In May, 2010, Matt Cutts denied that social signals had an effect on search rankings. In December of the same year, he declared that they were actually starting to work in the buzz and signals they were able to get through social media into the site authority factor of their ranking algorithm. Six months later, Google+ was born.
The Penguin Update and subsequent tweaks to it have changed the way that search engine marketers approach aggressive optimization. The days of running rampant and blasting out bulk links are gone. Today, quality finally trumps quantity and the playing field has been leveled in a way that in essence puts a "governor" on how quickly they can ramp up the rankings on their domains.
Or has it?
As social signals grow in their effects on search rankings for both Google and Bing, the ability to create amazing content and promote it on social media is quickly becoming the most important technique that internet marketers have in their arsenal. In 2013, it will likely eclipse link-building as a ranking factor. Here are three things you must understand to make it work for you today and to be ready for what lies ahead.
"Quality" is a Function of Usefulness and Entertainment Value
Make no mistake. Google and Bing understand the difference between content that is heavily promoted using spammy techniques and content that is truly high-quality. They are employing criteria into their algorithms that mean Tweets, Facebook likes, and Google +1s are not created equally. They are engaging trust factors into the way they understand social signals and they can see right through manufactured results.
In short, they're not stupid. They know that retweets can be bought for pennies. They know that there are rings and networks of people and bots that are designed specifically to beef up likes and +1s. A share from a trusted account is much more influential than a share from one that has been deemed as spammy.
Much like the way they understand the quality of links, they are learning the quality of social signals.
For this reason, quality of content is (finally and thankfully) at the top of the list when it comes to using social signals for both search rankings and social media marketing. One must understand the criteria surrounding what makes something high-quality.
There are multiple types of content and styles of delivery that make the overall equation challenging, but just as one can get close enough in math by substituting pi with 3.14 in their calculations, marketers can get close enough to achieving high quality content if they focus on bringing one of two components to the table when putting their content on their websites.
Usefulnessis the easier of the two. Whatever your business or brand is doing, there's a good chance that you or someone in your company has an expertise in it. You know the tools. You understand the resources. You know what works and what doesn't work.
Apply it. Make content based upon your expertise. Who better than a Ford dealer would know the proper ways to make SYNC work best in a Ford Fusion? People are often baffled by the technology. Ford and Microsoft do what they can to put out resources, but it's the people on the ground at the dealership who deal with it on a daily basis that can offer the real help.
They're the ones who can be useful.
As such, a savvy Ford dealer may write up an article called, "12 Hidden SYNC Options that Aren't on the Menu". In it, they could detail some of the things that SYNC can do that few people know about. It's a sharable piece of content that people can appreciate and that can bring lasting value.
The other easy option for content is the entertainment valueyou can bring to the table. You see things in your business that the average Joe does not. You see things that are amazing, funny, clever, or downright spectacular that have relevance to your brand, products, or services.
If you start thinking along the lines of capturing this content when it happens, you'll find that it's pouring out at you at rates much higher than you could possibly imagine. Let's look at the Ford dealer again. On the surface, one might think that there's not a lot of entertainment happening at a Ford dealership. Dig a little deeper and you'll find that there's plenty. Here are some quick examples:
These are just quick brainstorms based upon real content I've seen, but with a little effort and a watchful eye, any business can find and post things with entertainment value.
Individual Content Affects the Domain as Well
This is the hardest transition in understanding for most marketers, whether they come from the search side or the social side. Your content and the social signals that go to it affects the entire domain. Technically, it always has just as link authority was affected by links to individual pieces of content, but going into 2013 there is a stronger focus on showing sharable content within the domain and allowing it to affect the search and social rankings across the board.
This actually makes things easier because the need to force manufactured content upon the visitors is much lower. You don't have to drive links and social signals to a page that was created to rank for "2013 Ford Fusion Los Angeles". Few will organically link to such a page and nobody will organically share such a page on social media. It has no value to anyone other than those looking specifically for the vehicle and none of them will share or link to it.
Going forward, you can create such a page and then support it on search and social by creating quality content pages. Nobody will link to or share that page, but if you create a piece of content called "The Short but Eventful History of the Ford Fusion" and then link to your target page from there, people will be willing to share and link to it. It's an indirect value being added, but in 2013 indirect value through links and social signals will be enough to improve your search and social marketing dramatically.
It isn't just about linked content. By creating a constant flow of quality content that gets shared well on social media, the entire domain itself gets a boost. In testing over the last few months, we've found that this boost can be significant and can improve search rankings across the board.
Moreover, social widgets and apps are being built regularly that help to attribute extremely sharable content within a domain. The "more content from domain.com on this social network" widgets are popping up and helping people explore websites based upon their social value rather than just visiting the site and surfing through the navigation bar.
Think of it as two forms of content - the "money" content that can lead to improved business results and the "sharable" content that can support the money content by improving rankings and social traffic.
Highlight Your Content To Ambassadors and Influencers
If a tree falls down in the forest and no one is there to hear it...
The other two concepts were easy. Understanding how to find and create content and understanding the importance it all has to search and social marketing are things that anyone can do. Making it happen from a sharing perspective is the hard part.
Once the sharable content is up and running, you have to get it shared. It's not "A Field of Dreams". Just because you built it doesn't mean that the people will come. You have to highlight it. You have to get people to share it. You need fans.
There are several ways to do it, but here are a few:
Be creative. Find ways to promote your brand and the content on your website on social channels now. As search, social, and content merge in 2013, you'll be glad that your strategies merged as well.