Q and A: How do I leverage Social Media to improve my SEO?

QuestionHello Kalena

What do you think is the future of SEO as it relates to Social Media?

I’m really interested in convergence/intersection of Social Media and SEO.  I’d like to select my next set of Search Engine College courses with this in mind.  Do you have any suggestions? For example, I know the importance of blogging etc., but how do you go about creating a network of bloggers that can be used to help increase social media signals?

Toni

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Hi Toni

Social media has been a vital piece of SEO for a couple of years now. The amount of exposure that Social Media Marketing provides can contribute not just to traffic to a web site, but also to a site’s SEO strategy and long term success.

Web sites that are using successful social media strategies will almost always benefit from better visibility in the search engines. Why is this? For a few reasons:

  • Cross promotion of content between various social media channels and a web site usually means more links pointing to that web site. This contributes to a site’s link popularity. Higher link popularity and more relevant incoming links generally increases the *trust rank* of a site and results in higher rankings on the SERPs.
  • Regular posting via a blog or via social media channels consistently creates new content. Search engines LOVE fresh content and will be more inclined to index your site more often if you keep it fresh.
  • New content will attract more visitors and more page views, which in turn will improve your *trustability* with Google and other major search engines.
  • The more people talking about your brand, the better. Social media lends itself to brand discussion and product comparisons. If you make sure to take advantage of that, it can give you insights into new product development and customer satisfaction. Consistent mentions of your brand and/or products should naturally boost your product pages in the SERPs for related search queries.
  • When people are viewing and sharing your content via various social media channels, they are creating yet more links back to your site and this will have a flow-on effect to your link popularity and traffic levels. In effect, they are creating new content for you, without being on your payroll.

So how do you take advantage of all this and leverage your social media networks to boost your SEO strategy? Here’s a short checklist of things you can do when you publish new content on your web site or have something important to share:

  1. Upload it to your web site – This the starting point. Make sure the new content is uploaded here before any of your other marketing channels. This establishes your site as the original source and you can then point your social media posts to this source.
  2. Write a press release about it – If the new content or announcement warrants a press release, create one! Then upload it to press release syndication sites such as PR Web to ensure it gets maximum media coverage.
  3. Blog about it – If you write a regular blog, whether it is on your site or elsewhere, blog about it and link back to the original source on your site. Encourage other bloggers to link to it, blog about it or re-post it on their blogs. You mentioned this in your original question submission and YES, having a network of reliable bloggers either in your employ or in your social network can definitely help spread the word about your new content and contribute to your social signals.
  4. Bookmark it – Make sure your new content is submitted to smaller social sites and bookmarking services like Stumble Upon, Digg, Reddit and Delicious.
  5. Tweet it – Make sure you post a tweet on Twitter about your news, with a link back to the original source on your site and encourage your followers to share with their followers.
  6. Facebook it – As above, post a status update on your company/personal Facebook pages with a link back to the original source. Encourage your Facebook friends/fans to discuss it and share it with their friends.
  7. Pin it – If you have a Pinterest account, you might consider pinning it, particularly if the content is visual in nature.
  8. Google+ it – If you haven’t already set up your Google Plus account, do so quickly. A lot of people are already ditching Facebook and embracing Google+ as their favorite social media hangout. There are also other advantages to using it – if you use AdWords, you can have your ads show up with a little Google+ icon and link to your Google+ page. If you write regular articles/posts, you can also use Google+ for your Google Authorship annotations and track these in Google Webmaster Tools.
  9. Create a video about it – You might consider creating a short YouTube video talking about your news, or create a video version of your blog post. This can work particularly well if your content is a *how to* article or just educational in style.
  10. Create a slide-deck about it – As above, if your content is visual or educational, it would probably make a fantastic slide show. You could create a simple slide-deck about it ready to go for conferences or corporate presentations on the subject at a future date. Be sure to share the slide deck on slide hosting services like SlideShare.
  11. Create an eBook about it – If your content is a white paper or tutorial, you might consider creating an eBook and give that away via your social media channels. eBooks are a great way to solicit permission from people to sign up for your mailing list (in exchange for the free eBook).
  12. Send an email about it – If you publish a regular newsletter or Email broadcast, make sure you link to your new content within your campaign. Encourage people to share the news via their own social media networks.

Want more? Read Marcus Maraih’s article Improve Your Social SEO for more ideas.

Kalena

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Q and A: How Do I Prepare for a Large Site Migration?

QuestionHi Kalena

I work for a medium sized hospitality chain (in the marketing dept) and our leading chain of hotels is about to undergo a brand change. I’ve just found out that management has approved a full domain name change for each of these hotels and scheduled it with our IT department to happen next month. My General Manager bought the domain name without consulting IT or marketing.

