Feature Article (Pub: Feb 07) The Rise of Social Media and Search Engine Optimisation by Paul Rudman

In the last few years a phenomenon has been sweeping across the online community, social media. Sites such as YouTube, Myspace and Facebook have evolved and become extremely popular with millions of people creating a pages about themselves, their band, their company, and just about anything they're involved with. There are millions of views of videos per week on YouTube which again make it a highly successful social media site that recently lead to the acquisition of the site by Google.

So are there opportunities that could be exploited by someone clever and quick enough to manipulate these tools for their benefit?

Social media is yet another form of search, and so focusing on how we can manipulate social search for the benefits of our clients is something that every forward thinking SEO must have in their armoury.

Types of Social Media websites

Before we consider what we can achieve through social media and the optimisation related term that has been coined - Social Media Optimisation (SMO) - it is important to realise that there are many different types of social media websites and communities, involving different means of communication and different forms of expression, so there is no "one solution fits all" scenario, so we'll deal with them one at a time.

Video Search
The prime example of video search is YouTube which is immensely popular and influential, and an excellent target to focus your viral marketing campaigns on. For example, did you realise that the John West advert of the fisherman wrestling the bear was viewed over half a million times last year? So for the cost of filming the advert and the time taken to add it on to YouTube, the company received excellent publicity. So how can you take advantage of YouTube and video search in general? From an SEO perspective our work doesn't start 'til the video is created, so someone somewhere has to have a good message, well filmed and compressed in order to actually kick-start the campaign. Once we have that video then we can take advantage of video search through optimised tagging of the content, to make sure that when someone does a search for a video file on a specific subject that your video ranks highly for it.
Audio Search
There are some very popular audio searches now available through sites such as Alltheweb, Yahoo!, and sites dedicated to presenting results of podcasts found on the Internet. Again, in a similar way to video search, the optimiser's role only begins once the audio file or podcast has been created and is online. Through a combination of file tagging and submission to audio search sites and directories, you can make sure that your audio files are found for the appropriate words and phrases.
Social Book Marking
Social bookmark sites are now very popular with sites such as Digg, Furl, and Del.icio.us leading the way. The idea is that people open accounts with these sites and then submit their favourites, similar to using the favourites tool in your IE browser, just sharing this with the rest of the community. The more people list your site as their favourite, the higher your site will rank. Optimisation for social bookmark tools is an article in itself, so we'll address this in the coming months.
Myspace
Millions of people have a Myspace page now. Google now indexes all the pages, and because of the power of the Myspace domain, the pages within the site tend to rank well for searches done. For example, Jose Gonzalez' (musician) page on Myspace ranks 4th out of 6,000,000 results in Google (as of 23rd February, 2007)

This gives you an idea of how the creation of an optimised Myspace page can be beneficial in getting your business and key personnel positive brand exposure and visibility in the search engines. The various elements of optimisation that go into a Myspace are straightforward: when you add the text to the page and also the title (as these are both factors that help a page rank well), and add to good keyword density the fact that you are creating a page on one of the most powerful domains on the Internet, and you get an idea of how potent one of these pages could be just in the conventional search listings, let alone all the people using the Myspace search tool itself who will find your page.

The main things to remember when optimising for social media sites is that while the principles of it are relatively simple, it is very time consuming, and also relies on you having something to say of interest in the first place. It means a great advert, a great podcast, and something people want to see - as without that initial purpose then it doesn't matter how good the tagging of the file is.

Again, this highlights the fact that SEO is a complimentary service designed to get traffic to websites with a strong message or something of interest. It cannot make people buy a product they don't want to or subscribe to a service that is twice as expensive as your main competitor, that part of your marketing strategy is up to you!


Paul Rudman is the director and head of optimisation at CommerceTuned, he's been involved in developing search strategies and search engine optimisation for 7 years.

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