Defending SEO: Why SEO loves Social Media & Linkbait

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SEO loves Social Media

Steve Rubel of Micro Persuasion caused a stir in the SEO community last week by declaring that “SEO Shenanigans Pose a Clear and Present Danger to Social Media“, writing:

“I have recently witnessed a disturbing trend. Some respected experts are advocating launching social media marketing programs solely for the purpose of influencing search engines, rather than with the intent of fostering collaboration and genuine communication.

Having started this blog because I saw the increasingly link between SEO and Social Media, Steve and I are definitely on the opposite sides of the fence here. But, I think we can unite behind three central arguments:

  1. We Marketers, Advertisers and PR People don’t make Social Media…
    What makes something viral or social is how involved the people get with the media. There are no such things as “Viral Vidoes” or “Social Networks” unless people use them. What we make has have to be interesting, authentic and worthy of being passed on to friends.
  2. …But we can help encourage Social Media to happen easier.
    As PR, Marketers and SEO folks: our role is to only encourage “word of mouth” and social media participation, we cannot create it; that’s what “Social Media Optimization” is about. But to not to inform clients on the benefits of “Add to Del.icio.us links” or “Start a Blog to start a buzz” would be a failure of the part of the Agency. Of course, we must align tactics (Social Media) with goals (Building Community, Links) and the appropriateness (building real content people want to talk about) of the overall strategy.
  3. Social Media and ROI: What do you tell the COO & CEO?
    In the end of the day, many clients ask “What’s the ROI on this?”. To say we’re going to use “Social Media to be part of the Community” will not cut it for many C-Level executives. Tell them that going long term on Social Media mans better SEO, Word of Mouth, Brand Awareness and Customer Service will make them listen.

Like Google Says: “The best way to create good links is to have good content”

As long as the SEO drive for “linkbait” (creating content to attract people to link back to the site) serves to create relevant and authentic Social Media content people will be interested in, the Community will benefit. The Community will quickly discern what’s worthy of being talked about, and what’s not. That’s the power of Word of Mouth and Social Media.

Read more on other points where I take a differing view from Steve:

  1. Social Media Spam: Just from SEO people?
  2. The SEO Community has been in Social Media as long as PR has, even Google encourages linkbait and writes on being Diggable
  3. Social Media as SEO: Social Media is the Ultimate Search Engine Algorithm

1. Social Media Spam: Just from SEO people?
Steve is worried about how every SEO person will join Del.icio.us, vote on StumbleUpon and start blogs and twitters in some vague hopes of getting more links and getting better SEO. SEO spam is a real danger, but Social Media already has it’s own problems.

Last year, TechCrunch featured an article entitled “The Secret Strategies Behind Many “Viral” Videos“, which basically walked through a process of how to game and spam YouTube for viral video marketing success:

“Every power user on YouTube has a number of different accounts. So do we. A great way to maximize the number of people who watch our videos is to create some sort of controversy in the comments section below the video.We get a few people in our office to log in throughout the day and post heated comments back and forth (you can definitely have a lot of fun with this)”

…Also, we aren’t afraid to delete comments – if someone is saying our video (or your startup) sucks, we just delete their comment.”

What this shows is that Social Media has always been targeted by shady Social Media Marketers and has always been under the fear of someone trying to “game” Social Media for publicity, branding, eyeballs on videos and links for SEO. Sony’s fake blog called “All I want for Xmas is a P2P” comes to mind.

I think it is unfair to point a figure directly at SEO alone. This is a Social Media problem.

2. The SEO Community has been in Social Media as long as PR has, even Google encourages linkbait and writes on being Diggable

Far from what Steve calls a “disturbing trend”, SEO’s love of Social Media has existed at least since 2005 (if not earlier). SEOMoz was one of the first companies talking about linkbait back in 2005: “Rand, How do I make Link-Worthy Content?“, “When Money Can’t Buy You Link Love”Even Google has gotten into the act with declaring in a UK ad that : “The more people you have linking to your site, the better. And the bet way to create good links is to have good content”

Flickr: T-Mobile Pitches Google SEO

In the end of 2006, Stefanie at the Google Webmaster Blog, write in “Building Link Based Popularity“:

“Discounting non-earned links by search engines opened a new and wide field of tactics to build link-based popularity: Classically this involves optimizing your content so that thematically-related or trusted websites link to you by choice. A more recent method is link baiting, which typically takes advantage of Web 2.0 social content websites. One example of this new way of generating links is to submit a handcrafted article to a service such as http://digg.com.”

3. Social Media as SEO: Social Media is the Ultimate Search Engine Algorithm

As I’ve written about in the past, SEO is no longer SEO. It is Website Positioning Strategy. As noted in the Google Webmaster Blog and Google Guidelines, high rankings in Google comes from strong relevancy: building content people want to view and content people want to link to.

The more strategic goal of SEO is then the same as Social Media:

  • Building an online presence (website to blog to ecommerce shop) with the Community in mind
  • Building relevant content your audience wants
  • Understanding how you can participate in that desired community
  • Be present where ever your potential customers are: optimize for being on Yelp.com, Flickr.com – not just Google.com
  • Making your website “optimized” for conversion: make it as easy as possible for visitors to buy, register etc
  • Optimize your site to be portable, linkable, “mash-up able” with Social Media Optimization

Basically, the above asks “Can you build an online presence that is open, relevant and active in the community you want to be belong to”. If you can do the above, you will naturally be a strong leader in building an online brand, brand awareness, customer satisfaction and SEO.

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  2. […] Among the usual top Delicious articles about twitter and social networks were three adult websites. All seeded by the same account and all had tags added by same users. Going back to what I’ve been talking about the past 2-3 weeks, Social Media Spam is a real problem. Just don’t call it an SEO problem. […]