I’m freaking out a little because I’ve been given the task of making sure the change goes smoothly and doesn’t impact our Google rankings or traffic, which I’ve spent years building up. There are 3 different regional hotel properties that will be affected and the content will be transferred over to a single domain! What should I expect? Is there anything I can do to make the transition go smoothly?

Regards
Belinda

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Hi Belinda

Oh boy, I don’t envy you. Yes, you are right to be freaking out – at least a little. Site migrations are a royal pain in the you know where and can result in masses of lost traffic and lost search engine rankings.

By the sound of things, your site migration will be complicated by the fact that there are multiple domains shifting to a single domain. Now before you start hyperventilating, there are some things you can do in preperation:

1) Read this terrific presentation about site migration by Aidan Beanland of Yahoo and then read it again. Create a plan for your own migration situation.

2) Go spend some time with the IT department. Hopefully you get on well with them because you’ll be spending a lot of time talking to them over the next few months. Provide them with a copy of Aidan’s guide so they know what to expect. You’ll need to find out their strategy for the roll-out, including pre-switch benchmarking, 301 redirect integration and testing, specific dates for content transfer, the big switch and final DNS propagation.

3) Consider shifting the content of each individual hotel into distinct region-based sub-domains on the new site e.g. Dallas.HotelBrand.com, Austin.HotelBrand, Houston.HotelBrand rather than trying to combine all content into a single site. This way, you can optimize the sub-domains as distinctive sites and retain the location-related Google rankings you have spent so long building up. If you can prove large traffic losses will occur if you don’t do this (and they will!), it should be easy to get IT and management onside.

4) Take an active role in the pre-migration benchmarking process, particularly in relation to site analytics, most popular content and search engine rankings. Ensure your company keep ownership of the old domains and keep all sites live until the new domain has fully propagated.

5) Be prepared with other online/offline marketing activities to promote the hotels in case of sudden traffic loss.

6) Make sure your manager and stakeholders know what is within/beyond your control! Make it very clear what can go wrong during the move and protect yourself by warning them ahead of time of the potential negative outcomes.

Good Luck!

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SMX Sydney 2012 – Aidan Beanland – SEO Essentials for Web Migration

This is a summary of Aidan Beanland’s presentation at Search Marketing Expo / Online Marketer Conference held in Sydney 1-2 May 2012. Aidan Beanland at SMX Sydney 2012

Aidan Beanland is the SEO & Audience Optimisation Manager for Yahoo!7 in Australia. Aidan directs SEO operations for Australia and New Zealand and advises on international strategy for the Yahoo! network.

Aidan explains there are 3 phases to a successful web migration:

Phase 1 – Research / Strategy

What’s changing? Your migration situation could be any of the following:

  • Moving from one domain to another
  • Switching to a new Content Management System (CMS), creating new URLs
  • Significant changes to site content
  • Update to site’s Information Architecture
  • A new geographic audience
  • Merging one or more sites together
  • Changing your web host

…or a combination of these.

Aidan suggests asking the following questions prior to migration:

  • Why are you doing this? Content? CMS? Design? Acquisition? CEO says so? Be clear about your objectives.
  • Does this NEED to happen? Really?
  • What can be migrated separately? Know the roadmap and any dependencies.
  • Will this cause new SEO challenges? AJAX, Flash, poor information architecture?
  • What enhancements can be included?
  • Are you aware of the risks? Really?
  • Who’s idea was it? Make sure responsibility is clear.

Phase 2 – Planning / Benchmarking

Before migration, Aidan recommends taking benchmark stats so that you can check these again after migration. During the month before migration, record these stats:

  • Click Through Rates, average search positions, external/internal links, content keywords via Google webmaster tools
  • Top search referral keywords, conversions from SEO by keyword phrase/URL
  • Engagement metrics (bounce rate, session length, PVs/visit, etc)
  • Top referring URLs
  • Geographic locations of visitors
  • Search engine referrals (note seasonal variations)

SEO Migration Task List

Determine your ‘money pages’:
• The most search engine referrals
• Highest link equity (page authority, root links, link diversity)
• Best conversions

Split search engine referrals keyword phrases into three buckets:
1. Brand terms
2. Competitive ‘head’ terms
3. Long tail terms

Rank check your top 50/100 referring search queries and take note. Record your most common internal search queries.

