Earned Media Optimization: The Integration of SEO and Social Media
Earned Media Optimization:
The Integration of SEO and Social Media
Search engines seek to provide their users with the most relevant, valuable information available on
the Internet. Now that effectively every company tries their hand at SEO, Google and Bing have had to
manage against the efforts of thousands of marketing departments, all contending for a highly sought
after top position on their search results pages (SERP). What’s more, as competition in the search
marketplace increases with the presence of Twitter and Facebook vying for a piece of the paid search
market, the onus lies on search engines to not only defend the quality of their search results, but also
to maintain and extend their commercial relevance.
In response to these pressures, major search engines have made significant efforts over the past two
years to incorporate social content and activity into their SERP ranking factors. Beginning with Google’s
Social Search in 2009, both Google and Bing have launched a series of social updates, aimed at
aggregating relevant search results and social activities in their SERPs and building social signals into
their organic ranking algorithm. In fact, many of the most influential search developments over the past
few years have reflected this push towards social search. In 2010, Bing partnered with Facebook to
leverage Facebook’s Open Graph Protocol to incorporate Facebook activity into its SERP. Google also
introduced Real Time search results, which integrates the most recent content on the web from new
sites, blogs and social media outlets, e.g., MySpace, FriendFeed and Twitter, into their SERP. Google
has also introduced Google +1, aimed at making search more personalized, by enabling users to socially
associate their searches and weigh in on their value and relevance.
While the importance of search marketers engaging in social activity has been well documented,
there’s a lack of understanding about how to manage these activities most effectively. In this paper,
we will address the benefits and tactics for managing social and algorithmic search holistically, as part
of a combined, Earned Media Optimization strategy. Specifically, we will introduce strategies and best
practices for developing a robust social network, generating socially enabled keyword-optimized content
and leveraging these assets to improve organic search engine ranking and overall online brand visibility.
How Social Media Affects Search
Thanks to social networks, blogs, forums and more, the Internet user experience has become
progressively more personalized and dynamic. On today’s SERP, users interact with real-time search
results from Twitter and Facebook, annotated notes from their online community on Quora and Flickr,
and can contribute their own opinions via Facebook “Like” and Google’s +1. These services reflect the
degree to which social media is fundamentally changing the mechanics of search. While social media’s
influence is visible, the question remains, how is it impacting organic search? In order to address this
question, we must examine both how search engines value social signals in calculating ranking and
the ways in which social activities impact search behavior.
Social Signals in Search Algorithms
Google’s algorithm uses over 200 different signals, including inbound links, content, authority, site
crawlability and others, to calculate page rank for organic search results. While the specifics of Google’s
algorithm remain a mystery, we know that documented search factors, like PageRank, Anchor text,
and HTML content, are used to determine a site’s relevance and trustworthiness.
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In addition to these factors, Google and Bing have confirmed that social linking has been incorporated
as a search variable in their ranking algorithms. Back in December 2010 Danny Sullivan of Search
Engine Land officially confirmed Google and Bing’s use of social signals from Facebook and Twitter
in their search algorithms.1 While many in the industry had already suspected such, Sullivan’s article
placed a new, more founded emphasis on the relationship between search and social.
Google’s Matt Cutts further confirmed this point two weeks later in his WebMaster video, “Does
Google use data from social sites in ranking?,” in stating, “Yes, I can confirm it. We do use Twitter
and Facebook links and ranking, as we always have in our web search rankings.”2 According to
Cutts, Facebook Shares and Twitter tweets are valued similarly to web page authority or PageRank.
Search engines judge social activity, e.g., content and linking, against individual user authority. Taking
Twitter as an example, a user’s social authority is calculated according to how many followers that
user has, how many users they follow, how many of their links get shared, etc.
While these factors admittedly have a stronger influence on Google and Bing’s social and real-time
results than on organic listings, a clear shift is in progress. Market trends reflect the growing emphasis
both search engines are putting on mastering how to collect, value and incorporate social activity into
their ranking factors. With the international roll-out of Google Social Search, the Google +1 button and
its recent acquisition of the social data collection and analysis company, PostRank, Google has made it
clear that it takes social seriously. They are making consistent, strategic efforts to better their standing
within the social landscape, by improving the quality and quantity of their social data. Bing, as well,
is incorporating Facebook’s data into their “Friend Effect” and collective IQ services to make their
results more socially relevant.
