By Lauren Hobson
Most of us are well aware that the search engines frequently change their algorithms to improve search results for users (and foil spammers), which can make it challenging for small businesses just to keep up. But as Web technology continues to evolve, it also creates new opportunities for small businesses to improve their SEO strategies and boost their rankings as well. Social media (sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Technorati, Digg, etc.) provide an excellent opportunity for small businesses to not only promote their products and services online, but also to gain significant ground in the search engine results.
One of the most critical components to getting top search engine rankings is the number of inbound links and link popularity a Web site is able to build. Although there are several existing link building strategies available to small businesses (e.g., press releases, directory submissions, article syndication, etc.), social media can help create additional high-value, on-target inbound links that are essential to achieving top placements in the search engines.
For example, each time you use Twitter to publish a link to new content on your Web site, that link gets “planted” on the Twitter page of each person following you, and has the potential to spread even further as your followers share that information with their own network of contacts.
If you have properly integrated your social networking profiles together, that same Twitter “tweet” could then be fed via RSS to your Facebook business profile, your corporate blog, your LinkedIn account, and any number of other social sites that you have set up for your business. It’s not a far stretch to imagine the link you broadcast on Twitter could reach dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of other places on the Web, all pointing back to your Web site! By integrating your social networking profiles with each other, with your Web site, and with your existing marketing initiatives, you can easily make one single marketing action (such as a tweet) show up in multiple places online, each containing a new, relevant inbound link to your site.
In addition to the sheer number of inbound links that are created through social marketing, the value of the links that are created is another important criterion that search engines consider. To be valued by the search engines, inbound links must be from relevant, “quality” Web sites, and search engines today give social sites like Facebook and Twitter great value. These sites are highly visible to the search engines, and are constantly taking updates from users. Links tend to be shared according to subject matter, which means the search engines will see them as being relevant and on-target. All of these factors combine to create high-quality inbound links in the eyes of the search engines.
Creating visibility for your business and your “brand” is really key when using social media for building links. The power of social media is realized when other users see your links or content, then share that information with their own network of contacts. Simply adding a bunch of links to your social profiles is not enough; you need to have a strong reputation and a brand that users trust so they will feel comfortable sharing your content with others. Brand recognition typically leads to natural link building anyway, which means your inbound links will end up coming from bloggers, colleagues, customers, and other people who are exposed to your links and find them useful enough to share with their own contacts.
A recent example from Website Magazine explained somewhat surprising results when they searched for their publication’s name in Google. As expected, their Web site came up as the number one listing on the results page. But what was not expected was the number three listing on the results page was the magazine’s Twitter page. They then performed a number of Google searches for the terms “Chicago Tribune,” “Chicago Public Golf,” and “Daily Career Tips,” all with similar results in Google – the Twitter page for each of these terms came up near the top of the search engine results every time.
The conclusion was that given these results, Google must be giving serious weight to Twitter content, and I happen to agree. The search engines of course keep their ranking algorithms top-secret, so there’s no way to know how much weight (if any) is really given to Twitter or other social media sites. But results like those in the example above are hard to ignore!
Social media is here to stay, and small businesses are beginning to use it to effectively promote their businesses, reach their customers, find new leads, keep customer mindshare, and instantly communicate with customers. But maybe one of the biggest benefits of adding social media to your marketing mix is the creation of high-value, on-target inbound links that can help improve visibility in the search engines and boost your business to the top of the search engine rankings.
Lauren Hobson, President of Five Sparrows, LLC, has more than 16 years of experience in small business technology writing, marketing, and Web site design and development. Five Sparrows provides professional Web site and marketing services to small businesses and non-profit organizations, giving them access to high-quality services at affordable prices. To read articles or subscribe to Biz Talk, please visit www.FiveSparrows.com/biztalk.htm.