One of Australia's leading search engine optimisation and web marketing experts, Ash Nallawalla, explains how to get SEO benefits from social media.
Social Media is a loose term that describes web sites that involve extensive human participation for mutual benefit. This is more of a long-term traffic strategy than obtaining immediate SEO value. The indirect SEO benefit is that if a site is great, then people will blog about it from a page that is crawled. They might also write about it from other pages that are not crawlable.
User-Generated Content (UGC)
Getting your web site users to write content for you is wonderful, provided that they stick to the topic at hand, are civil and can write plain English. This implies a logical web structure, such as a forum or Wiki that is split into various topics and has moderators to keep discussions on track. In practice, UGC is not as easy as it sounds.
UGC - Forums
The most successful forums were established many years ago, so anyone starting a new forum has a difficult but not impossible task ahead. A few business models are suited to a forum that complements the main web site, provided that great care is taken to keep the users and legal department happy.
Until a forum has a large number of users who contribute, newcomers will not feel comfortable writing a post in case nobody replies. Therefore, many new forums employ ghost writers to seed hundreds of posts and follow-ups. Once genuine readers begin to participate, the ghost writers can be eased off. By limiting discussions to topics of direct relevance to the business, the user-generated content becomes tasty food for the search engine spiders. Judiciously placed links to the corporate web site in the forum pages will provide a tiny amount of link juice.
Users might not contribute to a forum if the rules are very strict. There has to be some give-and-take. For example, forums attract ‘subtle spammers’ (distinguished from the blatant ones) who casually drop their own links in the body of their posts. A suitable rule would be to allow a link in a signature file, but not in the body of the post. There isn’t any real difference between the two links as far as a search engine is concerned, but this rule will make it hard for the subtle spammer to include new links in subsequent posts. If all links are rendered as ‘nofollow’, then some users might not contribute.
Forum UGC remains primarily a traffic strategy in spite of the tiny link value it brings because it keeps users coming back to the forum and some of them will visit the corporate site.
UGC - Wikipedia
Wikipedia.com is a very authoritative site whose pages are usually at the top of the search results, but has little SEO value because all links are marked ‘nofollow’. There is, however, a theory that Google still regards such links as important signals of quality, so you should not hesitate to contribute your site’s information if you believe it to be valuable information.Aboutus.com enables user-generated contributions.
Really Simple Syndication (RSS) is a way to share content by building pages in XML and allowing others to subscribe. As you can imagine, this works well for news sites that are updated often. However, there is a great SEO benefit in using RSS/XML in the sense that there is an automated eco-system that you can use to advantage even if you don’t have a news site.
Subscribers use a news aggregator or reader to read RSS feeds. Of course, you need humans who are interested in this content, but of equal value are the search engines that can pick up a link through one of the web-based news subscription sites, such as Google Reader, MySpace, My Yahoo! and so on.
Licensing Your Content
Be very careful of the duplicate penalty when you share your content or publish someone else’s content. If you are sharing your content, do not give away all of it, or make sure that your publication is picked up by Google before your syndication partners publish it. Of course, if your business makes more money by selling content to anyone who wants it, than from having your pages come up first in the SERPs, then go ahead!
Blogs are typically enabled with syndication features, so you don’t even need to know the technical aspects of RSS or XML. The blogosphere is the amorphous network of people and their blogs who love to read other blogs and reference them in their own blogs. There are also automated notification services that enable this interaction.
So what is the SEO benefit from blogs?
There are a few tools that enable you to make ‘comments’ to posts on other people’s blogs by the thousands. They usually say inane things like:
|Hey, nice blog! See my site www.spammyrubbish.com. |
Sadly, many innocent people are sucked into buying tools that promise a ‘flood’ of traffic. This is unwise for several reasons:
- Getting links from an unknown site confers little, if any, ranking value.
- Nearly all blog comments have their links set to rel=“nofollow”, so the search engines take no note of the links for ranking, but you may get some human visitors.
