David Holt gives practical tips for marketing managers on how they can squeeze the most from SEO and capitalise on the social media explosion.
As any marketing manager knows, marketing budgets took a real hammering last year. It is sometimes seen as an easy first cut to make - reports show that around 60% of all marketing budgets were reduced in 2009. Some confidence has been restored this year, with marketing managers showing more optimism to invest, but the need to show restraint and resourcefulness will be a recurring theme until the end of this year I suspect.
Businesses are always under pressure to do more for less, to reduce cost per sale, ultimately to protect sales margins. Ironically, this period of downturn has also been mirrored by the exponential rise of social media which has opened up a raft of new opportunities for marketers to engage with their stakeholders. So, how can marketing managers first tune-up their websites ready for social media and the benefits for search engine optimisation (SEO) and also take full advantage of opportunities from ‘free’ social media without burning through their time and budget?
Before you dive in on Twitter
, there are some foundations you need to put in place first to get ready for social media and that means looking at your website. Your website is your shop window on the web, the place you want your social media traffic to go. Directing visitors back to your website is where you can capitalise on sales leads (or sales if you have an ecommerce site) and also benefit from 'organic' SEO.
Like any good marketing activity, planning is essential. Your strategy for your website 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 tools such 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 websites) and social media activity help drive up your website 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 arrest its rise.
Search engine friendly
First base for your website 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 CMS’ such as Wordpress
are ideal. They can easily incorporate all your social media tools such as blogs, RSS feeds, Twitter feeds, bookmarking and so on. 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 website.
Steer clear of overusing Java-based scripts and Macromedia Flash graphics especially for the front pages of your website, as the search engines cannot read it as they would have to run the application first. Sites can be optimised for SEO by ensuring keyword-rich text is included extensively into web page content. Registering for free website 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'. Keywords link the web browser with your website, so it is worth putting in the time and there are many ways to develop your keyword strategy, defining those search terms that your business wants to focus on. Key word strategies are vital for successful SEO, proving to a search engine how important your site is to a particular search. This is also 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 which 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 website optimised for social media, it is time to start social networking.
With good content – articles, news, video, podcasts, you can see your website hits climb, as your company becomes more renowned as an expert in its chosen field. You may want to involve your public relations agency in creating this content. Blogs are fantastic for SEO, regularly updated, keyword-rich blog content is favoured by search engines, also video, causing your site to be re-indexed with each new content addition. Good quality blog content will also 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. It gives 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 www.socialmention.com
to listen first, monitor who and what is being said.
Research suitable sites, groups and lists to participate in, 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 which is interested to hear 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 website 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 6-12 months of the current downturn. The investment will pay dividends once the market begins to turn around properly.
David Holt is business development manager of social media and search engine optimisation specialist Amplify.