Planning Task List

  • Check new domain and/or host IP has no *ghosts*.
  • Ensure new domain WHOIS entry is correct (same as current if possible)
  • Put the new domain live with a holding page linking to the current site
  • Ensure current and new domains are verified in Google Webmaster Tools
  • Replace absolute with relative links
  • Evaluate new site wireframes/mock-ups and incorporate SEO requirements
  • Retain (and improve) internal link structure if possible
  • Crawl old site to generate a URL list
  • Inform registered users that a new site is coming

301 Redirect Task List

  • List most important current URLs and corresponding new URLs
  • Set up 1-1 redirects for all key SEO (and other traffic source) pages
  • For less important pages create redirect rules, e.g. Capture descriptive words from old URL to return a search listing on those words
  • 301 redirect old sitemap.xml files to their new location

New Site Final Task List

  • Put the staging site behind IP restriction AND/OR Password protect
  • robots.txt disallow
  • Crawl the new site (using Xenu or similar). Looks for the usual culprits:
    – 404s
    – Incorrect redirects (don’t forget images and files like PDFs!)
    – Dupe/missing page titles & descriptions
    – High click depth
    – Large/slow pages
    – Non-canonical URLs/content
    – Use old site URLs as a crawl list to check redirects are working
  • Set up a 301 redirect s/sheet so tech team has a clear map of instructions
  • Stress test! Can it handle the load?
  • Set up Google Alerts for something unique to your new pages so you know as soon as your new pages are in the index

Phase 3 – Migration

10 First Steps:
1. Remove robots.txt and/or password/IP restriction
2. Lower your DNS TTL (time to live) to ~5 mins/300s then update DNS setting
to new host IP
3. Verify new site in Google Webmaster Tools
4. Use Google’s ‘Change of Address’ tool
5. Re-crawl to check for errors
6. Submit new XML sitemap(s)
7. Check indexation (site: ) and sitemaps in GWT
8. Keep both sites live until ALL users are now going to new site
9. Inform your users and your industry – PR opportunity?
10. Update external links

Next steps:

Redirect old pages to new pages in stages, suggests Aidan. Splitting the migration process into manageable chunks allows for rollbacks and better cause/effect troubleshooting.

An example:
1. Migrate to new host – wait ~1 week
2. Redirect site to a new domain – wait until traffic stabilises
3. Migrate content (one section/directory of the site at a time) – wait several
weeks

Phase 4 – Monitoring

Some things to keep tracking after the migration:

  • Use the old site URL list as a crawl list to check redirects are still working
  • Check sitemap indexation & crawl errors/volume in Google Webmaster Tools
  • Remember to check rankings for other search engine gTLDs if your business relates to other countries
  • Check referrers to your 404 page. Use this to fix broken links (on and off-site)
  • Check internal search queries – have they changed from the old version? Use this to enhance navigation
  • Canonicalisation? Are all pages consistently with or without out www.? https://?
  • Keep ownership of the old domain! Indefinitely! Maintain redirects
  • Monitor key business goals
  • Tidy up broken links – return a 404 or 301 to logical equivalent
  • Regain site links if they got removed
  • Update & add external links – contact webmasters, may be chance to improve them or add more. Prioritise by value (SEO and navigational)
  • Backfill any organic traffic slump with PPC traffic
  • Ask your loyal users for feedback on their experience of the new site
  • Update your local listing entries (e.g. Google Places), if necessary
  • Flush out old links. Point links to these from an indexed but low value page to force recognition of the 301 redirect.
  • If things go really wrong – roll back!

Site Migration Dos and Don’ts

  • Don’t do it! (or at least don’t switch everything at once)
  • Don’t get excited when referrals increase immediately after launch – this can happen when old + new URLs are indexed and appear together in SERP, or when Google ‘tests’ new domains for CTR and engagement.
  • Don’t blanket redirect all old pages to your new home page
  • Don’t let your old domain lapse
  • Do hold your ground and be patient. You’ve explained the risks and time-frame to the business (right?).
  • Do update your most valuable links – Don’t rely on the 301 passing on link juice in full or quickly
  • Do be prepared for a roller coaster ride! Traffic can fluctuate, some things don’t work as expected, sometimes a post-switch site can perform more strongly than you’d hoped.

Good luck!

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Can competitors harm your Google ranking?

My little tribute to the Beastie Boys

A client and I were Skyping this week and the topic inevitably turned to Google Penguin and the impending doom of link building *tactics*.

This particular client has been having issues with rogue affiliates setting up fake link networks in order to boost their sales for my client’s products. Despite repeated warnings and/or promises to clean up their act, some of these affiliates have continued using dodgy practices for years, managing somehow to avoid Panda, Panda II and even Panda III. But their house of cards came tumbling down with the implementation of Penguin and with it went over 30 percent of my client’s traffic.

The problem is that, ultimately, my client has NO CONTROL over the tactics used by persons linking to their site. If they spot dodgy tactics being used, my client can alert or even ban the offending affiliate, but what of all the affiliates spamming under the radar? And these are sites supposedly in favor of my client staying in business. Imagine if they were direct competitors? All the education in the world isn’t going to stop spammers using whatever tactics they can if they are rewarded for those tactics in cold hard cash. And who can blame them?

