Social Search Strategies That Scream! SRSLY Deep Brainchow from #SESNY

Welcome back to AIMCLEAR‘s coverage of #SESNY 2013! Search and social: any marketer worth her salt will tell you the two go together like peanut butter and jelly, peanut butter and Nutella, peanut butter and bananas… etcetera. Elements of one feed elements of the other in magical and rewarding ways– understanding, respecting, and embracing the relationship between search  and social is crucial to continued success in a world where the line between the two is becoming increasingly blurred.

The morning of Day#3 at #SESNY brought together moderator Danny Goodwin, Associate Editor, Search Engine Watch, and speakers Dan Cristo, Director of SEO Innovation, Catalyst Online, Duane Forrester, Senior Program Manager, Bing to explore this essential dynamic. “If search marketing is all about delivering value from consumer intent,” the session description maintained, “social is about delivering value from consumer interest.” Attendees at the Marriott Marquis saddled up for a flood of awesome insight and actionable tactics. First up was Dan. Let’s jump in!

How can social help me rank for competitive terms?
This was the underlying theme of Dan’s presentation. There’s an assumption that social can help us rank for competitive terms. Dan wanted to explore this, so he did a little research. Sure enough, he encountered a post listing the top 50 most competitive KWs out there. Funnily enough, one is SEO 🙂 . Another is “online courses.” Another is “toothpaste.” Dan wanted to see how personalized compare to unpersonalized SERPs for these competitive KWs. Let’s dive into that last one…

An unpersonalized search for “toothpaste” ranks Burt’s Bees at #3, the first site for a brand, and the second brand, Aquafresh, at #5. Upon activating personalization, Crest (which was at the bottom of the previous SERP) had overtaken Burt’s Bees and claimed that first brand slot at #3!

TIP! Want to sell in Social SEO? Screenshot a competitive KW, +1 it, share it with your friends, ask them to share it, wait a few hours, take another screenshot. Present findings.

Okay, back to the personalized SERP for “toothpaste,” Dan pointed out a little man / person icon next to the Crest listing, indicating it is a personalized result. Dan had in fact +1’ed the result over a year ago when he first started playing around with Google+.  But Google doesn’t tell him this (no timestamp), and also doesn’t mention which of his other friends have also +1’ed the content.

So yeah, regarding the freshness of social signals… a year passed, and Dan’s +1 social signal is still driving the result!

What’s powering Google’s social search signals? According to Google:


Dan emphasized that this is just the surface. Beneath the scenes, there is something more interesting…

So here’s the scoop: Google applied for a patent in 2010.Back then, Google was thinking about social media and social networks (namely, Google+). “When users are in a social network, when someone asks a question, how are we going to give them the answer? Deliver web content? People content?” The whole patent was around this process.

Google really wanted to merge the social and search processes. When a question was asked, it wanted to look for people online in a user’s friend’s circle and pass that Q to those friends real-time with a little popup box. People would respond, and there you go! A real-time Q&A featuring a user’s friends. The patent was meant to figure out who has the right to answer a user’s question. (Hey, that’s really what SEO is! Figuring out who has the right to answer your question.)

Conclusion: The relationship to the asker determines who has the right to answer the question.

SEO Can Be Boiled Down To 2 Things: Relevancy and Trust
Trust is based, in part, on authority (being a verified source). Trust is also based on intimacy. You really trust your family. Friends, coworkers, extended family might have a bit less trust, putting them a bit further outside the circle. Even further out of circle live friends of friends, stranger, and acquaintances. Dan’s influence on other people works the same way- the closer their relationship is (from their POV) impacts that trust.

With G+, Google’s literally creating circles for you to put people in. It wants to graph your relationships and your trust levels with those particular people: “These are my friends, these are my family, these are my acquaintances.” You’re straight-up telling Google!  Again, the amount of trust a user has in these people impacts the answers that user sees.

“Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance.”  -Google’s former CEO Eric Schmidt

In other words, everyone needs a Goolge+ profile so that they can be verified. If you’re not verified, if you’re not in people’s trust circle, it makes SEO very hard.

So… Google wants you to be verified. Let’s put a plan together to make that happen.

