Do you use social media with SEO strategies in mind? If not, says Josepf Haslam, senior director of social SEO at Education Dynamics, you might as well be pouring water into the moat of a sandcastle – the evidence of your effort disappears in the blink of an eye.
Solid SEO practices are like a “concrete foundation” for your social media moat. “The water you pour (social activity) can accumulate and create an enduring benefit,” he says.
Here are some recommendations from Josepf ‘s talk at the Intelligent Content Conference. Some of these will sound familiar; others may be new to you. Either way, you’re sure to find some ideas that your team hasn’t yet put in place and could benefit from, simultaneously strengthening your SEO and social media efforts.
All ideas and quotations, unless otherwise attributed, come from Josepf’s talk, and images come from his slides or our correspondence.
1. Make your content segmented, searchable, snackable, and shareable
If you want to use social media with an SEO mindset, start with content that has these four “s” characteristics:
Make your content segmented
Each piece of content must address the needs of an audience segment you know well. Do these people even care about what you have to say? Until you can say yes with confidence, don’t bother creating any content.
Each piece of #content must address the needs of an audience segment you know well says @josepf.
You can learn about your audience segments from many online and offline tools. One of Josepf’s favorite online tools for learning what targeted groups of people are talking about is Twitter Advanced Search, which enables you to search for words, phrases, hashtags, and users. “You can fill in these fields many ways to hear conversations,” he says.
Josepf also recommends listening in on social media conversations using tools like these:
Josepf gives this example for a company that makes solar-energy products. To discover content opportunities, you might set up streams in Hootsuite (or whatever tool you’re using) and monitor the hashtag #solar and keywords like “solar energy,” “sustainable energy,” “renewable energy,” and “wind energy.”
To listen, you read through those streams and identify hot topics, influencers, pain points, and questions.
Want an easy way to curate what you find? Josepf uses Storify, integrated with Hootsuite, to save relevant conversations in one click.
When you listen to people’s needs, you can create content that they’ll value.
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Make your content searchable
To make your content searchable, use the words your audience searches for. What are people saying to Siri or typing into their search boxes? Make sure that your content includes those terms.
To make your #content searchable, use the words your audience searches for says @josepf. #SEO
To find out what phrases people are searching on, try tools like these:
- Keyword Planner in Google’s AdWords program
- Visibility Explorer in Conductor’s Searchlight program
- Keyword Research tool by SEMrush
- Google Suggest (Google’s autocomplete function)
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Make your content snackable
When Josepf says “snackable,” he’s not talking about “short, sweet fluff.” He’s talking about scannable, well-organized, chunked, labeled content – content “with headings, tables, charts, and illustrations” – content that people want to keep taking bites of.
Make your content shareable
Track social shares monthly. These numbers don’t tell you whether a piece of content is helping you meet business goals, but they are still a useful metric as an “acid test.” In fact, Josepf goes so far as to call shareability “the No. 1 KPI for content.” He argues that “if you get people to your content and they go ‘meh’ and bounce off the page or do not share, then you’re not hitting the right note. The content that gets shared the most is probably resonating the most.”
He suggests boosting your most-shared pieces.
Put a little money behind them to get them circulating even more in your social channels – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, wherever your audience is. I’m not talking about a lot of money. It could be $10 on Facebook. It could be $20 on LinkedIn. I’ve put $1,000 behind things on LinkedIn that were exploding on their own.
Boosting your content makes the most sense when it’s highly shareable and tied to lead generation – when, for example, it invites people to download something.
How do you know how shareable your content is? “Track your social shares – along with traffic, back-links, and leads generated – over time, lots of time,” he says. Josepf suggests using a spreadsheet to track the performance of every web page. Here’s an excerpt from his own spreadsheet.
Click to enlarge
Watch for a follow-up blog post with a template and details on how to use it to track your own social shares as Josepf does.
Bonus tip: To make your content more shareable and more snackable, Josepf suggests repeating your main messages in occasional click-to-tweet boxes like the one below. On some platforms, you can use a plug-in to easily create these boxes.
KPI #1 for content is shareability, says @Josepf.
2. Learn to speak spider
You’ve heard it before: Write first for humans, second for spiders – those emissaries of search engines, those robots that crawl the web looking for clues as to which pages should come up first in search results.
“A website is not a field of dreams,” Josepf says. If you build it, no one will come – unless you learn to talk to spiders.
