A few days ago, Peter Shankman wrote a post lambasting all “social media experts” as irrelevant and worthy of dying in a fire. So Peter….you don’t like ‘em, eh?
But if you read through his post, it seems clear that he actually thinks that social media activity is important, he just doesn’t like the way it’s often done: he doesn’t like when marketers aren’t transparent, are irrelevant, can’t write, and don’t know their customer. Oh, and he also thinks marketers shouldn’t forget about the end goal of making money while engaged in all the social media coolness. Well, anyone who conducts marketing activities like that is not only a poor social media marketer; they are a terrible marketing professional and should find another profession. ASAP.
So let’s assume that most people involved in social media marketing on a professional level have half a brain and understand the basics of marketing: if the goal of marketing is to make money, is social media the way to go? Studies repeatedly show that the online marketing activities with the best ROI are search engine optimization (SEO) and email marketing. Social media comes in way after them. So how is the social media frenzy justified?
Social Media is the new Website
It is hard to prove that websites make money for companies. I don’t mean ecommerce sites, but sites that say who the company is, what they do, etc. Yes, these types of websites can be optimized for conversions, but in many cases they’re not. And even if they are, do the few clients who were directly and measurably converted by the website (i.e. they contacted the company via a form on the site and eventually became a customer) justify the costs of maintaining a good corporate site? The answer is yes: websites are important, and it’s accepted that every company and organization needs one. The reason for that is that it serves an important supportive role in sales – it’s an important stage that potential customers go through to assess whether a company is right for them. Social media marketing is approaching that same level – an important supportive element in marketing and sales, that potential customers, and existing customers, seek out.
Social Media Makes SEO and Email Marketing Better
Social media activity is increasingly being shown to be an important signal in a site’s ranking; it can also be a relatively large source of traffic to a site (which is generally the goal of SEO – to increase traffic to a site). Social media “outposts” can also help you increase your email marketing mailing list by encouraging people to sign up, and sharing past newsletters.
Social Media is the New “New”
Social media marketing is so new, and changing all the time (thanks facebook), that it’s impossible to know where it’s headed and what the potential really is. The only way to find out is to test, and then test some more. Like in every other area of online marketing, discovering new opportunities demands a few brave souls who are willing to risk their marketing budget and take the plunge. They’re definitely not idiots: they’re trailblazers. They should be applauded, not ridiculed. This is a necessary part of innovation.
Social media is not just a cool new toy – it’s a new and important part of the web. And people who understand it – as part of the online marketing mix – will be hired.
I was recently looking at a post on LinkedIn, and I noticed something I had never noticed before: underneath the poster’s profile picture is a link that allows me to “follow” them.
Follow? What is this, twitter?
I remember when LinkedIn announced that companies can now be followed. That kind of makes sense, since companies are entities. But I had never noticed the follow-people functionality, and I don’t love it.
LinkedIn is about quality
I like that every social network has its own unique flavor. Aside from the varying features of each network, I build different types of relationships in different ways on each social network. On twitter, I’m pretty open to following anyone I think has related interests, and of course anyone can follow me if they choose. On facebook, I’ve become more open about who I approve as a friend and I don’t actually have to have met them previously. But I still won’t confirm friendship with people who don’t seem to have anything in common with me (common being a very loose term – could apply to geographical location, interests, etc.) or who seem shady.
LinkedIn is the last remaining place on the web where I value quality over quantity. My connections there only consist of people I’ve met, whether on- or off-line, or with whom I’m building a business relationship. [Side rant: I don’t understand people who don’t know me and send me the default LinkedIn introduction message of “I’d like to add you to my professional network.” Take a minute and introduce yourself, tell me why you want to connect, or where we’ve met!]
I think that this type of quality vs. quantity approach to LinkedIn is what gives anyone’s network there value. For example, a big part of LinkedIn is introducing people. If I don’t really know the people in my network, I can’t introduce them to others, and that reduces the value of my network. If I don’t really have a relationship with my connections, then they’re just numbers.
And that’s why I think adding follow functionality is inappropriate for LinkedIn. One-directional relationships there are not part of what LinkedIn networking is about. The value of connections there is when they’re mutual and people can use those connections to build and develop serious business relationships.
And besides: why does every network have to be a twitter wannabe? Yes, there are cool things about twitter, but come on. A little less copy-catting, and a little more innovating please.
How to see who you’re following, and who’s following you, on LinkedIn
Now that we know that this functionality exists in LinkedIn, You can manage all your followers and followings on LinkedIn as follows:
- Click on Groups on the top navigation bar in LinkedIn.
- From the tabs that appear on the top of the page, select Following.
- You’ll see in the top-left corner of the page a list of links, including “People I’m Following” and “My Followers.”
- Click on either of those links to see who you’re following, and who’s following you. You’ll notice that under each person, you have the option to follow/unfollow, and to get email alerts:
If you choose to get email alerts about a person, you’ll get an email every time they do anything on LinkedIn. This is a good feature if you really want to keep a close eye on someone, but not if you just want to be connected.
LinkedIn automatically sets you to follow all your connections, and for your connections to follow you – that’s why you’ll see that you’re already following quite a lot of people.
So now you know how to manage following on LinkedIn. What do you think – is this a useful feature, or just another example of twitter wannabe syndrome?
A few days ago Google announced that it will be extending personalized search to all Google users, whether you are logged in to your Google account or not. Personalized search is not new, but until now it was only applied to users who were logged in. Now everyone will get personalized search results in their Google searches.
Personalized results are based on your previous activity, mainly what results you clicked on in the search results. Google gives the example of someone who searches for the term “recipes,” and clicks on the fourth result rather than the first, which is for epicurious.com. Next time this user searches for recipes, epicurious.com may appear higher in the results for them, but not necessarily for anyone else.