- Some blog owners deliberately remove the “nofollow” restriction, making their blogs “dofollow”, which attracts link seeking commenters and spammers (the distinction is blurred).
Google-owned FeedBurner is a great service for publicising your RSS feed. You should get an account there and list all your RSS-enabled sites.One of the free services at FeedBurnerFlickrFlickr
is an image storage and sharing site operated by Yahoo! Flickr home page
How is Flickr and other similar services good for SEO? Often, you would place a small thumbnail or a text link on a website, probably a blog. You would link the thumbnails to the better-quality images on Flickr. The real image search optimisation takes place on Flickr:
- Use good photos – ones that will encourage viewers to link to, or send a link to their friends. Exceptional photos create a viral effect and you will get a lot of casual visitors and some of them may even give a good link to your website.
- Tag each photo with relevant keyphrases. If the tag consists of two or more words, enclose them in quote marks.
- Do not hide the images behind a password.
- Write keyphrase rich (but not too rich!) descriptions and titles. Link good anchor text in the descriptions to your website.
- Use the Note feature to write a clever comment that will encourage user participation.
- Place your images in sets based on their theme, which will make them easy to be found for that theme’s keyphrases.
- If a Flickr Group exists for a theme, join it and share those pictures, which will attract some more links from group members. Large groups are better because they have a larger audience for your images.
Being a Yahoo company, Flickr images are favoured by Yahoo Image Search.
Search Engine Land has a community site for SEOs called Sphinn
. It consists of links to SEO-related articles and blog posts made elsewhere and a voting model similar to Digg.
Social Bookmarking (SB)
Social Bookmarking sites enable you to set public bookmarks or favourites that can be viewed by anyone. You bookmark sites that you like and, if others like those sites, they will also bookmark them. This will generate human traffic, perhaps articles will be written about the sites and certainly links will be generated.
The key message is that there are no shortcuts with SBs. You cannot open a new account, post a URL and hope that you will get floods of traffic. You would be better off to join a dozen of these, participate every day for about 5 minutes per site (total = 1 hour) and bookmark good sites – not those of a client.
Once your reputation increases, you will find that others will trust your recommendations and check them out. It may take you a year or more on, say, Digg, to get the magic touch. On many sites, your positive vote can be offset by negative votes, so an uninteresting site could be pushed quickly into oblivion.
You will have more success attracting SB traffic to an article or potentially viral content such as a blog post, an unusual video or a joke, than listing some business website. This is why few businesses are suitable for submitting to an SB site.
List of Social Bookmarking Sites
This is a partial list of SB sites:
How do you use SB for SEO?
- Check if the bookmarks of users are indexed by Google by using the inurl: operator, e.g. inurl:ma.gnolia.com. Keep a list of these for future reference.
- Open a user account at several such SB sites. If you are going to use it for only one customer, then pick a keyphrase relevant to that business, else pick a human name that will be easy to recognise.
- Use the accounts in a helpful manner, not just to the customer, but to the user community. Bookmark many useful sites until other users link internally to your pages. Join the SB’s communities if any and be visible. Visit other users’ pages.
- Use the site’s tags (preferably the popular ones) to categorise your links, as this will enable the site’s visitors to explore the tags and find your bookmarks.
- Find the site’s popular users and become friendly with them in a genuine way. See which groups they belong to and join those groups. Contribute to those discussions and get yourself known and trusted.
- Continue using the account regularly after the SEO project has ended, as you may get new clients in the same industry.
Social content is user-generated, such as comments and forum posts. Creating content for sites such as digg.com can be seen as link bait. The idea is to get others to link to you, but can Google tell whether you are a genuine authority site or you have faked that reputation? Nobody knows for sure.Next
: Optimising Blogs and Content Management SystemsPrevious
: SEO implementation and linkingAll
: The full SEO
& Web Marketing series so far
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ash Nallawalla manages natural and paid search traffic for some of
Australia’s largest websites. He is an internationally acknowledged
expert in search marketing and he previously operated an SEO training
business. This article series is excerpted from his training notes. Ash
can be contacted at email@example.com
and he blogs at