Try this experiment: Pick any of today’s top technology news stories and search on it. I guarantee that at least two of the top ten results will lead to items, perhaps just a paragraph or two, offering commentary or opinion with a link to a whole other news site where you can read the actual story.

What’s going on here? It’s called aggregation, and, to be frank it’s an artifact of how Google ranks its search results. Google greatly rewards frequency of refresh. The more often a site is updated with new information, the higher the rank. Perhaps because they can’t actually read, Google’s spiders (bits of software that troll the net, finding and evaluating websites) seem to elevate quantity of new content over quality.

Some sites learned the lesson so well that they paid legions of unknown writers astonishingly tiny sums to grind out unresearched stories one after another on often-searched topics, refreshing their content more often than the average human blinks. These came to be known, derisively, as “content farms,” and though Google recently rewrote its algorithms to lessen their ranking, they’re still going strong.

There’s no denying aggregation can be a beneficial source of information for your customers and increase search engine ranking if done right.
I learned this first-hand recently when a technology news site I’d been writing for underwent a redesign that transformed it into an aggregation news site. Unique visitors to the site more than doubled in the first three months.

Aggregation isn’t only for news sites. You can use it too, to build your social media profile, improve your search rank, and attract new visitors to your site. Here are some tips to get you started:

1. Skim the cream.

Your first job as an aggregator is to identify the content that your constituency will find most interesting. I have Google Sidebar on my desktop and I use its web feed and news feed to supply me with a constant stream of headlines that have tailored themselves to my interests pretty effectively over time.

You don’t have to use Google Sidebar, but do find a way, whatever it might be, to track the information your customers want to know about day in and day out. That’s important because of tip 2 coming up.

2. Be frequent.

The more often you post new material to your website, the better for your search rank. The more often you post interesting stuff to social media, the better for your search ranking and the more influence you’ll have. So you want to post new aggregation items frequently, but even more important, you want to be consistent.

You might find that it fits your schedule to comb the day’s news at 10 p.m., identify half a dozen useful items, but it’s a bad idea to post all of them right away. Instead, space them out over the next 24 hours, so that there’s a new post from you every four hours or so. Or post them when your target audience is at work, say between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. (This can be fairly easy to do with social media scheduling tools such as HootSuite.) Take note of what times of day you posted social media items that got the most comments, retweets, likes, and +1s. That should provide some clues as to when to post for your particular audience.

3. Focus.

The worst thing you can try to be is all things to all contacts, or even a couple of things to a couple of different audiences. Instead, try to fill a niche that’s quite specific so that people who have that particular interest will be motivated to pay attention to you. If you have more than one audience and more than one area of expertise, either create multiple social media accounts and blogs, or use different social media outlets for different sorts of material.

In my case, I tend to share material that might be of interest to people who follow small business technology trends, and to freelance writers, because I’m both a business/technology journalist and the vice president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. But the writers don’t want to read a thoughtful analysis of whether Googlerola was a smart deal, and my business technology contacts don’t want to read about the travails of the dying newspaper industry.

For me, it works out that most of my ASJA colleagues connect with me on Facebook, so that’s where I tend to share the writing-related stuff, whereas most of the people who follow me as a biz/tech writer are Twitter followers, so I link to the interesting tech stuff there. I’m still figuring out what to do with Google+.

4. Have an opinion.

You’ll notice I did not say “have an obnoxious opinion” or “have a controversial opinion.” Being offensive or confrontational or loudly expounding an unpopular position are great ways to get attention, but not necessarily customers. However, you miss an opportunity to make a mark and get the most out of your aggregation strategy if all you do is pass along interesting tidbits without adding anything. Let your audience see your human side with a clever or withering or heartfelt comment on whatever it is you’re sharing. Or ask your audience a pertinent question as you pass it along. The more they see your viewpoint, the more they get a sense of you as a person, and the more they will engage.

5. Adjust over time.

Some posts will resonate more with readers than others. And your target audience might mostly use Facebook, or mostly hates Facebook and is enthusiastically adopting Google+, or never uses Twitter but always reads the blogs suggested by RSS feeds. The nice thing about social media (and the Internet in general) is that you can measure all these things.

Use Google Analytics or other tools to determine how many visitors to your site got there by linking from you blog, or Twitter, or Facebook, and how many of them stayed long enough to buy. And as time goes by, you can tailor your social media strategy to play to your strength, emphasizing the themes and venues that resonate with your customers the most—and get the biggest return on the time you invest in aggregation.