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The Social Media Optimization (SMO) of SEO: 7 Key Steps

Social media optimization (SMO) was originally designed to drive traffic from social media sites such as bookmarking sites and social networks. However, SMO is now significantly more important and not simply because social networking has grown but because SMO also improves SEO performance. Good SMO will drive traffic from both direct social site referrals and from search engines.

The Origin of SMO

Social media optimization (SMO) was first used in 2006 by Rohit Bhargava in his article the 5 rules of social media optimization. At this time the core focus was driving traffic to websites from social sites. 

This remains the core purpose of SMO as outlined in Wikipedia "SMO is similar to search engine optimization in that the goal is to generate traffic and awareness for a website. In general, social media optimization refers to optimizing a website and its content in terms of sharing across social media and networking sites."

The SEO Shift

In Rohit's initial article the focus of SMO was on linkability, portable content and easy bookmarking. This has changed over the years as social networks have changed and also as search engines have looked to social signals to help rank content. Wikipedia says "social media optimization is becoming increasingly important for search engine optimization, as search engines are increasingly utilizing the recommendations of users of social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ to rank pages in the search engine result pages."

Arguably traditional SEO focused on the technical structure of websites rather than the user experience or even the quality of content itself. SMO is very concerned with the quality of the content, the authority of the author and the user experience of interacting with the content and the author. These aspects of SMO can help improve SEO performance as search engines increasingly look for social signals to aid the ranking of pages. 

This was highlighted very clearly by Joshua Berg and Mark Traphagen in a recent Google+ hangout on SMO and SEO. Joshua and Mark are two of the most knowledgeable people in this area and both commented on the growing importance of the social web to search engines.  Joshua Berg commented that “social signals provide a much better way of filtering out the noise and improving the quality of search results”  and Mark Traphagen agreed that “as the social web emerges it provides a better set of signals about what is valuable on the web.”

This was reinforced in a post last week by Dustin Stout. He concludes "social proof is now being factored into search engine rankings. There are various studies that have been done on this, but all of them agree that the more social shares a website or blog post has, the better it is likely to rank."

Social signals may not as simple as the number of shares or the size of a person's network. For example, the network size may be less important than who is in the network and who interacts with a user's content. Social networks provide vast volumes of data which can be analysed to identify patterns and collective preferences. Machine learning, the construction of systems that can learn from data, is increasingly being applied to this data to develop new insights so search engines are likely to use something more complex than just the number of shares.

Word of Warning: Excessive Link Dropping Is Not SMO 

You might be tempted to think that one way to SMO your content is to join every LinkedIn Group, Google Plus community, etc., and to share links to your content seeking shares or comments. You would be wrong, very wrong.

This behavior is not only frustrating for other users but counter productive. Firstly real users are likely to unfollow you or hide your posts on Google Plus or even report your content as spam. The situation is even worse with machine learning. If there is no interaction with your posts and links, such as sharing, commenting or liking, then this would indicate to any machine trying to learn from the data that your content is not valuable. Thus the more you post the more your content may be seen as not valued or authoritative. 

You would be far better focusing in specific communities and really engaging with a relevant audience and authoritative experts. 

7 Steps To improve Your SMO

Joshua Berg is one of the leading advocates of SMO. He has promoted a seven step model REALSMO, which is:

  • Reputation - build your reputation as a reliable qualified source
  • Engagement - encourage more engagement, sharing & reciprocate
  • Authority - become a notable authority in your field of expertise
  • Leadership - harness originality & creativity, be a Thought Leader
  • Social - be social, find and engage sociable experts in your field
  • Media - know your social media platforms to maximize influence
  • Optimization - improve technical aspects to increase optimization

These seven steps provide a good benchmark against which you can assess and plan your current SMO activity. 

If I may be allowed to stand on the shoulders of a giant I would add my thoughts to each of these seven steps as follows: 

1. Reputation 

Your reputation in my view starts with ensuring you are either an expert or you act as an expert curator. This means undertaking thorough research and producing original content or curating quality content. This will make you a respected and qualified source.

Your reputation is also about how you engage and support people. Your reputation will be enhanced if you openly share your content and expertise including content that is not your own, engage with others through discussions and commenting, and if you are friendly and helpful to people. 

I think fundamentally your reputation is enhanced by simply being helpful to people. 

2. Engagement 

You need to actively engage with your audience. This can include commenting, mentions, shares, likes, and plus ones. No one is as smart as everyone so share other peoples' content and provide a good user experience by providing feedback and comments.

You need to target the networks with which to interact and make it easy for people to interact. It may be that people will interact with content on your site but you may find a far greater number of people willing to interact in their existing communities such as Google+ communities and LinkedIn groups. You can combine these by using say Google+ comments on your blog. Asking users to create accounts on your site will discourage users from commenting so use existing social logins such as LinkedIn or tools such as Disqus.

You can also encourage people to engage with a call to action, for example if you find this article helpful please share it. If you think I have missed anything please add your comments below. 

3. Authority 

There are many aspects to authority. Search engines are interested in ascertaining what individuals and brands are seen as authoritative and trusted by real people on the Internet. The most obvious example of a move in this direction is Google AuthorshipSetting up Google Authorship can help establish you as an expert and show your profile prominently in search results. For example. I have spent many years researching the elearning market and writing a monthly market update. Thus when you search for 'elearning market' you will hopefully see my result (image below) with my picture and a link to my profile.  

google authorship example

You can also enhance your authority and the value of content through social proof. In essence the more your content is shared through plus ones, retweets, bookmarks or likes the more it indicates the value and usefulness of your content. It may also encourage others to read your content. For example, my recent post on Google+ and SEO received over 2,500 plus ones and a thousand retweets. Hopefully this means a fair number of people found the article helpful and shareworthy. I am sure it also helps the SEO, as if you search for "google+ SEO" the article was at the time of writing appearing high on page one of the results page.

