The Coming Together of Search & Social
Description:
In this issue, you’ll discover all you need to know about Search and Social, and how the two have been used interchangeably in recent years.  
 

The Coming Together of Search & Social

Spring 2016

The Coming Together of Search & Social

by: Sarah Prinsloo
The coming together of search and social

Today’s web has shifted from a “one-to-many” to a “many-to-many” method of engagement. For businesses, the shift in web consumerism and accompanying rise in social media brings both opportunity and responsibility. The sheer amount of data that customers make available through social media alone is a marketer's dream; however, the real benefit lies in the opportunity to grow lasting and scalable relationships with your customer base through social channels. Furthermore, just as your customers’ behaviors have shifted, so have their expectations for yours. Whether your business is listening and engaging with them or not, customers are having conversations relevant to your operations. It’s better to be part of the conversation. Plus, it helps increase your website’s visibility.

We are now increasingly going to social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to fulfill our search queries, whereas before, we exclusively used search engines like Google and Bing to find information. Now, it’s not just the change in search habits that has everything in a tizzy – the line between web content and social media content has also been all but erased. Content is now paramount and it’s not quantity anymore, but quality that has so many brands struggling to keep their spots in search ranks. Before we delve into the world order, it’s worthwhile to explore exactly what search and social are, in addition to their past and future relationship with one another.

Defining Search & Social

Search Marketing is the process of gaining traffic and visibility from search engines through both paid and unpaid efforts. It encompasses SEO & SEM. SEO stands for “Search Engine Optimization” and is the process of earning traffic from the “free” or “organic” search results on search engines. All major search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo have primary search results, where web pages and other content such as videos or local listings are shown and ranked based on what the search engine considers most relevant to users. SEM (Search Engine Marketing) is the process of gaining website traffic by BUYING ads on search engines.

Social Media Marketing refers to the process of reaching prospects and customers, and gaining website traffic and visibility through social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, LinkedIn, and YouTube. It usually centers on efforts to create content that attracts attention and encourages readers to share that content with their social networks. Social media marketing is driven by word-of-mouth, meaning it results in earned media rather than paid media. Social media has given brands and organizations a platform to increase communication, which in turn, fosters brand awareness and often, improves customer service. Additionally, social media serves as a relatively inexpensive platform for organizations to implement marketing campaigns.

How Were They Independent Before?

As late as 2014, the influence of social media content was minimal on Google’s SERP rankings. Social was about creating intent within a targeted audience, whereas search was about fulfilling it. Search’s popularity and value to businesses has always come from its ability to help consumers find relevant companies, products, and services. With search, intent and desire to find relevant information (navigational, informational, transactional) has always been the driving force/purpose behind it. If someone visited Google, they were looking for something specific, whereas back in the day with social, people might have logged onto Facebook for no particular reason. Basically, search played a vital role in the sales cycle, but social did not.

In 2012, there was a paradigm shift that combined the worlds of search and social, despite how effective they were independently. Social’s primary value to consumers was its peer recommendations. Econsultancy found that 75% of people ages 18 to 26 used recommendations on social sites in product research before making a purchase, whereas search was primarily used to create a list of purchase options. Social media recommendations were used to validate (and continue to be used to validate) the relevancy of our choices with the people in our social graph.

How Are They Coming Together?

The paradigm shift forever altered the way consumers use search and social. They are now inextricably intertwined and you can not have one without the other. People now use social to search and discover content. Search and social now work toward the same thing: achieving relevance for your audience.

With so much engagement and activity happening in social forums, Google is no longer able to turn a “limited” eye to social media and its impact on the internet. Things are rapidly changing, with more than 71% of consumers being more likely to make a purchase on social media referrals and the amount of content being generated in social forums, leaving it nearly impossible for Google not to utilize social media channels in a heavier fashion in their algorithm reviews and organic SERP influence.

Links to your website via social media accounts DO have a major impact on your rankings. While authority of a social account may not impact search rank, links published on social media could be marked as credible backlinks, and thus influence a page’s rank. Links to your content on social channels and networks help the search engines understand what websites are credible and should be ranked for what keyword phrases. While social shares may or may not affect a webpage’s position in search listings, your social profiles definitely influence the content of your search results. In fact, social media profiles are often amongst the top results in search listings for brand names. Social media often feeds into the discovery of new content such as news stories, and “discovery” is a search activity. Social media can also help build links that in turn support the SEO efforts. Many people perform searches on social media sites to find social media content. Social connections may also impact the relevancy of some search results, either within a social media network or at a ‘mainstream’ search engine.

