems with the whole infographic ecosystem. Many people’s concerns are with the way in which infographics gain rankings by using “bait and switch” techniques: posting an infographic on a topic, but switching the anchor text and other parts of the page to direct users to a different topic altogether.
The key to a successful and ethical infographic strategy lies in the quality of the information you present. An uninteresting or trivial infographic will most likely not deliver any great SEO value. When developing an infographic, begin with keyword research. Focus on topics that are popular enough to warrant attention. Simple research using Google’s Keyword Tool can take as little as 10-15 minutes, and be the difference between a good ROI (return on investment) and none whatsoever.
Once you’ve done your keyword research, identify something really interesting within that topic. It could be a unique insight you have, or perhaps a controversial slant. Whatever it is, make sure it’s original. If you run a large website, analyze your own site content: perhaps you can present an unusual perspective or a way of doing business that sets you apart.
The most vital aspect about obtaining SEO value from an infographic is allowing others to easily republish it on their sites, and to include a link back to your website and the source of the infographic. This is a no-brainer, but it should be done in an ethical way. Use keywords that relate directly to the topic of the post. Make sure your users can see a preview of what it will look like before they post it to their site. Stick only to white hat techniques and you’ll avoid any penalties from Google.
Having a Digg button on your infographic page can also help you in gaining mass traction for your posting. You can and should make it as easy as possible for your users to share your post on Digg and all the major sites. Use the techniques and plugins mentioned above and you’ll gain maximum benefit.
To summarize the preferred approach to infographics:
Undertake keyword research and find high volume topics that relate directly to your business and target market.
Develop an infographic that answers an interesting question, is comical, or even annoys a lot of people.
Link the page with the infographic to more commercial pages on your site.
Add an easy-to-click social-sharing plugin on the same page.
Submit your infographic to Digg and various other infographic websites.
The hardest parts of this process are identifying a topic that will appeal to your market, and designing an infographic that has maximum visual appeal.
A widget is a snippet of code that users can add to their own websites that performs some useful function for their visitors. For example, this site provides a mortgage calculator widget that anyone can include on their site. You can see how this might be an attractive feature for a personal finance blog, for instance. Because the widget includes a link back to the parent site, that site will derive an SEO benefit from other sites installing the widget.
That said, for a long time widgets were thought of as something of an SEO no-no. There are plenty of stories about companies that launched widgets and ended up receiving massive penalties from Google. However, in every single one of the cases I’ve come across, the developers were being a little shady.
A widget, by default, is not a bad thing. I’ll skip going into the technicalities of exactly what search engines consider to be questionable practices; that’s up to you to identify on a case-by-case basis. Quite often, you’ll find that there are lots of good and bad examples of widgets being used by your competitors. The rule of thumb is to actually deliver real value to your users. If your widget makes their lives easier and you are totally up-front about the way in which it will be presented on their site, then having anchor text linking back to your site will not be considered spam.
Widgets can be deployed for so many different reasons. What widgets you use and how you implement them will depend on what your business does and the user problems you’re trying to address. There are, though, some key elements that every widget should feature:
The widget should be as static as possible when published to a user’s page. There can obviously be highly dynamic elements included in it as well, but I recommend having the sections containing anchor text and any SEO elements as static HTML.
The widget should contain keyword-rich anchor text linked to the most relevant page for that particular topic. Including this as part of a phrase generally brings in the most value, for example (anchor text emphasized): “Over 80 years servicing the Houston area. Visit us for Houston plumbing services.” Now, that’s not the world’s most elegantly crafted sentence—shorter would be better. However, you get the idea: keep the links in context.
Always show your users a preview of what the code will look like when implemented on their pages, including all relevant anchor text. Users should be fully aware that they’re plugging in a tool that features marketing-based text.
By following those three simple rules, you can be fairly sure that your widget will avoid the wrath of the marketing and business team about being delisted from Google! A great little guide can be found at SEO Friendly Widgets.
Make sure that the widget links directly to the most relevant pages of your site. If this happens to be deeper than your most commercial page, so be it. The content on your site with the most depth has the best chance of gaining a significant boost from external links and root domains. You can then work on pushing some of this love to other parts of your website via internal linking strategies.
I know that manydevelopers still think that SEO is evil and that our dark marketing arts are turning anything and everything into spam and junk polluting the Web. To be fair, a large part of this skepticism is well-founded. There are those who will always try and blur the line between “useful” and “spam”; to them it’s about getting a result, regardless of what it takes. However, the point of this article is to show that there are ways in which normal social interactions by your users can be used for your SEO benefit.
Focus on developing high-quality, unique content that helps to semantically link your website to search terms aligned with your marketing goals. The old adage “content is king” still holds true. Sadly, “build it and they will come” does not. In this day and age, the best content does not simply rise to the top. You need to give it a push in the right direction, making it as easy as possible for your users to positively influence your rankings.
Next time you have a marketing meeting and a colleague says, “Why don’t we just use ‘the Twitter’ to help us rank?”, bring out some of the above techniques. You’ll be able to sleep at night with your development ethics intact, as well as bring a good set of ideas to the table that will help improve the rankings of your company or your client.