By David Holt
With money tight in a sluggish economy, firms must fine-tune their Web sites using search engine optimization (SEO) principles to take full marketing advantage of a business world where free social media is becoming increasingly popular. What's more, this can be done without burning through a firm's time and budget.
Before you dive in on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook, there are some foundations you need to put in place first to get ready for social media, and that means looking at your Web site. Your Web site is your shop window on the Web, the place you want your social media traffic to go. Directing visitors back to your Web site is where you can capitalize on sales leads (or sales if you have an e-commerce site) and also benefit from organic SEO.
Like any good marketing activity, planning is essential. The strategy for your Web site and your social media activity has to tie in and support your overall business strategy. Is your targeting correct? If you are unsure, this is the time to use such tools as brainstorming or mind-mapping to research and evaluate the audiences you need to reach.
Organic SEO means letting the strength of your Web site content, news flows, in-bound links (links from other Web sites), and social media activity help drive up your Web site hits, search results, and rankings, rather than spending more money with SEO agencies or Pay-Per-Click (PPC) campaigns.
Companies spend a great deal of money with SEO specialists to help inch up the search engine page rankings, but we now know that the best way to do this is by using relevant, researched, keyword-rich content. Your SEO agency and social media efforts need to be intertwined. If your SEO agency has not mentioned anything about social media you need to ask why. With a concerted campaign to push organic SEO, your SEO and PPC spend should ease; at the very least you will keep it from increasing.
First base for your Web site is having a site that is search-engine friendly such as a content management system (CMS) that makes your site open for quick and easy consumption by search engines such as Google. If Google cannot easily read your site, then you are not being indexed by Google, which means you are not even on the radar. This does not mean an expensive upgrade. Open source CMSs such as Wordpress or Joomla! are ideal. They can easily incorporate all your social media tools, including blogs, RSS feeds, Twitter feeds, and bookmarking. Including a simple site map of your Web site with a "sitemap.xml" file provides an instant index for search engines to use to crawl through your Web site.
Steer clear of overusing Java-based scripts and Macromedia Flash graphics, especially for the front pages of your Web site, as search engines cannot read it because they would have to run the application first. Sites can be optimized for SEO by ensuring keyword-rich text is included extensively into Web page content. Registering for free Web site directories, such as The Open Directory, is another must-do on your SEO task list.
Any SEO expert will tell you about the importance of keywords, which link the Web browser with your Web site. There are many ways to develop your keyword strategy, and it is worth putting in the time to define those search terms that your business wants to focus on. Keyword strategies are vital for successful SEO, proving to a search engine how important your site is to a particular search. This also is vital for social media as it identifies the keywords being used and searched for in social media content. Use your keywords liberally but sensibly in your social media activity, especially for your biographies and profiles.
Start social networking
There are plenty of tools (many free) to help research the key word search terms that are right for your business; and it pays to spend time to get the key words right and keep reviewing them regularly to see if they are still relevant. With your keywords defined and your Web site optimized for social media, it is time to start social networking.
With good content – articles, news, video, and podcasts – you can see your Web site hits climb as your company becomes more renowned as an expert in its field. You might want to involve your public relations agency in creating this content. Blogs are fantastic for SEO. Regularly updated, keyword-rich blog content is favored by search engines, causing your site to be re-indexed with each new content addition. Good quality blog content also will be recommended by others, and it is worth marketing your blog through Technorati and blog directories.
Wherever possible, when using Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, try to encourage users to visit your site – such as launching new content via your blog and promoting it on Twitter or with your LinkedIn contacts and groups.
In addition to the benefits for SEO, social media tools provide an excellent channel for your company’s external communications. They give your business the chance to participate in dialogues with customers, prospects, and the wider world. It is a mistake to dive in with social networking. Use monitoring tools such as Social Mention to listen first, monitoring who and what is being said.
Research suitable sites, groups, and lists in which to participate. The closer you get to your target customer, the more likely it is you will either influence or attract new prospects to your business. Excellent monitoring, regular participation, and engagement is the key to success with social media – you want to attract and then retain an online community that is interested in hearing what you have to say and is tuned into your updates.
Be aware: Over-promotion of your products and services in group discussions is frowned upon. Make reference to your products where it is relevant. The idea is to give readers enough information so they come to your Web site for full details.
With a renewed focus on SEO and exploiting social medial channels to the full, your marketing efforts will go much further and, ultimately, at lower cost through the last 6 to 12 months of the current downturn. The investment will pay dividends once the market begins to turn around.
About the author:
David Holt is business development manager of social media and search engine optimization specialist Amplify.