The peppered moth (Biston betularia), once white with black spots, faced a strange challenge in London during the Industrial Revolution. Buildings and trees, stained with soot, turned black. The light colored moths could no longer hide against this backdrop, and were eaten up by birds.
But some peppered moths survived – by turning black themselves!
To survive, you must adapt and change with your environment. Otherwise, you’re dead. That’s the powerful lesson business owners, marketers and entrepreneurs can learn from a humble moth.
The Times, They Are A-Changin’
A major shift has taken place that alters the way you’re doing business online — and offline. It has to do with social media, SEO and public relations (PR). Ignoring their impact on your marketing is suicidal. Weaving them into your strategy can be transformational.
Let’s talk about why you mustn’t merely include social media, SEO and PR in your existing business and marketing, but intelligently integrate them in a manner that lets you dominate your niche. With the right approach, you can create and reap synergies that will deliver long-lasting effects at a high ROI.
The Shift In Emphasis Toward Trust
Tactical SEO games are about to end. Google will no longer ignore manipulative SEO tricks based on fake check-ins and false reviews. Tactics like that could destroy trust in Local Search, and Google doesn’t want that to happen. Thus, there’s a concerted effort on Google’s part to determine identity and assign trustworthiness based on it.
Then we have Google+. Did you believe it’s just another social network for folks to meet, greet, and share information? No, it’s much more — it’s a far-reaching effort to establish user trust levels.
Trust has become Google’s financial lifeline. With the majority of the search giant’s $50.2 billion revenue in 2012 coming from ads, Google wants people to keep coming back. And they are coming back — because they trust Google’s search results. Once they stop finding relevant and reliable answers, they’ll abandon the big G.
To prevent this, Google must:
- Correctly uncover searcher intent and understand their problems, mining data from the knowledge graph.
- Provide local ads and search results relevant to people, wherever they happen to be at the moment.
- Identify real people and assign them a trust score, using signals that are tough to game or cheat.
This means SEO suddenly has grown very complex. Isolated on-page and off-page SEO tactics are no longer enough. SEO is now true marketing. It’s also about social media and PR.
Where Are You Investing Your Marketing Budget?
Blindly throwing cash at outdated techniques is a road to slow, sure death. To succeed today, your approach must change. You must evolve to survive.
According to Google, 97% of customers search for local businesses and offers online. If they can’t find you, they’ll go to your competition. Optimizing for local and mobile search is therefore critical.
Google CEO, Larry Page, has said that the knowledge graph is only 1% of where they want it to be. They want to know more about their users, and this includes you. They seek to judge whether or not your content, your website, your offer — your business — are worth sharing in their search results.
It’s a long journey, and there won’t be any quick fixes. There are 3 key factors at play in this dynamic marketplace:
- Technological advancements
- Human behavioral and attitudinal changes
- The digital ecosystem
Google needs to keep pace with all of them. If you’re worried about how challenging this all seems for your business, just think about how much harder it must be for Google!
Google Knows Where Your Customers Are
The search giant recently launched a knowledge graph carousel for local search, which means that local search results are now displayed higher on the SERPs. The carousel is populated dynamically based on the searcher’s location, so the geographic location of a business or outlet will impact which search results users will see first.
Social signals and PR also play a greater role. People come ahead of links.
Until now, the focus on links was like the proverbial Achilles heel. Google relied primarily upon links, which were easy to manipulate. Google has to find a way around this — not to replace the value of links, but to gain a greater perspective by considering them in context.
While SEO in general is still the same, local SEO is influenced by 2 unique factors:
- The citations your business has received
- The number and tone of reviews from local customers (tone being positive, negative or neutral)
Guess which carries the highest weighting? That’s right — the one associated with social signals. In other words, positive reviews. Convincing your satisfied customers to post stellar reviews of your business can have a dramatic impact on your local search rankings.
Why Should You Care About What Google Thinks/Likes?
Google has wedged itself firmly into the modern online economy. You and I use it, businesses use it and our clients use it.
Google is the world’s most popular search engine, with 67% market share. There were 1.2 trillion searches on Google in 2012. Search users find information, do research, and make buying decisions. Google is a goldmine for businesses looking for ready-to-buy customers.
But, recent changes impact your search rankings. Social media marketing, SEO and PR were previously treated as separate, watertight compartments. Businesses bought these services independently of other marketing activities. The different consultants rarely collaborated, leading to many missed opportunities.
In a modern economy, this must change. It doesn’t matter if you’re IBM or a mom-and-pop local business, a neighborhood eatery or the niche store around the corner. You’ll have to seize these opportunities to make more money and grow your business in a cost-effective way.
How Social Media Impacts SEO
Social media, with its billions of active users, includes Facebook, Google+, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, blogs and various discussion forums where you can meet existing customers and new prospects. It’s a great medium to build fans and followers.
Social content ranks well on search engines. What happens on TripAdvisor (a social review site) and Yelp (a business directory) stays on Google (a search engine). What people say about your business — their feedback, the ratings they leave — everything — is publicly accessible to your prospective buyers. And this, of course, impacts the research/purchase cycle.
