Can You Replace SEO With Social Content?
In the early days of search marketing, marketers learned how to "game the system" with Google search results, bumping their irrelevant, keyword-laden content to the top of the results page. Google users became frustrated with this low-value content being delivered by the search engine, so in an effort to provide more relevant and useful results, Google implemented two major changes to its ranking algorithm: Panda and Penguin.
The first, Google Panda, penalizes and deprioritizes "thin content," pages that contain content "below the fold" (i.e., that would only be seen by scrolling down) and pages that have more advertising on them than relevant content. The second, Google Penguin, penalizes content that contains links for the sake of links and keyword stuffing, providing no real value to the subject matter within which they're contained.
The bottom line is that content that benefits those who search will increasingly find a place at the top of search engine results. So where does this put search engine optimization efforts? Without the ability to manipulate content as freely, will SEO firms find their expertise to no longer be useful in a world where search engines are based more on science than art?
Social content puts SEO on life support
Forrester Research predicts SEO spending will reach $5.1 billion by 2014, so while the industry isn't going away, social media is increasingly serving as a driver to finding relevant content on the web. Here's why: relevant content drives shares across social channels (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Reddit, StumbleUpon, etc.), which result in backlinks — i.e., natural links that are the result of sharing, not the result of a purchase. When publishers share this valued content on their social networks, they amplify their reach and show up more frequently in search results.
The way a brand's social presence is "ranked" is its number of likes/followers, how authoritative its followers are and how fast its following is growing. All three of these ranking factors will be furthered when relevant, timely and compelling content is shared through social channels.
Therefore, external SEO efforts should be supplemented with a focus on content that propagates via social media. This will be a crucial step for businesses that use social media as a means to drive awareness, interest, action and viral sharing.
But what drives people to share content? I can answer that question by comparing each type of shareable content to each of the seven deadly sins.
7 sins and social sharing
The seven deadly sins, which many of us haven't thought of much since we learned them as teenagers, are greed, wrath, gluttony, lust, envy, pride and sloth.
Just as each of the sins are known to tempt us toward certain vices, sharing content that taps into each of these vices can compel readers to share that content on social networks. Below are examples of several types of content, specific to the auto industry, that appeal to the desires of consumers of social media. For marketers, they provide a road map for how to appeal to your best customers and prospects:
- Greed: coupons, lease offers and fuel-efficiency tips
- Wrath: user testimonials, car care tips
- Gluttony: sweepstakes, contests
- Lust: concept cars, premium upgrades
- Envy: new models, customer success stories
- Pride: reader submissions, trivia questions
- Sloth: online tools, time-saving tips, photos.
Pairing the seven deadly sins with the seven days of the week — greed on Monday, wrath on Tuesday, etc. — gives you a good starting point for planning a frequent publishing schedule with a content mix sure to reach different segments of your audience.
Whatever industry you're in, take a hard look at the types of content that are frequently shared via social networks, apply them to your specific industry, and create and share content that will benefit those who are searching for content on a given topic. Not only will this help you build a credible social presence, but it will also organically benefit your SEO efforts.
Relevant, real content that people want to read, share and tell other people about will continue to perform better, and rank higher, than content that's optimized to outperform the web. Social media plays a pivotal role in any content or search strategy, and SEO and social content will remain intimately linked.