This guest post is by Eric Enge of Stone Temple Consulting.
Welcome to an increasingly social landscape on the Web. Social media started this shift from information to conversation, and now with the search engines increasingly using social signals to determine what to show searchers it’s a trend that, as a publisher, you have to get on top of to write and promote great content.
This post will discuss the movement of Bing and Google towards social search, and how that affects the organic search landscape. Then I’ll provide some tips on how this impacts your writing and promotion of your content.
Search and social integration
The integration of search and social media is already here. Back in October 2010, Bing and Facebook announced plans for tighter integration. As I learned when I interviewed Bing’s Stefan Weitz, Bing is already using Facebook signals as a ranking factor:
“… if any of my friends anywhere have liked any (relevant) link across the entire world wide web, I am going to inject that link into my results page.”
Stefan refers to the notion of boosting a search result just because one of my friends Liked it. But that is just the beginning, as we also can see that Bing is making use of the wisdom of the crowd, as per this example search on the New York Post:
Even if none of the 54 people that Liked “15 Best Dresses” are my Facebook friends, Bing thinks the article’s popularity is still noteworthy enough to show it to me.
Google does not have as close a relationship with Facebook, but is making use of other social services such as Twitter, and recently launched Google+
The bottom line is that social signals are a ranking factor in the search engines’ algorithms, and you can’t ignore this.
The social media revolution has much broader implications
We don’t know exactly how the Web will continue to evolve, but we know that more major changes are coming our way. To get a perspective on why this is, consider the three major stages of the Web’s evolution so far:
the initial failure of the Dot-Com Bubble from 1998-2000: too much focus on a land-grab mentality without understanding how to make money in the process
the combined revolutions of ecommerce (Amazon, EBay, et al) and getting instant access to all the world’s information online (Google): this second stage is still unfolding and the third stage is already underway
the social media revolution: this is driven by instant and continuous access to your friends, and the ability to communicate and engage simply. Texting, Facebook, Twitter are the current driving forces, but more are to come. People love these short communications so much that email is becoming passé, and the idea of making a phone call seems unnatural to many teenagers.
What has come with this third wave is a new way of communicating and a whole new emphasis on relationships. People are beginning to associate online familiarity with your personality and who you are, and with trust. And trust sells, trust engages, trust makes people come back.
The implications of this on how you approach your writing are profound. And, chances are that the importance of this social approach to writing will only become more important.
Impact on your writing: three critical concepts you must adhere to
1. Build relationships with your audience
Social networks like a personal approach. They want to see your personality. They want you to share. They want you to evoke emotions. These elements are key to creating engagement not just with your content, but with you. Social networks make you more accessible to your potential readers and can play a significant role in growing your reach.
I remember when I first began publishing sites on the Web, the approach I used was dry and academic. This was the strategy I used to communicate authority and trust. I am beginning to think that this is no longer the right approach. Do you trust the advice of a university professor that you have never spoken to? Or does the combined opinions of your friends count for more?
The wisdom of the crowd is very much upon us and it is only going to get stronger. As a writer, you need to accept the notion that trust comes from familiarity with you, and your ability to be approachable will enable you to communicate your message.
2. Tell me why I care
The other big factor that emerges from the ability to get all the world’s information online is that there is too much information. We are more impatient than ever. If I am going to spend the time reading your article, whether or not I trust you, tell me why I should read this article in the first paragraph. Get to the point.
3. Strive for uniqueness, not “me too”
Lastly, don’t waste your time writing “me too” content. To see what I mean, consider this screen shot:
Making French toast is really, really easy. I have not made it in 20 years, but I can still tell you how in two minutes. We don’t need 2.54 million web pages on the topic!
For the search engines, showing multiple results with little distinction from one another is a waste of time. For your average web surfer, reading more than one such article is a complete waste of time. So even if I trust you, and even if you tell me what the article is about in the first paragraph, don’t waste my time with a useless review of something that tons of other people have already covered. Give me something new!
Mastering these concepts is essential for today’s bloggers. Those who get there the fastest will be tomorrow’s authorities.
Promoting your writing
This may be the most straightforward part of this post. You do need to integrate basic social elements into your posts. This includes elements such as the Facebook Like, Send, and Share buttons, a Tweet This button, and perhaps a Google +1 button. While the +1 button does not have the same usage level as the other elements yet, one can expect a meaningful integration into Google+ in the near future.
Going a little deeper, consider using Facebook Comments instead of the built-in comments capability of your blog platform. The content from the comments does not show up as search engine-visible text on your web page, but given that you are writing original posts, this is probably not critical.
But what it does do is function like a Facebook Share. It shows up in the News Feed of the commenter, and the News Feeds of all their friends. This is a great way to spread the visibility of your posts. It also provides some inherent spam protection, as no one will leave a spammy comment behind unless they have taken the trouble to setup a throwaway Facebook account.
Also, think of ways to entice your reader to engage more with your blog. Ask a leading question at the end of your post to invite comments. Install functionality that suggests other related posts they can read next.
The most subtle part of promotion is the way you use the social networks themselves as a direct extension of your blog. Daily activity on Twitter and Facebook may prove to be a great way to build the personality and trust that people are looking for. They both offer great platforms for viral spread of ideas you want to communicate.
Use these platforms to communicate the same types of messages as you do on your blog, but in smaller doses of course. Use them to establish your personality and build the trust.
Is your content social-web-friendly?
Fully embracing the social revolution is key to the blogger’s long term success. Based on the pace of the evolution of the Web over the past decade, it is reasonable to expect that the next major shift in web behavior is around the corner.
Three years from now, those of us who are centered on Facebook, Twitter, and texting, but have not yet adopted the next new thing that comes after them will be seen as being behind the times. There will be many more paradigm shifts in our lifetime, and it will be important to stay as current as you can. Use the media that your audiences use to communicate with your audience. It sounds simple, and yet it is critically important.
The first step though, is to adapt to the changes that have already taken place. I could call this a requirement for survival, but I always use a positive mindset—I consider it an opportunity to excel.
Eric Enge is the President of Stone Temple Consulting, a 20 person SEO and PPC consulting firm with offices in Boston and Northern California. Eric is a crusty old veteran with 30 years working experience in technology and the Internet. STC provides Internet Marketing Optimization services to companies ranging from startups to Fortune 100 companies.