SEO & Social Media Part I: The Silk Road

(Originally posted on the Involver Blog: http://blog.involver.com/2011/09/08/seo-social-media-part-1/.)

A lot of people think of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) as something that you add on to a site, maybe with a paid service that re-writes your meta tags and headers for you.  In this approach you build your site, you add content to it, and then the last step is you hire someone to come in and help you optimize your site once it’s been built.  This is a model that’s appealing for a number of reasons – not least of which is it allows SEO companies to sell their optimization services at ridiculous prices.  It also happens to be fatally and fundamentally flawed.

SEO isn’t something you add onto a site after it’s built like frosting on a cake, in order to effectively drive traffic to your site and drive engagement once that traffic arrives it needs to be built into every aspect of the site.  Far from just looking at header tags, modern search engines rank every aspect of your site – from the keyword density of your written copy to the structure of your html and page load times.  But that’s just the beginning – off-site factors like who’s linking to your site, what keywords they use when they post those links, and the context in which those links are posted have tremendous impact on your SERP (Search Engine Page Rank).  One of the newest of these off-site criterion – and one with an increasingly heavy weight – is Social Ranking.  And that’s what I’d like to talk about today.

For years, SEO was arguably the single most important factor in determining how visible your site was on the internet, and how much traffic – and thus advertising revenue or direct sales – your site was capable of delivering. Businesses lived and died according to their SERP scores.  In that world Google was the undisputed king and webmasters everywhere paid their respects or suffered the consequences.   In the last few years, however, that world has been fundamentally and irrevocably altered by the rise of the Stream.

While older social networks like Myspace and Friendster allowed people to manually link to content, Facebook, Twitter,  (and now Google+) have made content sharing a core part of the user experience; and resharing of content is easy, fast, and ubiquitous.  The upshot of this is that users interested in reviews of the newest movie or new jeans that are popular in their social circle often don’t need to Google the information, there’s a very good chance that they can just pull it from the stream of things their friends are talking about. In fact its presence in their friends streams and the context in which it appears is a big part of what makes it cool or uncool.  And if a user does Google something it will quite likely end up in the stream for their other friends to see.  This is one of the core reasons why Google and Facebook – two companies that at first glance appear to be serving entirely different market segments and who one might not expect to view each other as competition – are locked in a life and death struggle.  See my previous blog: “The Battle Between Facebook & Google+ ~ What Will It Take to Win?

At root it’s a struggle over which service or services will direct the flow of traffic on the internet – who will be the gatekeeper.  In another era of human history cities situated along major trade routes gained incredible wealth by their control of those routes and today the same rules apply.  The only difference is that today’s Silk Road is the internet. For our purposes it doesn’t much matter which ends up winning that key gatekeeper role.  At this point, all we need to know is that Search and Social are simultaneously battling each other and merging and so we need to be represented on both sides of that fight.

To be continued next week…