Remember: Every strategy has three distinct elements: Goals, objectives, and tactics. Dan outlined the three core objectives of a great social SEO strategy.

Social SEO Strategy Objectives:

  • Create online relationships
  • Deepen online relationships
  • Scale online relationships

Axe men’s body products does a great job creating content for customers on Facebook. They follow a fabulously smart tip, namely: Get to know your customers. Make them smile. Get a conversation going.

A wonderful way to create relationships is by offering the kind of content your audience will want to consume. This doesn’t mean you have to reinvent the wheel every time you want to share something, and it doesn’t mean you have to throw a billion dollars at your content creation program. Axe, for example, basically shares funny memes and a few product shots (but they don’t overdo that last bit, because people want to share cool stuff – they don’t just want to share product photos).

The vehicle in which relationships are created is content, and relationships are based on shared experiences. Axe is also creating its own little graphic novel – an awesome piece of content to share with people, because it propels the concept of creating a shared experience. They’re also doing this with games by offering social gaming elements.

Take the time to learn what your audience likes. Then, create and offer it to them!

Once you’ve created those relationships, deepen them. A great way to do this is simply by being human– adding more personal elements to the social media presence. For example, appending posts with the name or initials of the community manager. Posting photos of the team behind the scenes. Really communicating with audience members on a person-to-person level.

Finally, always work to scale those deepened relationships. Employees are at the heart of scaling social. Get everyone from your team on board. For example, everyone at ESPN has “ESPN” in their Twitter handles. They’re 24/7 ambassadors mixing personality into an overall brand experience.

You can also scale in terms of content marketing. Convert existing content into different mediums– podcasts, video, images, the works! Again, you don’t have to go through the content of creating unique research every time.

SEO / Social Cycle: Content is created –> initial shares –> syndicated shares –> content is ranked –> user discovers content through search –> users likes content and follow (becoming initial sharers for the next set). There’s a cyclical nature of content being created, shared, and the discovery of new followers.

The Impact of Social Media on Search Volume

  • Social media was generating a 20% lift in overall brand KW search volume.
  • The increased search traffic was directly accountable for a 15% lift in online sales volume.
  • 20% lift in search behavior, because of social media engagement!

Are you looking to create, deepen and scale relationships? Start by asking yourself these questions:

  1. Do you have a tribe set up? That mechanism where the seed group is pushing out content to their followers? If not, how can you use loyal customers (consider email marketing) and employees to move the needle?
  2. Do you have the appropriate budget? If needed, segment a portion of the paid budget to support SEO and social!
  3. Do you have a content pipeline? Have a plan to ensure a continuing and frequent flow of content.
  4. Does management have a long-term view of social? Just because something doesn’t work within 3 months means it’s a wrong move. We must move away from a link-based ranking society to a social-based ranking society. Moving into mobile, that will be even more important– it’s not easy to link from app to app, but it’s much easier to share from app to app.


  • Rankings are based on trust
  • Trust is based on intimacy
  • Intimacy is measured by engagement
  • To engage, you must create, deepen, and scale relationships!

Dan wrapped up, and turned it over to Duane, who was set to discuss a higher-level look at where things are going in the future.

Search, Social, & The Future
In search, we’re trying to solve…

  • Imprecise results (1 in 4 delivers successful results)
    Refinements (42% of sessions require refinements)
  • Lengthy tasks (44% of sessions lasting a day or more)

Moving from Query to Session KWs

  • A query is a single action. Query: “dog” – lots of volume, but doesn’t really tell you intent.
  • A session is a collection of related actions overtime. Session: On Monday, someone searches for the terms: dog beds, dog accessories, dog toys, vet near me, dog friendly hotels, organic dog food, doggy daycare. And on Tuesday, that same user searches for dog sweaters, dog collars, dog leaches, puppy training, dog park, dog allergies, pictures of dogs.

Pattern of behavior begin to emerge from the session. Duane strongly recommends checking out all of the KWs people are using – it will give you a glimpse into what is going on in that person’s mind– which is crucial in helping you make business decisions and understand where to invest.

Have you ever made a large purchase over the Internet? (Like a camera, or a television set.) You probably did some research beforehand. The decision points you are going through are known as your sessions. This process could take weeks. This is totally normal! You’re about to spend a lot of money and want to make an informed decision. Duane stressed the importance of delivering knowledge by computationally understanding user intent. How can you do that?