What this means is that we may all start seeing completely different search results. Watch the following video from Google for a short overview:
Personalized results are the default setting for all users, but users can choose to disable personalized results. However, considering that most people don’t even know what a browser is, I’m doubtful that people will be aware that their search results are personalized, let alone that they can opt out of these types of results or how to do so.
But why would people opt out of personalized results? They probably won’t want to. We have yet to see the quality of these results, but I’m assuming that results will be based on sites that Google has ranked as having adequate quality, combined with the personal preferences of the user. What this means is that users will still be choosing between sites ranked highly by Google, which isn’t so bad. I think we can assume that most people will continue to like the Google search experience.
What this means for SEO
I’m guessing here, but it is possible that if a user really likes a particular site, it will start to take up more spots in the search results, which means that other results will be pushed down and off the first page. You may have noticed that sometimes when you conduct a search, some sites have expanded results that also display further internal links and navigation to the user, like this:
Or a site gets two spots like this:
Maybe sites preferred by users will start to get expanded results, or multiple results.
But in any case, since most clicks happen on the first page of results anyways, chances are that most users will see some kind of varying order of the global top ten results, i.e. for John Site A is the first result and Site B is in third place, but for Jane it’s the opposite. In both cases, Site A and Site B stay on the first page of results. So in that scenario, site owners will still have to work on the usual things that help their sites rank (on-site factors like Title tags, off-site factors like inbound links, etc.) in order to ensure that their sites are exposed to searchers. As Danny Sullivan says:
SEO remains important to ensure that you’ve got that first shot at being considered.
What this means for social media…and SEO
At the same time, it means that site owners will have to work harder on the user-experience side of things to get people to click on their results in the SERPs. Sexier titles and meta descriptions will be necessary since these help the user decide whether to click through or not. And once a user clicks through, they’d better find themselves somewhere interesting and attractive, because if they click back right away to the search results, that’s a sign that the site was no good, and may affect that site’s ranking in future personalized search results.
It also means that social marketing should be taken more seriously by SEOs. Many site owners and search engine optimization professionals (not the great ones, I admit, but still there are lots of them) see SEO as all about getting their sites to the top positions in the SERPs – and that’s it. But Google’s goal is to provide the best user experience, and therefore is experimenting with, and adding, many social features to their search service, like:
- “universal”, or mixed media search results – these results include non-traditional sources like video (most often from YouTube) and blogs
- search results based on your social circle (Google doesn’t call it a social graph) – these results identify your social networks through your Google Profile and serve you links that they have shared or created. Learn more about Google’s Social Search.
- real time search results – this is a search results page that is constantly updating with results from various social networks including twitter, facebook, FriendFeed and general news sites.
The reason for these new features are assumedly because Google figures that people will be most interested in, and most appreciate, results that are linked to trusted sources and connections. So site owners and SEOs will have to start taking user experience on their sites (content, navigation, and even design) much more seriously. Jill sums up the new SEO reality nicely on the High Rankings forum: “Good news…for moving people further and further away from traditional rank checking as a measure of success”; i.e. SEO can’t just be about ranking in first place anymore, it’s about results, conversions, and maybe even relationships.
It also means that with features like universal and real time search results, site owners should be optimizing social media activity for search engines as well. This means creating useful videos and uploading them to YouTube, creating fresh blog content, and using keywords in your tweets and facebook status updates.
And finally, long tail search rankings will play a more important role. Search engine ranking may become about diversity rather than laser focusing on particular keywords or search engines. The reason for this is that if you can’t know where your site is appearing in people’s search results, better to appear in more places where you have the chance of getting clicked on (pick me! pick me!). Creating new content for your blog on a regular basis that is related to a particular theme will help you rank for terms you would never have thought of.
In addition, social sites are becoming serious addresses for search. A recent Comscore Search Engine Rankings report showed that three of the top search engines in the Expanded Search Rankings category were social media sites: YouTube, MySpace and Facebook. Lee Odden at TopRank sums up what this means as follows:
Companies that focus their optimization efforts solely on Google.com will miss the continued trend towards social search or search within social networks.
So where do we go from here?
SEO professionals have had to evolve to meet new realities since the dawn of the search engine. What worked five years ago to get a site to the top certainly does not work today, and what works today won’t work five years from now. Barry Schwartz says he’s not worried (from Search Engine Roundtable):
Honestly, if this makes Google more relevant for their searchers – all power to them. I am not going to say I know what is better for the average searcher. They can quickly figure this out after days and decide to keep it, turn it down, or off completely. SEOs will adapt, like they always do – we are a strong and smart bunch – I am not worried.
SEO professionals will evolve to meet this new challenge. But it is possible that we are at a turning point regarding what SEO means. The goals will probably stay the same: increasing traffic and conversions. However, the ways that these goals are achieved may change drastically over the coming months to include social activity and improved online relationship building. All in all, I think that we’re talking about a better web experience for the end user.
But there are still a lot of unknowns about the new personalized search feature, and here are some questions I have:
- Ethics: Google is basically forcing all users to accept a new cookie and allow Google to track their search activity. Opt-out is only for the web savvy since most users won’t even know that Personalized Search exists. Shouldn’t people be given the choice whether they want to participate in personalized search or not by opting-in? Is this a sign that it’s time to move to Bing?
- Will my personal preferences affect your personal results? If lots of people click on Site A in results, does that mean that Joe will start to see Site A rank high in his own results?
- Are personalized results only affected when someone conducts the same exact search over and over (i.e. “recipes”), or will it affect related searches as well (i.e. “cooking,” “chocolate cake recipe,” even “buying new dishes”)?