First, search engine optimization (SEO) can be understood as “the process of getting traffic from the “free,” “organic,” “editorial” or “natural search results on search engines.” This includes things on your webpage such as substantial, fresh and engaging content that includes specific keywords likely to be Googled often. The architecture of your webpage is another important SEO factor: how quickly does your site load? Is your site secure (think: HTTPS); can various search engines “crawl” your site easily? Lastly, does you site utilize HTML efficiently? For example, HTML title tags should contain keywords related to page topics. Is your meta-description tag descriptive of the page it’s associated with? Even the color and design of your page matters for SEO – if your color and design template hide the words you want pages to be found for, your ranking on Google and other search engines is sure to fall.
On the other hand, there is social media marketing (SMM). SMM is more or less a “catch-all” term for any marketing activity conducted over social media platforms rather than on your own hosted website. SMM can include Facebook advertising campaigns where you spend a certain amount of money to promote your content within Facebook to a set audience – your followers, their friends, and even third party affiliations. It can also be – as we’re seeing more and more lately – as paid-for branded stories on Instagram and Snapchat, as well as organic viral content from Reddit or newspaper editorials. How does this affect your company? Search Engine Land would respond, saying, “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 SEO efforts.” Additionally, searches are often performed on social sites to locate content. Social connections may [very well] affect the relevancy of some search results, either within an online networking channel or a search engine.
Search Engine Land had quite a bit to say. We’ll focus on the most important distinction, however, when it comes to parsing SMM and SEO: Social media can help build links that strengthen SEO efforts.
SEO vs. SMM
Previously, these two spaces were somewhat segregated. While they of course impacted each other, that impact could be increased or decreased due to how much effort was put into either option: SEO or SMM. Now, there is only one option: for a successful online identity, which translates to a successful business practice, SEO and SMM must be concurrently utilized.
For example, while Google used to weigh the results of crawling webpages more than that of social media sites, that has all changed. According to Matt Cutts, former chief of Google’s Webspam Team, noted in a 2014 video that “Google treats social networks just like any other website and… [neither] receives special treatment.”
Further substantiating the idea that a strong social media marketing presence in tandem with effective search engine optimization comes in the form of Searchmetrics’ Rebooting Ranking Factors White Paper. While it discusses a swath of new findings, paramount for our purposes is one key takeaway: “There is a correlation between social signals and ranking position.” In other words, highly ranked websites have a much greater social media presence than their competitors – and vice versa.
Is Content Still King?
Digital Marketing Consultant Alexandra Tachalova pondered a similar question. So, she performed a brief experiment. Alexandra researched popular SMM and SEO blogs with the hypothesis that SMM blogs would fare better with redirects to their website from social media shares, while SEO blogs would obtain most of their traffic organically and have a boosted search engine ranking because of that– it is a Search Engine Optimization website, after all.
As it turns out, her hypothesis was not completely correct. Social media marketing blogs did get more engagement on social media rather than organic links and search queries. However, this seemed to result in a higher page ranking. The reasoning? The SMM blogs’ social media content was linked to from other websites, which in turn boosted their organic optimization thus boosting their ranking more so than if only social media or organic referrals were used alone.
Popularity Begets Popularity
We’ve found that popularity and page rankings go hand in hand for our clients, and SiteProNews backs up this evidence with findings of their own. A popular website – one that garners a significant amount of traffic from more than just search engines – will rise in the rankings. This makes things difficult for those who have yet to break into that circle of “popularity” where, once you’re popular, the cycle continues and your online (and hopefully offline) impact continues to grow. While this certainly makes things harder when you’re just starting out, there are many ways to break into the upper echelon of online popularity. If you manage to get a lot of page views from non-search engine sources, Google will assume that your site has evocative content important to its audience. Therefore, your site will start climbing the rankings, with each step forward allowing you to be seen by exponentially more people. To get there, though, your content is one of the most important driving factors for initial and sustained success.
The Missing Link: SEO and SMM
Although Google is notoriously secretive about its algorithmic updates and how they affect page rankings, knowing exactly how Google does what it does is only one important factor amidst many. As Alexandra Tachalova has said, “SEO and SMM are like pizza and cheese: you can get one without the other, but, believe me, it isn’t worth it.” For this reason, she always recommends optimizing both channels vigorously and simultaneously.