Build out some customer personas. Understand people are behind your product, the man or woman behind the computer screen. Look across all their data. For example, Linda is a persona searching for the query “home gym.” We have to move forward and try to understand her intent direction. Who is she? Where is she? What does she want to do with this “home gym”? Sell one? Learn to install one? Purchase one? Impress her friends with one?  Shoveling social data into the pipeline allows us to learn more things. This is why Bing is making partnerships with social sites like Facebook – to help get the social context. With social context, we learn that Linda is a professional yoga instructor, so she probably wants something better, something high-quality. Regarding influence from other people, she probably wants advice from a peer or fellow physical trainer, not a family member.

Search Continues to Evolve

  • New devices demand different search XPs other than links.
  • The ability for these decides to feed in real time signals help us handle intent better and therefore can provide a more tailored experience.
  • It’s not just mobile phone or tables and its not just text entry. Anything could be a search – a voice, a picture, a gesture, a sound, anything. Bing is building the universal interface for search.

Why social matters to search:

  • Signals of topical authority
  • We want real time content – and engines want fresh content, fast
  • Integrated social signals influence click actions o searchers
  • Social signals remain only a few of thousands of signals for organic ranking

How users click on your results can impact rankings and when we show cues like your Facebook friends with results, CTR can be impacted.

Social is all about the psychology of human beings. What’s on your mind?

  • I want to buy a camera
  • Search finds: expert results and crowd-sourced opinions
  • Getting close, but I want friend’s opinion
  • So I wait for lunch to show them?
  • Social search helps me see their opinions faster!
  • I skip from asking questions (including my friends) to impressing them with a choice they’d make (and getting their approval)

Social enables this. Social search gets us closer to what we really want – even if we don’t state it clearly.

How Social Impacts Search…
In Bing SERPs, it’s search on the left, social results embedded in the right sidebar. If you’re not logged in, you won’t see that sidebar, but it will still impact the SERPs. If something is trending on Facebook, it will impact what you see… consider that.

Humanity is leaving its traces…

  • 60+ billion tweets in 2012
  • 65+ hours of video uploaded every minute to YouTube
  • 30+ photos uploaded to flickr every second…

That’s a lot of content!  People are fabulously plugged in and connected because of it.

Social Graph and Patterns
Link farms suck. Like farms suck, too – in other words, low-quality likes, even in high quality. If you think you’re gaming things by paying people to like stuff, guess again. You’re wasting the money, at best. At worst, you’re very politely painting a target on your business’s name and domain. Real, actual sharing looks like a series of lighting bolts – this is natural, and well-liked by search engines. Unnatural looks like big blobs that are very obvious to search engines.

Where does SEO fit in?
Content, social, user experience, link building, SEO – focus on these elements in this order. Importance is relative – no item is unimportant.

A Fresh Approach to Targeting Optimization

  • Every area of your site has a value – $, page views, emails, etc.
  • Determine what the value is
  • Sort your site by value to see what really matters
  • Organize work around high-value areas first

Duane concluded with his keen insights on some important topics:

Content Development:

  • The engines respond to unique, useful content
  • How do you define “content” ?
  • Match content to your audience
  • Different mediums for different jobs!

KW Research:

  • It will always begin here
  • Match data from external sources against your own data
  • Develop “share of choice” reporting to explain success (steer clear of ranking reports – if you do that too much, search engines will find you)
  • Back to sessions: create KW campaigns around topics

Encourage More Sharing:

  • Create lists
  • Use hooks
  • Participate in communities
  • Share others information
  • Ask questions

Build Efficiencies:

  • Look for ways to streamline your time
  • Identify a customer need and fill in the blanks
  • Look to identify patterns

Wrapping Up…

  • Content is the reason
  • KW research is a beacon
  • Quality is your watch word
  • Authority is your goal
  • Niche is your starting point
  • User experience is your religion
  • And use the tools provided!

A big round of applause for Duane and Dan! Smart tips to behold for sure. Stay tuned on AIMCLEAR blog for more coverage from #SESNY 2013!

Photo credit: cogdog on flickr

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