T324's Top Tips for SEO: What's "social proof" and how does social media affect my search rank?

Recently T324's David Daniels gave a presentation on SEO to local businesses. He started out with some true or false questions.

Doing social media for my business will help my search ranking - true or false?

Absolutely true, and at least for right now, truer all the time. Google and other search engines increasingly value "social proof" - what people say about you online and who they say it to. You might say, why on earth should I be on Facebook? We make aerospace components- the audience for my business isn't on Facebook! However, Facebook likes and shares are quite valuable in the currency of search algorithms. Having a Facebook footprint is simply part of establishing your credibility and rankability as a business these days.

"What about virality?" one of the business owners asked.

Well, your social footprint hugely effects your odds of having a piece of content go viral. If your content is published on a variety of platforms it's much more likely to get shared, using the easy sharing functionality of social streams.

Social streams are where you can utilize the broadest spectrum of media, too. Videos, Instagrams and Vines can can be a great way to use the tenet of "Create Once, Publish Everywhere". (See our upcoming "Content" section of the SEO series for more on this principle and how to use it for SEO.)

The SERP (search engine results page) shown here for Macklemore is a great example of various social streams bringing high-ranking results.

As you can see, Macklemore's own site is the top return, followed by Wikipedia, news stories, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. This is pretty much the ideal return for an entertainer.

Let's look at the teslaresults for a company with a name that has a "namespace collision" problem- Tesla. Obviously the folks down the peninsula are doing something right, because the company is the first hit - followed by the hot news stories on the safety probe, of course. Poor Nikola almost falls off the page - his Wikipedia entry ranks well down the page.

What's pushing the Tesla site above the shocking news? We're betting one factor is early and committed engagement with Google+.

You can see Tesla began posting on Google's social network on November 30, 2011, and has posted extremely regularly ever since. Nobody likes trying to "engage" on Google+; the circles are a nightmare. But Tesla stuck with it, and has almost a million and half followers. By contrast, Pottery Barn has 3,626.

Google+ may or may not succeed, but while it exists and Google is trying to make a go of it, it's Google's social network, and using it will help your rank, period.

What are other social impacts on search? For a huge sector of businesses, it's all about Yelp. A Pottery Barn search brings up Yelp results for the three nearest locations on page one. Page 2 has PB's wiki, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter in that order. News stories are last on page two (of course, no Pottery Barn sofas have recently burst into flames.)

If you are ready to commit to designing your social media presence to optimize search, look at the search results for your competitors.

See where they're getting social shares, and where they might have left you an opening by not claiming the relevant territory on a social platform. Look at what kind of content they're getting the most shares for.

orchard-mobliSee our case study on Seattle-area corset retailer Orchard Corset for how a fairly small business with a one-person marketing team created an incredible social presence that really drives sales and ranking.

Search results for Orchard Corset bring up Yelp, their very popular YouTube channel, Facebook, and their extremely successful blog. Here you can see them claiming their footprint on an app I hadn't even heard of yet - Mobli, an Instagram competitor that looks like a bit like the disastrous Color.

It may seem like a waste of time to get on an app that nobody's using yet, and you can't bet on every horse.

But a marketing team that is paying attention will make sure you're on any contenders that are a good fit for your business before your competitors. Google's recently released search platform Hummingbird is designed to foster mobile search, so mobile apps are a good bet.

Sites that are mobile friendly will be rewarded with ranking, and a socially shareable presence on mobile apps will make all the difference.7. The SMO of SEO There has beeen a lot of talk recently about the social media optimisation of SEO. Social media is concerned with recommendations by users, the sharing of content and the credibility of writers. There is evidence that search engines increasingly look to these social signals to help find relevant content. Some argue that social signals give a better indication of what is valuable on the web. It is very likely that Hummingbird will add a social layer to the search algorithm given its objectives.  For marketers this means a need to focus on social engagement, reputation, authority and social proof through the sharing of content by people with authority, not simply numbers of shares or likes.

Orchard Corset's "Corset Vlogger Invitational" is perfect example of how to get social shares from influencers with authority - know their work, fly them to your HQ, and talk openly with them about the pros and cons of your products.

For a sixty-year-old family business you've run for thirty years, it might seem insane to fly Millennials with YouTube channels to your warehouse as advertising.

But as I always say, it would seem just as insane to a Millennial that a furniture company used to have to have a paste-up department where people used Letraset to make ads that it cost money to place in paper newspapers that were thrown away after one day.