Is Social Media Optimization the new SEO?

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So what is Social Media Optimization, sometimes referred to as social media SEO? We’ve all heard about Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Basically SEO focuses on optimizing your website for better search rankings. The main feature to higher ranking, through traditional SEO, is a well-developed internal and external link structure.

Google was the first search engine to use a link structure for organizing search results, and it continues to use the link graph for search rankings today. For more information on the link graph see this article, “Search Quality: The Link Graph Theory” by Dan Petrovic.

Social Media Optimization (SMO)

SEO is not dead, but it may now more accurately be called social media SEO. The new kid on the block is called Social Media Optimization (SMO). Actually SMO isn’t new, but its importance has grown significantly. SMO used to simply mean using social media to generate publicity as seen in this knowledge graph result:

social media optimization


Today SMO has new meaning. Part of Google’s ranking system of the over 200 signals is social signals. Speaking about the major Google Hummingbird update from late 2013, SEO expert Eric Enge of pointed out, “it appears that Google previously had major technical limitations with regard to the use of social signals as a ranking factor.

The Semantic Web

In our post-Hummingbird, semantic search world, social signals have grown in prominence. Going forward, any SEO strategy must include social media optimization. Only time will tell how important these social signals will become.

The more Google understands these signals, the better able it will be to make more use of them when ranking content. The problem with the more traditional link-based ranking approach is that links can be gamed fairly easily, but social signals are much more difficult to fake.

Speaking about Semantic Search, David Amerland (who wrote the book on Google Semantic Search) says, “Success in semantic search requires a holistic approach to business and marketing that is hard to fake and hard to game.” The Semantic Web, basically a web of meaning and not just a web of keywords, has a basis in social media signals.

What are social signals?

Social signals are, not surprisingly, taken from social media. To some extent, it uses Facebook, although Facebook gives Google limited access. To a greater extent, because Google has more access, Google uses Twitter social signals to help it understand the importance of content. Google has full access to YouTube and Google+ social data so these are going to be where the most important social signals come from.

It’s important to note that Google pays closer attention to those social signals that are coming from authoritative sources. In a similar way to a high Page Rank (PR) link being more important than a low PR link, a highly authoritative social signal is more important than a low authority signal.

Social signals are part of how Google understands subject matter authority. Most people want to learn from organizations or people who know what they’re talking about. Google has shown a lot of interest in understanding subject based authority with its Authorship program.

Awareness of Social Media Optimization is the First Step

Being aware of social media optimization is an important first step. With the introduction of Google Hummingbird, social signals have never been more important. We’re still learning how to understand the relationship between search rankings and social signals.

Cyrus Shepard wrote an excellent article about the correlation between Google +1s and higher search rankings. In this piece we see that after Moz Page Authority, Google +1s were the highest correlated ranking factor for web content.

As a business or individual writing online content, understanding the importance of social media optimization is key to your search ranking success.

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