What Does the Future Hold?

On November 16th, 2015, a significant shift occurred when Google announced that Facebook would begin allowing more of their pages to be indexed, including in-app content. Search engines are crawling Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social sites, and social indexing will grow significantly in 2016, with posts soon carrying the same value as web pages. Thus it will be even more important to create something that people want to share. “Social media efforts will be tied more directly to SEO results. While social efforts have historically been challenging to tie to the bottom line, measuring the impact of social media on SEO results will be a new, measurable inbound metric.” (SproutContent)

Social is the new SEO. There will be a focus shift in SEO to social media. User behavior, when it comes to searching out information on products and services, is changing. While using search engines to find information is still the most common behavior, there are many users who are skipping the search engine and performing their searches directly on social media.

There are different reasons that this is happening. First, consumers know that they are more likely to find visual content if they search on social media, and to them, this content is far more trustworthy than text-heavy content. The other reason is that consumers value feedback from others, and they know they are more likely to find reviews and comments on social media content than they will in other places. This means that marketing strategy must move beyond “How can I get found on Google?” to “How can I get found on Google and social?” Most mobile users skip the use of the search engine. Consumers have become more interested in visually-rich content and would rather do their search through social channels.

How Does This Apply to Your Business?

The big takeaway: Companies should expand their concept of SEO to include not just the traditional search engines — Google and Bing — but also social search engines.

Just because Google hasn’t officially come out and stated that social signals are a factor in their algorithm, doesn’t mean you can discount social’s impact on your SEO. Numerous correlation studies have shown that they do have a positive impact on search rank. Social media shows no signs of becoming a less important part of a brand’s online presence anytime soon. Moreover, Bing, which is the second most-used search engine, has clearly stated that their algorithm DOES incorporate social signals into their search results. Smart brands will continue to build their authority in key social channels and think about social when designing their SEO strategy.

Content will always rule SEO – so here are some best practices for expanding your SEO efforts:

  • Create content that provides real value to the audience.
  • Focus on content quality and relevancy, rather than just quantity.
  • Capturing your company’s voice and sharing it with the world through social media will open up unique opportunities in all other channels of inbound marketing, including SEO.
  • Social Media needs to be a fully integrated part of your marketing mix. Think of it as a means to an end, not an end in itself.

Social Media Marketing/Optimization is a hugely important piece of the SEO pie. There are many places across the web that customers/prospects can go to find out if you are a company who knows what it’s talking about, treats its customers well, and provides good service at a good value. If your SEO strategy leaves out these other sources (i.e. social), then you’re missing out on a lot of potential customers. “Ultimately, the web is all about building relationships, fostering audiences, expressing identity and sharing ideas— it’s inherently social, and there’s no reason that SEO best practices would go against the grain, especially since the rules that govern SEO are ultimately meant to make the web a more enjoyable and useful place." (Kissmetrics)

Search and Social
Synergy Is the Key

The key to using social media to drive SEO, is to build it to be your very own PR channel to promote your great content. You should seek to create a powerful synergy between your content publishing, social media, and SEO programs. From an SEO perspective, your social media promotion can help provide the exposure to your content that results in other people linking to it from their websites or blogs. Because as we know, links are still a major driver of SEO.

To build this synergy, you must align your social media and content publishing efforts, and build your visibility on social media.

  • Align your target audiences and the topical themes of your content publishing and social media efforts.
  • Build relationships on social media platforms.
  • Participate in related communities in social media.
  • Regularly share or comment on other people’s posts.
  • Prepare to learn – practice makes you better and with time you will improve.
And of course, this synergy is facilitated by creating and publishing great, unique content.

 

Whatever industry you are in, figure out what the major un-met needs are (content-wise) and figure out which ones you can meet. This will make it easier to attract attention and grow your reputation and visibility. Bottom line? Social media campaigns can impact your SEO.

Some impressive stats that illuminate just how much people are using social media to search:
  • As of 2015, Twitter handled close to 2.1 billion search queries a day, or close to 60 billion queries each month.
  • In 2015, Facebook received an estimated 1.5 billion search queries per day, equating to around 45 billion monthly searches.
  • As of 2013, YouTube receives more than 3 billion search queries per month. Also, 100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, making it one of the largest content repositories on the web.