Social Media & SEO

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As part of my job, I often conduct website evaluations for individuals who attend our Learn at Northwoods workshops. During these evaluations, I examine various aspects of the targeted website, including the site’s information architecture, on-page SEO, and general usability features.

At the end of the evaluation, during the Q&A session, I often get asked some version of the question “How does social media relate to SEO?”

The reality is, though, there is no clear-cut answer, or, at least, no clear answer right now. Like most things in the digital marketing space, the relationship between SEO and social media is ever-changing.

Last January, for example, Google announced that signals from popular social networks (like Facebook and Twitter) do not impact search results.

More recently however, information about a new deal between Google and Twitter leaked, which will now place tweets on SERPs (search engine result pages) in real-time. While the final details about this arrangement have not been announced, it’s very likely that Tweets will start impacting search results in a very real way.

Even without the new Twitter arrangement, though, there are some very simple, but real, ways that your social media efforts can positively impact your SEO.

  • Quality Inbound Links: The number of quality inbound links to your site is an important ranking factor in Google’s algorithm. Creating content that gets shared by others both socially and through links on other content (like blog posts) can positively boost your SEO as well as your overall brand recognition.
  • Local Ties: One of the most valuable aspects of social media promotion (especially if you use paid, promoted posts) is your ability to target your content to a specific geographical region, either by paying for targeted posts or by contributing to a location-specific conversation using region-specific hashtags or by interacting with local events or leaders. Local targeting is likely to become increasingly important during the next few years as smartphones, with built in GPS tracking, continue to rise in popularity.
  • It’s not all about Google: Yes, Google is the considered THE authority in search. However, after years of a near monopoly, competitors are starting to take back some ground from the giant. For example, according to recent data, Google accounted for less than 75% of U.S. search traffic for the the first time ever last month.  Bing, which is now the second most-popular search engine, DOES use social media signals as part of its ranking algorithm. As a result, building up a robust social presence can positively impact your search results for visitors who don’t use Google.

While the relationship between social media and SEO remains murky, the fact remains that they are two intertwined tactics that should remain important parts of your marketing playbook.

SEO

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As I mentioned in my last post, until I began my post-college life, and started investigating coding on my own, I had limited web design abilities and skills. While I was fortunate enough to receive some website design instruction in school, I didn’t receive any SEO (search engine optimization) instruction, and, quite frankly, I don’t even remember it being mentioned. (To be fair, it could have been, and I could have just forgotten all about it.)

However, because I am always looking to improve my website design skills, and improve my district’s site, I decided to take a free SEO workshop at Northwoods Software last week.

Just a few minutes into the workshop, I was quickly blown away. Until then, I was utterly unaware of how SEO works, the dedication that goes into developing and fine-tuning keywords, and how important it really is for your search results and marketing your district, business, or organization. (Needless to say, I highly recommend taking a Northwoods workshop if you’re in the greater Milwaukee area.)

Since the workshop, I’ve been gobbling up a variety of readings on SEO. Below are some of my favorite:

In addition to reading about SEO, I’ve also been looking at the code words for almost all of my favorite websites. Some of the sites, like Brooks Running, haven’t surprised me (keywords: running shoes, running gear, best running shoes, top running shoes, best running gear, brooks sneakers, Brooks tennis shoes, trail running, running apparel, track spikes, road running, cross country flats, running accessories Brooks Running) while others have, mostly because they don’t seem to be directly using SEO techniques at all– this was especially true when I looked at the websites of other public school districts. (You can view the code words of any site by looking at the source code of any site.) 

I think this is a big mistake, particularly for Wisconsin public schools. In Wisconsin, we have an Open Enrollment law, which allows students to enroll in any public school, even if they don’t live within the District’s boundaries. While this is an important (albeit slightly controversial) law designed to give families a choice about where they educate their students, especially those families that are unable to afford a private education if they’re unhappy with the District they live in, it also presents unique challenges; namely, in an era of declining enrollment, how can you promote your District so that families chose your school, even if they don’t necessarily live within the boundaries of your District?

This is where I think SEO can come in. It allows a district to promote itself for free, so that potential parents can easily find your site and hopefully enroll in your schools. I recommend that all school district communications/PR professionals learn what they can about SEO, add it to their arsenal of tools, and use it frequently.

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*Photo from looksmart.com