How journalists should blend social media, SEO strategies

by Margaret Looney
Feb 25, 2013 in Social Media

When more than 93 percent of online experiences begin with a search engine, how can journalists get their stories to the top of search results?

By adding a dose of social media strategy to your search engine optimization (SEO) techniques, said Jeff Rum, President and CEO of Spark Experience, at a Social Media Week event.

Search engines beat out social media as the top drivers of Web traffic, but as Google’s search algorithm, Penguin, gets smarter, SEO has to get more social.

Receiving 80 percent of all Web searches, the search-engine giant uses a sophisticated algorithm that spits out spam and over-optimized Web pages and rewards sites with authoritative, shareable and unique content. “Penguin really signals to us that social media is not only relevant, it’s actually critical now to your search engine rankings,” Rum says.

Here are a few tips to help get your story higher in Google search rankings:

Create content for people, not search engines.

SEO used to be about stuffing as many keywords onto a site as possible, but Google Penguin is smarter than that now. It penalizes websites that cram overused keywords into the copy.

Rum says Google doesn't even use the keyword metatags from the back end of your website anymore, and sites that do use those actually receive lower rankings. Pages with the highest rankings are those with clear, personable writing that’s relevant and people-friendly. Forget the jargon and write for your audience, just as you would a tweet or Facebook comment.

Include the must-haves of a high-quality website.

Google gives brownie points to sites featuring contact information, authors, validated and accessible code and a URL with a strong domain history, one that’s been around for a while. Make sure every image has an alt tag (that description that pops up when you hover your mouse over a picture). Don’t cram keywords here, just describe the picture. Feature a space for comments; the more people who comment the higher your page rankings will be.

Avoid duplicate or shallow content with no links, images or video. Pages with too many ads high above the page also get knocked down in the page rankings.

Google's Penguin also loves top-ten lists, reviews, comparison content or bolded or bulleted items that are relevant to the content. “Any kind of gooey content that’s really quick for people to read and scan...that’s what Google really looks for,” Rum says.

Amp up your Twitter feed.

Your social media presence also directly affects your page rankings. “Who you are as a person on Twitter actually matters for page rankings, even more than Facebook,” Rum says. “Google has made it clear that it’s looking at not only the number of followers you have...but it’s more important to see your content is being retweeted.”

URLs receive a significant boost when they’re shared on Twitter, Rum says, and the more authoritative the sources that tweet you or link to your content, the higher you’ll be in the page rankings.

Guest blog.

Blogging for reputable websites that will link back to your website is one of the most critical SEO moves you can make, Rum says. “If you can write, let’s say, for the Huffington Post and guest blog and direct people back to your website...this is what Google is looking for because it’s seeing Huffington Post as an authoritative, quality site linking back to you."

Forget about more links, think better links.

Pre-Penguin, the goal was to get as many links back to your website as possible, but now Google will dock points for those quick schemes like link farming. “It’s the quality of the link that matters,” Rum says. “So you want to find authoritative...high page-ranked websites that link back to your website.” And this is where you start to see the cross between social media and SEO, because these popular sites include Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn and other social media platforms.

As Penguin continues to undergo updates, stay up to date with Google’s SEO guidelines on its Webmaster Central Blog. The site offers a checklist of questions to ask yourself that ensure you’re producing authoritative content Google Penguin will respect.

_Image CC-licensed on Flickr via AslanMedia._