SMO best practices 

4. Leadership 

To me leadership is about high quality research, thinking and original content production. 

A leader will research everything they can about their areas and share thoughtful insights which will add value to your audience. Poor quality content will be perceived as such and as a consequence will not be shared.

As a leader you can also create value for your audience through content curation. This means adding value to content by providing a summary, adding context or a perspective to the content you are sharing. 

5. Social 

You also need to build high quality networks, quality potentially matters more than quantity. Seek out the experts in your field, read what they say, engage them in debate and share your ideas. 

6. Media platforms

It is important you focus on the right platforms and communities

Where does your audience hang out? Find and focus on the platforms, communities and groups where your audience hangs out.

Some platforms are far more effective in improving the SEO benefits of SMO than others. In my view the most effective platform is Google Plus for many reasons which are set out in the article I mentioned on why Google Plus will improve your SEO.

This was reinforced in recent days by the post I mentioned from Dustin Stout on social signals and Google+. His research led him to conclude that Google is counting all activity from all Google+ posts back to the original blog post. Thus in Dustin's view "Google is trying really hard to give your shared links all the social credit they deserve."

7. Optimization 

I have included below some of my thoughts on the practical and technical aspects of optimizing your SMO below.

Share buttons - make it easy to share for users by adding share buttons to your content. You should also show the numbers of shares to demonstrate social proof.

Social Icons - group and display your social icons in a prominent place on your site.

Subscription options - group together subscription options such as email, RSS, and newsletters.

Shareable content -  some content is more readily shareable such as infographics or 5 top tips articles. I think this is partly because it is short and scannable. However, I hope and believe longer but well written content will also be shared.

Social login - use social login options to make it easy for users to comment.

Rich snippets - social networks pull in rich snippets, data designed to summarise the content of a page. These are very useful for users. The different social networks pull in this data in different  ways. Facebook uses OpenGraph, Twitter uses Twitter Cards and Google Plus will take values from OpenGraph, you just need to set up your authorship profile for your rel="author" tag to work correctly.  If you use WordPress you can use the Yoast plugin to manage and optimise these rich snippets 

Title tags - Optimize your title tags for sharing, especially on Twitter where there is a character limit and include your name.

Images - they really do say more than a thousand words. Include images that add value and include an image that can be used as a thumbnail for your content.

Thanks again to Joshua Berg for his Real SMO framework and for the work of Dustin Stout and Mark Traphagen. I hope through my reflections and additions I have added some value to the way you think about and approach the SMO of your SEO. 

Join The Conversation

  • singsys's picture
    Oct 19 Posted 1 year ago singsys Search Engine Optimization - The term SEO stands for search engine optimization. It is a process that is used to improve the ranking of a website in a search engine. Vs Social Media Optimization - SMO stands for social media optimization. The purpose of SMO is to use social media to increase traffic to a website. It is important to generate viral publicity. I would say SEO is more important than SMO. But both have to be done in terms of bringing traffic and increase page rank.
  • Jul 11 Posted 2 years ago rossiwhite100

    Much obliged concerning the article , I'm simply getting go into SEO in the wake of having been out for a couple of years and its surprising how predominant SMO has gotten in the time I've been away!

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  • Feb 5 Posted 3 years ago jasonluttrell

    I do appreciate the fact that this article does properly distinguish between SEO and SMO. I wish others were as accurate.

  • Feb 5 Posted 3 years ago jasonluttrell

    This is yet another article that seems to confuse the difference between search engine optimization (SEO) and social media optimization (SMO).

    It uses the same absurd approach, starting off by explaining what SEO is as if SMO is an evolved form or replacement. I put this on the level with Wired Magazine declaring that the "Web is dead" or another recent article that said "Keyboards are dead." When I hear someone say something is dead, my thought is "they're willing to say anything sensational to generate traffic, regardless of whether or not its true." In this age of Gawker and BuzzFeed, that's become the norm.

    Anyone who *truly* understands the nature of the Internet understands that search engines are here to stay. The Internet was developed to bring content together and enable people to more quickly access the content they need; thus, the need for search engines. Search is the number one reason why the Web is not dead, nor are mobile apps going to change that. They may evolve, their algorithms may change, but there will always be search engines as long as there is an Internet. On the other hand, now people are also finding content that is shared with them or that appears in their activity streams.

    SEO is about using technical techniques to get search engines to consider online content as relevant to a particular search. As they become smarter, SEO needs to be smarter as well.

    Here's the key: SEO and SMO are not the same. They are similar but unrelated. The only commonality is the word "optimization" as it relates to increasing traffic to a website or content. SEO is 95% technical. SMO is mostly about drawing readers and promoting viral content, but also includes some technical aspects as well. This is not unlike Search Engine Marketing (SEM); perhaps there should also be a distinction between SMO and social media marketing (SMM)? Also, note that those technical aspects of SMO also drive search engine rankings, so that could be considered a subset of SEO.

    That gives us four different but all still very relevant domains:

    SEO   -   SMO
    SEM   -   SMM

    "Traditional" SEO is being replaced by "current" SEO. Point is, it hasn't gone anywhere.

  • AlbertBarkley's picture
    Aug 26 Posted 3 years ago AlbertBarkley

    Considering all the points, it seems the est strategy but how to fight with the Google? Many SEO Services Provider companies has been down due to Google strict policies.

    SEO Services

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