Search & Social: Solving the SERP Puzzle
Facebook clearly is an important platform on which advertisers are compelled to provide some level of presence, including a Facebook page, proactive display ads, sponsored stories and text ads targeted at consumer profiles relevant to their brands. The success of social media in attracting consumers is undeniable, and its importance as an advertising platform is growing. Our question is: How does social media impact search?
1. Social Platforms Improve
Brand Search Results
Understanding how the content on a marketer's Facebook or Twitter page impacts rankings on Google and other search engines continues to be a challenge. When a phrase is used in a post or tweet, we don't necessarily see a ranking improvement for that phrase like what has been seen with user-generated product review content. However, marketers can use their social profiles to improve the way their company is presented by Google when a consumer searches for the company or brand by name.
In a recent analysis of the earned search results for five popular fast food restaurant chains—McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King, Taco Bell and Subway—we found that their social profile pages ranked high on the first page of Google results.
To leverage this, marketers need to manage each social profile as part of their overall search strategies. Google's blended search results allow a marketer to dominate the first page of results for its brand name. When someone searches for McDonald's, they see not only a link and the description of its Web page and site links, they also see the Facebook and Twitter profiles, as well as links to Google Places, Google+ and Wikipedia pages in the search results. It's a major brand presentation that you can control.
McDonald's provides a great example of a marketer taking full advantage of these blended, cross-channel search results. The entire breadth of the McDonald's brand is displayed, making it seamless for searchers to pick their preferred forum for interacting with the brand. Consumers can choose to follow McDonald's tweets, find a restaurant, download a Facebook app, read product information, join a circle of McDonald's Google+ friends, or watch its commercials. Again, making the search engine results page (SERP) the ultimate brand landing page—if done properly.
2. Social Profiles Won't
Add Value Without Effort
McDonald's is just one marketer strategically controlling the presentation of its brand name by Google. Wendy's, Taco Bell and Burger King are managing the space similarly. Subway was the only one of the five restaurants studied that did not fit the model. Subway's Twitter page appears on the third page of Google results, which makes sense given it does not have a strong presence on Twitter—fewer than 5,000 followers compared with McDonald's 233,000.
We noticed two other issues related to Subway. First, there is an embarrassing inclusion in its site links: A link titled "Oh no!?" goes to a dead page. Site links are prime real estate, and Subway has an opportunity to demote that site link's presentation within webmaster tools.
We also looked at each of the restaurants' Google+ pages now that they are available for businesses. McDonald's was the only one of the five with a Google+ ranking on the first page of the search results. Again, it makes sense because McDonald's circle of friends was three times larger than any of its competitors.
The point here is you cannot assume your social profiles will automatically rank highly. The management of each profile needs to be driven by a branding, engagement and linking strategy.
3. Actionable Insights
We conducted similar analyses for other business verticals and the results were the same as what we found for the restaurants discussed. We recommend that marketers use social platforms to monitor and improve their branded search results.
Regularly conduct a Google search for your company name, take a moment to analyze the results and then ask these questions:
• Do you have a profile setup for each of the major social sites? That sounds very basic, but you shouldn't focus all of your energies on managing one social profile while neglecting the others. Build a customer-centric search strategy that includes all of the major social platforms: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. It should be seamless for customers to conduct a search for your brand on any device they choose and interact with your brand on any marketing platform.
• Once you have built social profiles, are they showing up in the results? If not, review your engagement, optimization and linking strategies for that property. Each profile can stand alone as a marketing vehicle. But when presented in one spot, as in the search results, they tell a powerful brand and marketing story.
• Do you own the entire first page of earned results? You should. What is appearing in the results if your company isn't? For companies with more generic names, like Subway, you may never be able to own all the Page One real estate. But at least with frequent monitoring, you'll understand the landscape.
• What do your site links look like? Is the anchor text optimized or defaulting to gibberish? Do the six links reflect the diversity of your offerings? If not, you have some ability to control the redundancy within webmaster tools by requesting that some links be suppressed from appearing. And, most importantly, do all of the links work? If not, you could be providing a poor customer experience.