Is it Worth Being Sociable?

Posted on July 14, 2011

Midway though writing this post, Google decided to turn off its real time search results feature and also stopped pulling tweets directly from Twitter. It just goes to show that in order to keep up with what the search engines are doing and how they can affect your search results you really have to pay them close attention. The result of this as still a little unclear but initial tests seem to point towards Google is picking up tweet data via traditional crawling of Twitter and sites like toppy.  Tweets still are aiding indexing of pages but the deeper integration of Twitter in search results has gone for the moment. The change in service is most likely due to Google’s new Google+ offering, it’s latest bash at social networking.You’d have had to been somewhere pretty remote not to have at least have some idea that social network sites are a pretty big deal. Of course some of it is hype but they’re proving to be a very powerful tool for reaching out to friends, partners, other companies and clients and getting your content noticed. This isn’t going to be a “Fully Harness you Social Media Capacity” type post because even the sound of that phrase makes me feel slightly queasy. Instead I want to show you some of the benefits social networks can bring to your website and customers.So to answer a common question. Will using Facebook or Twitter help with my search rankings? Well in a word yes. It’s no silver bullet but social networking sites can be a really useful tool in your marketing strategy. Firstly they can have a direct affect by helping you get pages indexed, spreading your links to other people to post or be picked up by aggregates. You’re not going to start outranking Coke for its trade name by going mad on Twitter. But for getting pages initially indexed, especially for lower competition keywords it can be a very easy route to success. Also if you’re running a campaign, the ease at which people can share and retweet your message can send really string signals to the search engines that your message is popular which is going to help you be more relevant in the results. The secondary and probably more powerful effect of social media is your ability to build up a community around your company, product or campaign. This community can help spread your message to people that might not have searched for you on google and so widening your audience. Of course this community building takes time an effort and it’s not just a case of sending out links to your current site. You have to engage with the audience on the site and build up a relationship with them. If there are relevant people already active on social networking sites you maybe able to use them to endorse your message and you can piggy back on their established reputation.

The idea of more personal searched results is also a trend we’re seeing more of. You can see evidence of this in some search results where the listings will be appended with any of your contacts that have a relationship with the result, for example if they have re-tweeted something on Twitter. You can use this to your advantage by building relationships with your customers through your social network channels. When their contacts search for similar terms you get the equivalent of an “as used by” stamp of someone they trust.

So moving away from the direct effect on your search positions social networks can also have a positive effect on how many visitors you get to your site and as a marketing channel even when your website isn’t ranking so well. Imagine you make a new widget to help new mothers. If no one knows that these new widgets exist it’s going to be pretty hard to get people to search for it and find them in search results. However if you can get your happy customers to share the link through Facebook, Twitter etc. There’s a pretty good possibility that they will have friends who are also mothers and also interested in your product and attracted to your site. Obviously press releases and traditional marketing are still going to play a part in your marketing strategy but having your customers spread your message is a very powerful tool I’m sure you’ll agree.

At this point I want to point out that although there a big gains to be made from social networks it’s not enough to just spam out links and expect a flurry of new customers. The rules haven’t really changed much from the traditional offline world. You still need to create interesting content that people want to engage in, you have to respect your customers and not bombard them. Just getting a load of auto responders isn’t going to get you very far in the long run. One important difference between traditional marketing and social media marketing is that social media marketing often carries with it the message of those that share and pass your on your message.  For instance if you were to take out an add in a magazine you could have a pretty good idea of how many people would see it no matter how good your product was. However in a social media situation if your product isn’t any good or the way it’s presented isn’t interesting it’s unlikely to get shared nor attract strong recommendations.

So assuming you’ve got a good product how do you start building your social profile. Well the two big social networks in the UK are Facebook and Twitter. Facebook is generally considered more of a personal network with connections usually staying between people who have a stronger “real” connection with each other. But they do allow profile pages for products and businesses and this is also where you can host Facebook Apps. Twitter is more like a pub conversation; there’s often people you know but also random strangers and often someone trying to sell you something from the back of their van (don’t be one of those people). If you or your company don’t already have a presence  on Facebook or Twitter my advice is to sign up for an account and just have a look around and observe what other people are doing see if any of your competition or businesses you respect are there and how they use it. This will give you pretty good idea of the unwritten rules of engagement. If you decide not to use social media after your in initial toe dipping it might still be an idea to claim a good account name for your company. The last thing you want is for someone to open an account in your name and start spoiling your reputation. Fill in the profile information and perhaps enough up to date information so people know how to contact you and your account doesn’t look completely abandoned.

For help and advice on how you can integrate social networks into your site, including marketing strategies and Facebook application drop us a line.

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