Back in the day, well optimised sites with a multitude of keyword-rich backlinks were seen as the only way of getting your website ranking in the SERPs. Then came along Google Penguin and Panda and link quality and content quality suddenly became essential, not only to avoiding penalties, but as key ranking indicators to Google’s algorithm. Slowly but surely link building strategies began to shift from the old numbers game to something representing the more content focused and joined up SEO strategies that have become more commonplace today.
But what about social media? When we factor in the massive growth and influence platforms like Facebook and Twitter have had on content marketing, it’s not hard to see how so many people become confused as to where they should target their digital marketing strategies. Budgetary constraints for a lot of SMEs can often seem to create a stark choice between one approach and the other. But can we really differentiate between the two nowadays?
First things First
It’s important to realise that onsite SEO is as important today as it was ten years ago (perhaps more so with the increased competition). If you want to attract business online, then there’s simply no escaping the importance of getting your website optimised for the search engines. Your website is your hub, your HQ or your shopfront, and it should always sit at the forefront of your online marketing strategy. From keyword research, grouping and distribution to meta tags and canonical URLs, it’s as vital as it’s ever been to tick all the onsite SEO boxes before you begin your pushing your content out into the world.
That being said…
Keywords are no Longer Sufficient Viewed in Isolation
Whilst it’s important to pay attention to keyword usage and distribution, it’s equally important that these keywords be contained in well-written, on-topic content that gives value to your target audience. Many people can’t quite get their heads around the idea that Google now understands the subtleties and nuances of language and syntax structure like never before and has become incredibly adept at spotting instances of keywords being used out of context or irrelevantly. Creating too much of this type of weak ‘overly optimised’ content, either on or offsite, won’t just ruin your chances of earning natural links and shares, but could well see you landed with an algorithmic penalty.
The important thing to remember here is that keywords are no longer sufficient in isolation and must always be used in context. It’s no longer good enough to have a pretty looking site with dreary, yet keyword rich content. If it reads unnaturally to you, then you can bet it probably does to Google as well.
Backlinks still Rule
Backlinks are still one of the most important ranking factors in Google’s algorithm (and the chances are they will always be important), which is why any digital marketing strategy should always take an interest in creating them. The key differentiator is whether you pursue them simply through the act of producing high calibre shareable content, or with more single-minded link building tactics, such as industry relevant directories and a number of other targeted tactics.
Whilst there is nothing wrong with either of these approached, the best approach lies in a joined up approach. Essentially, what has changed in the last ten years is the degree of scrutiny Google has put on the quality of websites linking back to you and this in turn has forced content to either get better or be seen as potentially toxic. This has allowed the ‘link earning’ approach to gain more traction over old fashioned ‘link building’ approach. More interestingly, it has seen social media marketing strategies begin to fuse with SEO as a key driver of algorithmic influence amongst the search engines.
Social Media and the Joined up SEO Approach
Such is the volume of content being created online that Google now regularly trawls Twitter to find influential content to index and rank, sorting the wheat from the chaff and saving it time as it wades through the ever increasing volumes of content being uploaded to the internet on a daily basis. The architecture of social media networks is geared towards visibility and genuine peer approval and as such is hard to fake convincingly. It may well be possible to ‘buy likes’ on platforms like Facebook but it’s not hard for the search engines to see through this tactic and others like it.
With this wisdom of crowds approach, Google and other search engines have long been tapping into social signals to denote value to any given link or webpage. Whilst social media buzz has in no way replaced links in terms of importance, as more and more content gets created online and distributed on social media, this scrutiny is likely to increase further. If your content has a strong social media presence then this will boost not only your website’s position in the SERPs but likely increase the number of websites that link to you as well. In essence this is like a feedback loop: to do well in SEO nowadays it helps a lot to do well on social media as well.
By placing more power in the hands of the masses and – in Google’s eyes, at least – taking it away from unscrupulous blackhat SEOs, the rulebook is slowly being rewritten. Hootsuite’s Kristina Cisnero explains how Google’s focus on content has enabled a coming together of SEO and social media marketing strategies.
“With the organic online marketing ecosystem growing, it’s no surprise that SEO, social media, and content marketing are finding themselves under the same umbrella. When the three are working in sync, they help acquire customers and increase website traffic through valuable content. This is in part due to the changes to Google algorithms, which now factor social signals as an indicator in search rankings.”
Of course, to gain shares through social media, we have to go back to our earlier point about creating well-written, relevant and original content on your website. Content needs to be noteworthy, original, funny, useful or even controversial, but most importantly it needs to be shareable to the people you are trying to talk to and influence.
Despite social and SEO clearly still co-existing as distinct marketing strategies, there really is no straight answer as to which is better for your business, as each boosts the efforts you make with the other. You simply can’t be creating content these days (onsite or offsite) without sharing it socially and you can’t share content on social media without having a website or a blog on which to ultimately host it. As time goes by, the interdependence of these two eco-systems will continue to become more marked and this in turn will see search engine algorithms pay more and more heed to social media signals. So my advice is to supercharge your digital marketing now by adopting an approach that takes both into account.
Thank you for your insightful article. I think at this stage it is hard to put one above the other, but one thing I would push is the rising importance of social media. I find one issue with social media (when it comes to businesses) is that social profiles aren’t properly setup especially when I attempt to verify them in Bing Webmaster Tools as connected pages. I believe social media is a valuable tool that can assist in drawing attention to a product or service for websites. Obviously, there are several traits that are necessary in SEO as well, that without it a website could struggle heavily. My overall opinion is that they work hand-in-hand.