Overlooking social media can harm your brand and reputation, lower your revenue, and hurt not just your SEO, but your entire business. Adapting your strategy to include social networking can present a huge, untapped opportunity. Consider the following:
- Social media can multiply your SEO impact. Spreading virally by online word-of-mouth, news about your business can reach far and wide, creating ripples that self-perpetuate and strengthen your brand. While the actual spreading of your content is free, there is an upfront cost to produce it.
- Social media drives offline sales. Many search users research online, but make their purchases offline. Google presents these searchers with locally relevant results. Local business review sites rank well in specific geographic areas, and can drive more people into stores.
- Social media is constantly evolving. Working with a social media consultant can help you prioritize tasks and devise a tactical plan to utilize the medium to maximum effect. That alone will make the difference between achieving mediocre results and delivering outstanding value to dominate your niche for years to come.
- Social media creates long-lasting synergy. Ripples set off by social media interactions can create positive (or negative) perceptions far afield — and the impact will linger long after the initial event or action has ended.
Intelligent Integration Can Multiply Impact
Imagine you’re a hotel or restaurant owner with many bad reviews (1/5 stars) and a general negative tone to client feedback on your TripAdvisor and Yelp listings. What can you do to attract new local customers?
First, you’ll need your satisfied customers to write great reviews and leave 5/5 star ratings on your TripAdvisor page. That will show up as a rich snippet on Google’s SERPs, which can positively impact the click-through rate (and thus the number of visitors who arrive at your website). Some of them will become customers. The upward spiral begins.
What can you do to encourage people to review your business? You can inform your users on arrival or check-in. You can place a sign at the entrance or in the bar. There are many ways to do this, but do read and follow the rules for each different service.
What if you do nothing at all? The bad reviews will scare away new customers. You’ll lose business. Remember this: your customers are now in control. Anyone can create a profile for your business on a social review site, check in at the location, and share their experiences with the world. The bus will leave the station — with or without you aboard!
And, Google is always watching.
What you must understand is that whatever goes on in social media affects how Google regards your business (as relevant and trustworthy, or not) — and, in turn, affects your rankings in local search results.
How Social Media Merges With SEO
People no longer blindly trust everything they see or hear. They want “social proof” and validation of their choices.
When you synchronize your social marketing campaigns with your most important keywords, your audience will use those words to research your business, find you on the top of Google, see other social signals (like PR articles, news stories, social media profiles, ratings and more)… and begin to trust you.
It’s an SEO + Social Media + PR win.
Evolution Just Sped Up
Not only do you have to evolve and adapt, you’ve got to do it quickly. The way people communicate, socialize, discover and purchase has changed dramatically. The ability to solve problems and enrich lives is now within the reach of any business who cares to grab this chance…and they will also make a lot of money in the process.
But you need to be aware of the ways in which social signals can influence search engine rankings. While no one but Google’s programmers knows for sure, we can state with reasonable certainty that there’s a strong link between the two.
Google serves a huge client base successfully because they have gained trust and maintained it over the years. People come back to Google because they find answers to their questions. For free.
The minute people lose trust in Google and find another, more trusted search engine, Google’s financial backbone will be broken. That’s why Google’s management team is obsessed with one thing above all else: users’ ability to find what they came for, regardless of where they are or how they access the Web.
That’s a complex task. How do they manage it? Relevancy.
Google listens carefully to users. Observes what they do. Learns from their interactions and conversations on social sites. By understanding user intent, they can serve up the most relevant solutions.
Keywords in text can be indicators of relevancy. Links to a page can be signs of popularity. But the signals that emanate from social media interactions allow Google to understand relevancy and popularity on a whole new level.
Takeaways for Social Media Marketers
“Today’s approach must change to survive tomorrows major economic changes.”
So what’s a business owner or marketer to do?
- Build trust with your customers and offer a quality service.
- Focus on “people building.” Develop a network of fans who are active on social media and spread word about you and your brand.
- Make your content fascinating to your audience. Being mediocre will get you no where.
- Get people to engage and share (recommend) you. That provides links and will be a better long term strategy because of the social signals generated.
- Appeal to logic. Draw upon statistics, credible sources, reasonable arguments and inherent rationale of a situation to get more people to buy in.
- Go viral. Get many shares on social media. Make news about your brand spread — fast.
One of the biggest imperatives for business owners is to evolve our way of doing business to fit tomorrow’s altered digital ecosystem. Offering a better service and content, integrating your online and offline strategy, and harnessing the power of social media and PR to the tested and proven power of SEO can bring the best results.
This applies equally to large and small businesses. In the long run, how big you are will not matter as much as how rapidly you can evolve.
A key element of evolution within a digital ecosystem like ours is building rich, vibrant networks of friends, fans and followers.
Sharing valuable or important information is one way to grow your network. Encourage your clients and others to read this article. And share your thoughts, opinions and feedback with others who can gain from your insights, by leaving a comment below.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.