Spiders are simple creatures. They do three things:
- Follow links on web pages
- Collect information for the search engine’s index
- Measure the popularity of web pages
To speak a spider’s language, think FISHIES. (Just go with it. SPIDIES doesn’t work.)
F = Frequency
I = Interesting
S = Structure
H = Headings
I = Inbound links
E = Engagement
S = Sitemap
F = Frequency
Spiders scan for new content. Publish regularly.
I = Interesting
Spiders crawl your pages and compare them to all the other pages on a similar topic. Spiders can’t judge interestingness for themselves, but they constantly get better at guessing which pages will interest readers, and they reward those pages.
S = Structure
Consider the organization and labeling of not just individual pages but also of your whole website. Think about your taxonomy (for example, blog categories and tags) and your information architecture. Spiders like a well-structured site.
H = Headings
Organize your pages and posts thoughtfully, “as you would college essays,” Josepf says. Break your pages into sections with headings. Use the H1, H2, H3 HTML tags to indicate heading levels. Spiders like well-organized pages with enough substance to require nested headings.
I = Inbound links
Inbound links or back-links – links to your pages from other websites – serve as digital word-of-mouth. Create content that influential bloggers and other contributors to authoritative websites in your industry would want to link to. Spiders have their sticky feet all over back-links.
E = Engagement in social channels
Many believe that social engagement – people linking to your pages from their social accounts – also influences your search rankings. While speculations vary as to exactly what spiders and their search engines do with social data, it only makes sense to create content that your audience would want to share in social channels. (See above: “Make your content shareable,” where Josepf talks about shareability as the No. 1 KPI for content.)
S = Sitemap
A sitemap gives spiders “a cheat sheet that says, Hey, here’s our site.” To help spiders do their job, include a sitemap.
3. Use social media meta tags wisely
Social media meta tags or social tags are HTML tags that start with the word “meta.” You put these tags in your page’s code to help determine what information appears in Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc., when people share your URL.
When you set up meta tags, your social shares get noticed and shared more.
When you set up meta tags, your #social shares get noticed & shared more says @josepf.
Josepf suggests adding meta tags to old content that has performed well. Adding meta tags, even long after the publish date (presuming that the content is still relevant), can give old content a boost.
I had one older post get over 10,000 shares on Pinterest within three weeks. All I did was put meta tagging on it. It got rediscovered and got circulated as a result.
Example of meta tags:
Click to enlarge
Don’t be intimidated by this code snippet. You don’t have to go into code view to add meta tags. Josepf recommends using a tag tool such as:
To keep track of your social tags, you might build your own spreadsheet as Josepf does or use an online resource like the social media meta tag generator by Secret Sauce (which Josepf suggests exploring if you’d like to get an idea of the basic entries for meta-tagging.)
- Social tags make it easy for people to share. For example, you can specify that a share include a quotation, a hashtag, and an @mention.
- Social tags give you control of the share image. If a post contains several images, you can determine which one shows up in social channels. People can delete or change your default image, but most will simply click and share.
- Social tags help search engine spiders understand what your content is about. The more the spiders understand, the more likely your content is to show up in rich search results, increasing the chances of your page getting clicked when someone sees it in the results.
4. Use on-page metadata wisely
On-page metadata is metadata on your website, including the following types that can play a role in SEO:
- HTML title and meta description
- Search-friendly URL
- Alt tags
Unlike back-links, social media shares, and other “off-page” SEO factors, your on-page metadata is within your control.
Give each page an HTML title and meta description that work as an “ad” in search results
The most important piece of metadata for SEO, Josepf says, is the page title (the HTML tag “title”).
These are stupid little spiders. When a spider comes, it tries to understand your whole page based on your title. If your title is out of sync with the rest of your page, spiders don’t know what to do with you. They just toss you over into a corner somewhere. It’s a lonely place to be.
In search results, the link text (the blue text in the example below) comes from the HTML title assigned to that page. This title, together with the snippet of meta description below it, act as your “ad,” Josepf says. It’s not an ad, but it must work like one, enticing people to click.
Use your audience’s search terms in your HTML titles and meta descriptions. “Some people like to use cute sayings, pet phrases. That may work in your copy, but not in your metadata,” Josepf says.
