By now I’m sure everyone has heard that social media and online communities can be profitable for companies to pursue as part of an online marketing strategy. Many understand the value, but often don’t think they have time to incorporate this into their schedules. The whole idea of social media is to be social, to communicate with others, and to expand your online network. So yes, engagement is everything. Unless you take just a few minutes each day or each week to participate, you won’t be able to maximize the benefits that can result. Lately as I have talked with clients about social media channels, I often hear that they just don’t have the time. Today, I wanted to take a few moments to suggest some simple ways to partake in social media.
1) Blogging — Write a new post on your blog. We recommend that this should be done at least once per week. Blogs are great from a search engine optimization perspective as they add fresh content to the site that the spiders will recognize, but they also enable you to engage in a dialogue with potential customers. If you don’t allow for comments on your blog, this fresh content is still great to have and is another way to work a few of your important keywords into the content. You could also comment on other blogs within your industry. If it’s appropriate, reference your site, which will result in an inbound link and additional visitors. This allows you to get your name out there and provide information to educate others about you or your company.
2) Connect — If you’re already a member of a social media site, as most of us are, take a few minutes each week to update your profile. Do your Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn profiles contain the most up to date information about you? Set a goal to make a connection with someone new each week; even if it is just one or two more people. The more connections you have through these channels, the better. This networking and reaching out to others is just another way to build relationships with others in your industry. You never know who you might meet.
3) Write Reviews — We are all customers in some way, shape or form, and I am sure we can all agree that reviews have an impact on our consumer behavior. For example, if you’re looking for a hotel and in doing so, come across a bad review on a particular hotel; are you likely to stay there? What about a restaurant, a specific product or service? The point is that reviews can definitely have an impact on your business. I would suggest that you frequently look for reviews about your company, product, or service. This can be a great way to understand what people are saying about you. Also, do the same for others. If you have a good experience, write a review. Google Maps, Yelp, and CitySearch are a few great places to start.
4) Share — There are many sites such as Flickr and Picasa that are great for photo sharing. By uploading photos, you can interact with hundreds, even thousands of people who are interested in similar topics. This is great place to join groups and comment on others’ photos. Again, this circles back to joining and making connections within these online communities. Although Flickr has “nofollow” tags to picture captions and comments, participating in this community and others that are similar, can still be beneficial from a search engine optimization perspective. There are areas such as personal or group profiles and discussion boards that do not contain these “nofollow” tags, and including links back to your site here will enable you to benefit from the link juice. Take a few minutes and browse through these photo sharing sites. You’ll see that there are groups for almost anyone and there’s sure to be a place that’s a good fit for you as well.
Social media marketing can be very effective, but engagement is the most important component. You’re not going to be an expert in all of the social media channels overnight, and no one expects you to be, but the only way to gain a better understanding about how to best benefit from these channels is to get involved. If you’re not familiar with a certain social media channel that you think may be applicable to your industry, see what it’s all about. Yes, it may take some time out of your day, but who knows, it could lead you to a new friend or even new customer.
A blog, or web log, is a website created by an individual with constant updates of articles, essays and general information about a certain topic. How does this relate to SEO? Maintaining a blog on your website brings natural traffic by creating a community of sorts that gets people interested in your cause and/or business. The constant flow of new content that a blog provides is the sustenance that search engines crave. So, how do you utilize a blog for SEO?
As mentioned above, constant updates are bait to those search engine spiders. Search engines adore new updates and fresh information to scour. It’s the general consensus that one needs to consistently add a blog post at least once a week. What’s great about most blogging software is that it allows you to write your post and schedule it for whenever you want. You could even write some of your posts at the beginning of the month and arrange them to be posted over the following couple weeks.
You also need to consider, for business purposes, whether your blog is attached to you main site or whether it will be on its own domain. What is the best option? As with all aspects of SEO, this is up for debate. It would probably be more advisable to have the blog as part of your site, especially if your domain is an older, trusted domain. Setting up a whole new domain related to your business would take time to get trusted by the search engines. It would also be advisable to set up a free Blogger account (Google’s free blogging website) as a first step before going to the effort of hosting it internally.
When the blog is set up, you can just go ahead and optimize it in the regular fashion. Select the keywords you want to target and include them in the title of your blog post and in the post itself, always keeping in mind that it’s really not good practice to spam your blog with said keywords — search engines don’t like that! Also, if you are pushing a product or one of your websites, keep in mind that it’s not really a good idea to just plug your own cause. It could come across to your visitor that your only agenda is self promotion. Mention other related products and services, but always make yours the emphasis. Also, your site feeds could be used to promote your blog and you could cultivate relationships with other blogs and have them link to you.
Blogs are a great resource in terms of search engine optimization. Remember to always tweak to keep your loyal and new blog visitors interested. Additionally, keep your goals clear. Are you trying to be purely informational and position yourself as your chosen fields’ authority? Is this blog merely for fun and you’re just trying to get that traffic to get people to click on your AdSense ads or are you trying to promote your business? So, whatever the long term plan is, keep up on your optimization efforts!