This is inherently the problem I have with Google at the moment. They still claim it isn’t possible for spammers to hurt innocent sites using SEO spam but guess what? There are many, many examples of exactly that happening. Heck, this guy is offering a $10,000 reward to find the persons responsible for link bombing his site. Do you think he’d offer cash if the issue wasn’t crippling his business? There are even public projects set up encouraging people to use SEO spam in order to influence the Google SERPs in a positive or negative way for political purposes. And what about super competitive industries like the PPCs – porn, pills and casinos? I can assure you that competitor sabotage is alive and well and flying business class.

Now I applaud that Google are concerned enough about the issue to roll out updates like Penguin to try and punish persons using obvious SEO spam. Comment spam is evil! they warn. Artificial backlinks are evil! they say. Use of these tactics is a violation of our guidelines! But then they say don’t fret if others build backlinks to your site. Don’t worry too much. Just concentrate on making your site the best that it can be.

Why oh why do they keep insisting that competitors can’t harm your site using those same methods? Asked the question, Can competitors harm your ranking?, this was Google’s reply:

Google works hard to prevent other webmasters from being able to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index. If you’re concerned about another site linking to yours, we suggest contacting the webmaster of the site in question. Google aggregates and organizes information published on the web; we don’t control the content of these pages.

I look at these posts and this is what I’m hearing:

“Don’t be evil. Don’t do this, this or this. Doesn’t matter if your competitor tries that, they can’t hurt you. Oh look at these naughty spammers ruining your SERPs. We’ve got an update to fix that. What? Your legitimate site was smacked down? Not our problem. Don’t be evil.”

Well Google may not want to admit it but here it is: Can competitors harm your Google ranking? You bet they can.

 

 

 

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SMX Sydney 2012 – Anne Kennedy – Duplication, syndication & all that other mess

This is a summary of Anne Kennedy’s presentation at Search Marketing Expo / Online Marketer Conference held in Sydney 1-2 May 2012.Anne Kennedy at SMX Sydney 2012

Anne Kennedy has co-authored the first book on international SEO and PPC, called Global Search Engine Marketing. Anne provides search engine consulting to hundreds of companies worldwide and formed an international online marketing consortium with Nordic eMarketing in Reykjavik, London, Stockholm, Rome and Beijing.

Duplicate content happens, says Anne. URL duplication is a big one. This is where you see several different versions of the same page being indexed and/or linked to. For example:

- http://www.site.com
- http://site.com
- http://www.site.com/index.shtml
- http://iste.com/index.shtml

and so on.

You should always use the Rel=canonical tag to lose the canonical versions of pages and also let Google know in Webmaster Tools which version of your pages to index.

Anne says to watch your crawl budget. Your crawl budget is the percentage of your site that Googlebot will crawl. Googlebot rarely crawls your entire site, so keep your low quality pages out of the index by excluding them from your sitemap and blocking them using robots.txt.

Common Duplication Causes

A very common duplicate content mistake is to have printer-friendly versions of your content. Whatever you do, lose the print friendly versions from your sitemap!

Use 301 redirects on your pages, but only when necessary because not all link value will transfer to your replacement pages. PageRank will not transfer 100 percent over to pages if you 301 redirect them – keep that in mind.

Think about using a separate XML feed for your product pages, says Anne. Separate out your e-commerce or product-specific pages from your main sitemap and create a sitemap just for them. Upload the two sitemaps separately in your Google Webmaster Tools account.

Content syndication and site scraping can cause duplicate content headaches. If you are an article syndicator or blogger, make sure you link back to the original article with the title in the anchor text within the article, not the footer, because some syndications sites strip links out of footers. Require syndicators to use the canonical url version or require a no index (exclusion) of the article link in their robots.txt. This will ensure Google finds the original article more easily.

Another trick is to give syndicators a logo or image to go with the article that contains a link to your article and article title in the alt tag of the logo/image. Syndicators will often miss those.

Be sure to update your XML sitemap immediately whenever you publish a new article or blog post – you can use WordPress plugins to update your sitemap automatically for this.

If your article is out of date or no longer accurate and you want it gone from the SERPs for good, use a 410 code to tell Google the article is GONE. This is a more permanent solution than 404.

Dont put your international content on your English TLD. If you want your content to rank well in a particular international market, you should put the content on a related TLD e.g. a German language site should site on site.de or at the very least, de.site.com. Your international content will rank better in regional markets if you have links pointing to it from related TLDs e.g. site.de will rank better in Google.de if it has plenty of .de sites linking to it.

And finally – dont leave it up to the bots! Take control of your content.

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