Cute metadata doesn’t help your #SEO, says @Josepf. #contentstrategy
Give each page a search-friendly URL
The second most important piece of metadata for SEO, according to Josepf, is a search-friendly URL.
A spider reads the page’s URL to figure out the context. It compares the terms it finds there to the terms used on the page.
In the example below, the terms used in the URL – grad schools, masters, medical-specialties, physician-assistant – directly correlate to the content on that page.
Give each image an alt tag
Every time you use an image, assign it an alt tag. An alt tag is a string of text that’s associated with an image on a website. Alt tags enable visually impaired people – and search spiders – to interpret images.
Alt tags can be read aloud by a screen-reading program.
Alt tags also help people better understand what they’re looking at. In this example, when the cursor hovers over the alt-tagged image, the alt-tag text (“Physician Assistant Salary info by”) appears.
Alt tags are often overlooked. If your team isn’t using them, start today. These tags give you a powerful and simple way to make your images more likely to show up in search results.
Bonus tip: To attract a search spider’s eye, give each image a descriptive file name. Descriptive names – not names like DHZP094713.JPG – help spiders “see” the image, increasing the likelihood that the image shows up in relevant search results. When you name image files, separate words with underscores or hyphens – not spaces. (Some people argue that the use of underscores is preferred, Josepf says, but hyphens are OK, too.)
Take the two extra seconds to name every image file. File names make it easier for you to manage your image files behind the scenes, too.
5. Use an SEO-auditing tool – and understand its limitations
To use an SEO-auditing tool, you type in your focus keyword or search phrase – for example, “physician assistant salary” – and the page gets a grade: poor or good. You get a checklist-style analysis.
You might realize, ‘Oh, shoot. I’m not even using the keyword phrase – the term I want this page to be found for – in my title. I’m not even using it in my copy!’
One of Josepf’s favorite SEO-auditing tools is Yoast. It’s available as a plug-in for various platforms, including WordPress and Drupal. It looks like this:
After doing an SEO tune-up on certain pages with this type of auditing tool, Josepf says he has seen “50, 70, 400 percent more traffic coming to those pages within a few weeks. The SEO audit absolutely, directly turns into more traffic for us.”
If you’re on a platform that doesn’t have a Yoast-like SEO-auditing plug-in, you can have someone build one.
Caveat: These tools look only at the keyword phrases you audit for. In that sense, Josepf points out, these tools serve a limited role in the overall SEO effort.
Google no longer cares about keyword density. Anyone who’s preaching keyword density at this point is selling snake oil. Google is now discerning searchers’ intent. It’s processing natural language, trying to understand what people are looking for. Google’s spiders look at your pages that way, too. They want to know, do you talk about this thing in different ways and use different phrases, the way people do?
Don’t write for keywords with blinders on; write for search intent. Whatever search phrases people might type or say to Siri, you must understand what’s behind those words. Gone are the days of keyword stuffing. “That is 7-year-old practice. Google penalizes you for that today,” Josepf says.
Don’t write for keywords with blinders on; write for search intent says @josepf. #SEO
But keywords still play a role in SEO. You still need to do your research to get a sense of the terms in your readers’ heads, the terms they will respond to.
There may be a thousand keywords related to a given search. You want to understand the whole word cloud, the whole space you’re in. It’s valuable to include some of those phrases into your content. It’s easier to write for an audience when you understand the cloud of search terms that are related to the search intent.
Don’t hyperfocus on any given keyword. Include various ways people might talk about a topic. People and spiders alike will find your content more worthy of attention.
Bonus tip: Audit your video for SEO, too. Always publish a transcript with your video, Josepf says. He mentions that Yoast offers an SEO plug-in for YouTube, pointing out that YouTube is the second-largest search engine in the world. Yoast also has a video SEO plug-in for WordPress.
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Is your team using all these SEO strategies?
- Make your content segmented, searchable, snackable, and shareable.
- Learn to speak spider.
- Use social media “meta” tags wisely.
- Use on-page metadata wisely.
- Use an SEO-auditing tool – with an understanding of its limitations.
The more of these things you do, the bigger splash your pages will make not only in search but also in social channels.
What impact have SEO strategies had on your social results? Please share your experiences in a comment.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute
Please note: All tools included in our blog posts are suggested by authors, not the CMI editorial team. No one post can provide all relevant tools in the space. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments (from your company or ones that you have used).
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