As part of their Pop Picks program for answering webmaster questions, Google has provided webmasters with some clarification on the popular SEO myth that Google cannot crawl dynamic URLs. In fact, they have even gone so far as to suggest that dynamic URLs should not be rewritten at all because Google “can use the information provided through the parameters to better understand what your site is doing with those parameters” and “perhaps let us attempt other keywords that might lead us to content that we haven’t seen for your site”. While appreciating and even supporting Google’s efforts to crawl the “deep web”, there is some concern that their advice runs counter to what we have heard from Google in the past making this new clarification somewhat murky.
Of course, anyone who has looked at search engine results any time over the last two years is aware that search engines are capable of crawling and indexing pages with many more than three parameters. These two listings from the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service site illustrate this:
The full URLs are shortened in the search engine results page. These are the full URLs for these listings with each “=” sign indicating a new parameter:
Furthermore, Google has a point about the difficulties of implementing URL re-writing on dynamic websites. It is not uncommon for automatic URL rewriting modules for these sites to create more issues than they resolve. This is because they may have been improperly implemented and not because there is anything inherently wrong with presenting keyword-rich user-friendly URLs to visitors and search engines. Some examples of problems that can occur are:
1. The links in the navigation contain URLs with parameters like this one: www.example.com/id=4&id=5, which then redirect to SEO friendly URLs like www.example.com/stuff. The problem with this is not the format of the URL. It’s that there is a redirect built into the navigation of the site. To resolve this issue, ensure that any URL re-writing program does not involve on-site redirects. The link in main navigation should lead directly to www.example.com/stuff – no redirects.
2. The links in the main navigation lead directly to SEO friendly static URLs like www.example.com/stuff, but the dynamic URLs are still accessible to search engines. If anyone links to the dynamic URL, then both are available to search engines and both contain the same content. This makes it difficult for search engines to figure out which of these pages they are supposed to index. As noted above, in Google’s case, they filter out duplicate content and if they filter out the wrong page, it could have negative effects on your search engine rankings.
3. Finally, even sites that have links leading directly to the main navigation with accompanying redirects for the dynamic pages may run afoul of search engines if the redirects do not cause the server to issue the correct header response. All redirects designed to implement SEO friendly URLs should issue a header response of 301 (Permanent). This tells search engines that the true URL is the SEO-friendly one and not the dynamic one — if they should happen across it. Many URL rewriting programs use redirects that issue a header response of 302 (Temporary). This causes both URLs to be listed which does not solve the issue at all.
Although Google claims that they can filter out the duplicate content that multiple parameters might create on your site (and in truth, they are doing much better at this today than even a year ago), too many pages targeting similar content as a result of the dynamic nature of the pages can create issues. Small product differences can cause ten or more pages that basically feature the same content to be generated. In those cases, only one of those pages is indexed and without any restrictions on search engines, which page is listed is totally up to Google.
In addition, these dynamic URLs do not contain keywords relevant to the page, they are very long and non-user friendly and when parameters are not handled correctly, they can result in the same content on the site being presented under more than one URL filename — the infamous duplicate content issue.
One common example of this as it pertains to dynamic URLs is a page that receives a different URL depending on how and where the page is generated. For example, these two links to the 2006 Australian Census Data are displaying the same basic content:
This is not a big problem because Google will filter out the duplicate content. However, for other search engines, this could cause more difficulties and even for Google, it is not clear which of these pages they would choose to index. If a site owner has a clear preference as to which page should be indexed, allowing Google to make the choice may not be preferable. Furthermore, even though Google’s new information suggests that they can handle the duplication of pages with different URLs, webmasters who have received Google’s duplicate content warnings in their Webmaster Tools Account remain skeptical.
Finally, even Google has limits on how many pages of a site it can reasonably crawl in one session. Naturally, a site owner would prefer Google to come in, find any new or updated pages and leave rather than crawling the site indefinitely in search of every possible permutation of the content available. If keeping the number of parameters to a minimum in dynamic URLs will help that happen, then it is in the best interest of the site owner and Google for the site to be constructed with that end.
While we continue to recommend, purely from a user experience perspective, that site owners take control over what content they present to search engines and visitors by creating short keyword rich URLs that limit the number of parameters, we can appreciate the difficulties that improper URL rewriting have created for search engines. Perhaps a better solution from Google would be more of a partnership with site owners allowing them more control over how a site is indexed with respect to site parameters. This is the step that has been taken by Yahoo. Yahoo’s Site Explorer will allow you to specify which parameters can be ignored for the purposes of determining what is unique content. Even so, it’s great to see that Google is so responsive to the needs of its content providers and continues to be forthcoming with innovations to their crawling and indexing technology.