While the specifics of both Google and Bing’s page ranking calculations and exact extent to which social
signals influence ranking factors remain a mystery, there’s a documented correlation between search
and social. In spring 2011 SEOmoz conducted research aimed at calculating the correlation between link
metrics and social signals. To do so, they compared the characteristics of higher and lower ranking results
across the top 30 ranking results for 10,217 searches on Google. Their goal was to find out how well the
metrics like the quantity of shares on Facebook, Tweets on Twitter or Google Buzz shares correlate with
higher rankings in the top 30 results in Google’s web search results.3 Here are their results:
Correlation of Social Media-Based Factors
(data via Topsy API & Google Buzz API)
# of Facebook Shares
Sum of FB Shares, Likes & Comments
# of Linking C-Blocks to Page
# of Facebook Comments
# of Facebook Likes
# of Tweets to URL
# of Google Buzz Shares
Topsy’s “Influential” Score for URLs
0.000 0.050 0.100 0.150 0.200 0.250 0.300
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Although SEOmoz’s data cannot prove the causation between the number of Facebook shares and
the number of inbound links, i.e. that the number of Facebook shares was influencing ranking, it does
point to a strong correlation between what users are sharing online and what Google values as a quality
search result. It demonstrates that good content not only generates links, but also gets shared socially.
Google and Bing’s specific approach to valuing social activity online and incorporating social signals
into their ranking algorithm is still unknown. While they have confirmed their use of social signals
in ranking, and therefore the relationship between the two, we are, as an industry, still discovering
the causality. What is apparent is that Google and Bing are working to equip the mechanics of search
to the progressively social nature of search.
Impact on Search Behavior
Thus far, we’ve focused on how social activity is influencing organic search rankings. But social
media is also having a dramatic impact on search keyword demand and consumer behavior. In 2009,
GroupM conducted a research project designed to explore the effect of social media on search behavior.
Specifically, their research explored the degree to which consumer exposure to social media influenced
search queries, driving them further down the purchase funnel, where consumers were more likely to
convert. According to their research, engagement with social media drives lower-funnel term searchers.
Moreover, their research concluded that in organic search, “Consumers searching on brand product
terms that have been exposed to a brand’s social marketing campaign are 2.4 times more likely to click
on organic links leading to the advertiser’s site than the average user seeing a brand’s paid search ad
alone.” There is a direct correlation between exposure to social media and how we search. Social media
increases awareness, while providing users with content and information from within their community
that they find trustworthy and relevant. As a result, consumers involved in social media tend to be more
engaged, more likely to share content with their friends and ultimately more likely to convert.
Search and Social Integration: Earned Media Optimization
For marketers, the integration of social signals into organic ranking factors has two significant
consequences. Firstly, conventional SEO best practices must be adjusted to the increasing importance
of social signals as a ranking signal. Secondly, social media needs to be seen as part of a broader earned
media strategy, rather than as a stand-alone promotional or branding channel.
Traditionally, success in SEO has been based on having keyword-optimized content, an organized
promotional outreach strategy, and well-designed site architecture. The integration of social signals
into search algorithms challenges these assumptions. While SEO best practices are still fundamental
to success in organic search, a brand’s presence beyond their own website is another critical factor in
driving organic traffic. Although previously understood as a means of engaging with customers, social
media should also be optimized and leveraged to improve rankings and drive ROI from organic search.
In this next section, we’ll discuss best practices for integrating your SEO and social media efforts.
Best Practices for Social Search Optimization
The never-ending flow of information and best practices on social media and search engine optimization
(SEO) integration has made it difficult for marketers to determine what information is relevant and
what direction they should take with their integrated marketing strategies. Nonetheless, there are some
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fundamental best practices for establishing a social community online, creating findable content,
engaging with customers and tracking social media success for campaigns of all sizes.
1: Proactive Social Monitoring
A proactive social monitoring strategy is a necessary starting point for every social search optimization
campaign. Success integrating social and search lies in your ability to locate where your customers
congregate online, monitor conversations and developments in your industry, and collect and manage
social web data. Employing SEO keyword knowledge can help you pinpoint where your community
is online. Bookmarking sites can also provide insight of how your customers view your brand and a valuable
understanding of the language they use, which can improve keyword research and content creation. Insight
into what’s happening in your industry now will enable you to start conversations in real-time. Rather than
simply reacting to trends as they emerge, social web data will enable you to become the authority on
what’s important to your community.
Figure out where your customers congregate online. Is your brand, industry or competitors
frequently being discussed on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter? Does your target audience share
content on Scribd, Flickr, or YouTube? Establishing where your customers are online and how they
share information will help you select which social destinations are most applicable to your goals.
Honing in on these channels will also make it easier for you to dive deeper into conversations,
foster connections and extend your influence.
• If your customers aren’t discussing your brand or product category online, it’s an opportunity
for you to start the conversation and provide a location for them to socialize.
There is a lot of talk about role of “author authority” and “influencers” in social marketing. Influencers
are individuals who have strong online followings. Their tweets, Facebook shares and blog posts have
higher readership and they are seen as authorities in their industries. It’s important to establish who
the influencers are in your community and build out connections with them. This will help improve
the range of your influence online.
In order to fully understand what people are talking about online, look beyond social media sites and
explore how people are talking across the web and how social sites are ranking on the search engines.
Content is vital to online marketing success. Particularly now, as Google’s recent Panda Update places
an increased emphasis on the importance of creating original, relevant content. Publishing authoritative
content across social channels will benefit your SEO efforts, by increasing the range of possible content
for which your brand can rank. More positions in the SERP mean more potential traffic, more visibility
and ultimately more engagement. Although many marketers are already publishing content on the social
web, that effort will only be enhanced if the content can also be found via search.
Keywords are Key
Keywords play an essential role in your customer’s ability to find your site and social activity online.
Leverage the data you already have about how your customers are searching for your brand, products
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and industry online to optimize your social content. Incorporate high-priority keywords into tweets,
Facebook updates, YouTube video descriptions etc. A few things to consider:
• Social search isn’t as competitive as organic search, at least not yet. This means that you
don’t have to shy away from popular keywords as you would in SEO or PPC campaigns.
High relevance keywords or long-tail keywords, however, tend to rank better for conversations
and allow you to target specific niches within a broader conversation.
• Keep in mind that the keyword discovery you do within your social media campaign can be
valuable for keeping your SEO keyword lists up to date on the latest industry developments,
helping to ensure your content stays fresh.
Create Quality Content
Quality SEO and social media content should not only efficiently deliver information to those
searching for it, but also promote your brand’s search visibility. To do so, it has to be both useful
and keyword rich.
• Useful: Your content should speak to your audience’s problems or questions and provide
solutions. Offer tips and information about your industry. Insightful content will denote you as
an expert in your industry. Once people take notice, they will trust, value and share your content.
• Keyword Rich: Keywords enable your customers to find your content. Leverage your SEO
keyword data to optimize your social content to improve search visibility.
• Entertaining: Social media is your opportunity to make an impression on your customer base.
Show them that you have a personality. Be witty, entertaining and most importantly engaging.
Optimize your Google, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc., profiles with keywords, so that when
customers search for those terms, your profile will rank.
Having located your customer base and industry influencers online and developed a content optimization
strategy, it’s time to connect and engage with your social community. A robust network of friends and
followers will make the promotion of your online connect more efficient.
Piggyback your content across social media destinations. Link to content from blog posts on Facebook
and Twitter, repurpose content from your company’s newsletter for Facebook and keep things fresh.
This will improve your rankings on brand searches, generating more positions in SERP, more visibility
and awareness and more opportunities.
It’s easy for marketers to fall behind on maintaining connections with their online communities.
It’s important to keep participating, though. Allocate a few minutes every day to re-tweeting,
following, friending, etc. Having an existing community that is well engaged will make a significant
difference in your ability to publish content that gets shared over and over.
4: Data Collection and Analysis
Online marketing is dependent on the collection and analysis of data, and social media optimization is
no exception to that rule. While we still cannot prove 100% causation between search and social, we can
analyze keyword traffic and track links to figure out the correlation between SEO traffic and social media
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optimization. To do so, examine your SEO traffic before you implemented optimized social media.
By comparing the before and after data, you can estimate the extent to which your social efforts are
impacting your organic traffic.
Keyword traffic: What searches brought customers to your site?
Link tracking: What is the life path of your link?
As with traditional SEO, social media optimization requires ongoing testing and analysis. Leverage your
analytics and continue monitoring to inform keyword research and content creation in the future. Doing so
will enable you to stay ahead of your competition and meet your customers’ and community’s needs.
As search engines place increasing value on social signals in their ranking algorithms, it’s more important
than ever for marketers to integrate their SEO and social media efforts into an earned media optimization
strategy. Leveraging SEO best practices to create quality, keyword-optimized social media content that will
be shared across your social network offers an additional means of increasing organic ranking, and in turn
online visibility, traffic and opportunities.
How does SEO/social media integration benefit SEO?
Helps create a community of relevant users, who are more engaged and, as a result, more likely
Having a community improves efficiency. It means not having to create new connections every time
you want to promote new content.
Increases the amount of content for which your brand can rank on an individual keyword.
Increases the number and quality of inbound links.
How does SEO/social media integration benefit social media?
The indexing of more social media content means more potential customers and community
members can use traditional search to access your various social media assets.
Optimizing social media content by leveraging SEO keyword glossaries and keyword performance
data could improve your social media organic rankings.
New features like personalized and predictive search emphasize the importance of building and
maintaining social connections.
What’s the key to success in SEO and social media integration?
Matching content and community. Great, engaging content not only attracts search engine traffic, but also
drives links and is more likely to be shared by your social community. Create content that’s relevant to
your audience, promote it through the social channels they actually use, make it easy for them to share,
and thank them when they do.
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1. Sullivan, Danny. “What Social Signals Do Google & Bing Really Count?” Search Engine Land: Must Read News About
Search Marketing & Search Engines. 1 Dec. 2010. Web. 24 June 2011. <http://searchengineland.com/what-social-signals-
2. Cutts, Matt. “YouTube – Does Google Use Data from Social Sites in Ranking?” YouTube – Broadcast Yourself. 17 Dec.
2010. Web. 24 June 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofhwPC-5Ub4>
3. Fishkin, Rand. “Facebook Twitter’s Influence on Google’s Search Rankings | SEOmoz.” SEOmoz. 11 Apr. 2011. Web. 20
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