How Social Media Can Help Organic SEO : 2 Case Studies
“When people refer to “organic SEO” (search engine optimization), they almost always use it as a blanket term to describe the unpaid, algorithm-driven results of any particular engine. However, a sophisticated search engine optimization company will often take the meaning of “organic” one step further.
To such companies, the “Organic SEO” is essentially 2 Things (but not only). These are
1. What shows up in the “natural” search engine results
2. Methodologies used to achieve such rankings, such as great content and utilizing social media like Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Technorati, Reddit, Digg, Stumbleupon and other types of social media
A search engine optimization company usually falls into one of two camps.
- A “White Hat” search engine optimization company will use a largely content-based approach and will not violate the terms of service of the major search engines.
- A “Black Hat” search engine optimization company will use a largely technology driven approach and often ignore the terms of service.
Neither approach is invalid (by the way there is nothing illegal about violating a search engine’s terms of service), and both can achieve high rankings. But a search engine optimization company that takes the word “organic” literally believes that the “Black Hat” approach is anything but “organic SEO.”
Merriam Webster defines organic, in part, as “having the characteristics of an organism: developing in the manner of a living plant or animal.” To a search engine optimization company, this definition accurately describes the approach taken to achieve long-lasting results in the “natural” section of search engines
Below are just a few comparisons of the different approaches taken by the two types of SEO firms. For the sake of clarity, I refer to the two approaches as “Organic SEO” and “Artificial SEO.”
Content vs. Technical Loopholes
Content (Organic SEO)
There’s an “old” saying in the SEO industry that “content is king.” This is not necessarily true. In my experience, good content is king. Study after study has shown that when people use search engines, they are primarily seeking one thing: information. They are not seeking to be impressed by fancy flash sites. They are not looking for a virtual piece of art.
Technical Loopholes (Artificial SEO)
This embraces a technical-loophole philosophy, will allow a company to leave its Web site exactly as it is, because the work that such firms do is largely technical and is designed to trick the engine into showing content that it would not otherwise.Certainly, there are acceptable (from the engine’s standpoint) technical aspects that any good search engine optimization company will use, such as relevant page titles and meta tags. But there are many more unacceptable technical methodologies than acceptable ones, including cloaking, redirects, multiple sites, keyphrase stuffing, hidden links, and numerous others. A company practicing “organic SEO” will avoid these.
Attracting Links vs. Linking Schemes
Attracting Links (Organic SEO)
As any search engine optimization company knows, inbound links are critical to the success of an “organic SEO” campaign. But there are different ways to go about it. Firms that practice true “organic SEO” will look at the Web site itself and say, “How can we make this site something that other sites would want to link to?”
Linking Schemes ((Artificial SEO)
A search engine optimization company using “artificial SEO” will ask, “How can I get links pointing to this site without adding anything of value to it?” The latter approach usually leads to reciprocal linking schemes, link farms, the purchase of text links, and more—anything except making changes to the Web site that entice others to link to the site without the link being reciprocated, without paying the Web site owner, or without asking “pretty please.”
There is a stark contrast between “organic SEO” and “artificial SEO.” Of course, any decent search engine optimization company will make certain that a site is listed in all the popular directories, such as the Yahoo Directory, the Open Directory Project, and Business.com. A good search engine optimization company will also continually seek any industry specific directories where your site should be listed. But truly using “organic SEO” means evolving your site into something that holds actual value to your prospects. In my opinion, this is much more beneficial in the long run than the artificial methodology of trying to garner incoming links that the site does not truly deserve.
Creating a Valuable Resource (Organic SEO) vs. Algorithm Chasing (Artificial SEO)
Search engines change algorithms frequently, and for two reasons. One is, of course, to improve their results based on their most recent user studies. The other, which is obviously related, is to remove sites that are ranked artificially high.
Such updates raise panic in the SEO community, particularly among “artificial SEO” practitioners who have just discovered that their most recent and cherished trick no longer works (and may have gotten their clients’ sites removed from the engines altogether). It is not uncommon on the search engine forums to see the owner of such a search engine optimization company threatening to “sue Google” over a recent update. Not uncommon, but always amusing.
There is, with only a few exceptions, a common denominator in the Web sites that remain highly ranked throughout these algorithm shifts. They offer something of value to their visitors and are considered a resource for their industry. “Organic SEO” practitioners generally do not have to worry about going back and redoing work because of an algorithm shift. While an “artificial” search engine optimization company desperately tries to re-attain the rankings it lost for its clients (or to get the sites re-included in the search engine at all) because it was dependent on technical loopholes that have now been closed, “organic SEO” firms continue adding valuable content to a site, strengthening its value, and bolstering its rankings.
A common argument from companies when advised by “organic SEO” practitioners to take this approach is this: “We aren’t trying to provide a resource for our industry, we are trying to sell products or services.” That, in my opinion, is shortsighted. Remember, you are trying to reach prospects in all stages of the buying cycle, not just the low hanging fruit ready to buy now. Let your Web site, rather than your overpaid salesperson, be their resource to learn about your industry. Prospects are very likely to call you when they are ready to buy; after all, you’ve done so much for them already!
In addition, taking advantage of “organic SEO” to make your Web site an industry resource provides a tremendous natural boost to your rankings for your individual product or service pages. This means that with “organic SEO” you’ll get the best of both worlds: You’ll reach people early in the buying cycle, educate them, and steer them toward your solution by using your Web site instead of your sales personnel; you will also reach the low-hanging fruit because your individual product or service pages, which are intended for people who are ready to buy now, will get a significant rankings boost.
Learning From Engines (Organic SEO) vs. Learning How to Exploit Them (Artificial SEO)
As I have said many times before, search engines conduct very expensive and frequent studies on what their users want to see when they enter search queries. Obviously, no company has a more vested interest in serving up the type of results that their users want than the engines themselves.
“Organic SEO” firms will therefore take the “piggyback” approach. A search engine optimization company that uses “organic SEO” will try to learn what the results of these studies were by examining the sites that figure prominently in search engine results over long periods of time. In this way, the search engine optimization company is using “organic SEO” to make the Web site not only better for search engines but also for the user (presumably, the engine’s internal research has shown that these sites have what their users have consistently desired, study after study). “Artificial SEO” practitioners have no real interest in these studies; they are instead expending a great deal of energy finding the next technical loophole to exploit after their most recent one has failed.
The latter approach can make results erratic, but it also raises a larger issue—the goal of the campaign. If an “artificial” search engine optimization company finds a temporary loophole in an algorithm that brings your site to the top, but does not take the time to delve into the user experience once a user gets to the site, it will defeat the original purpose. You may get plenty of visitors, but a large percentage of them will be short-term visitors who do not find what they want on your site and back out without a second thought. The search engine optimization company did not “piggyback” on the engines’ research to learn what type of content users wanted to see when they entered their queries.
‘Organic’ Revisited (AKA ‘One Step Too Far’)
A search engine optimization company that takes a true “organic SEO” approach will actually take the Merriam Webster definition literally. A good Web site does have the characteristics of an organism and does develop in the manner of a living plant or animal. It builds upon itself. It learns how it should behave for its own benefit. Most importantly, it establishes its territory at the top of the search engine results. And as the organism thrives, artificial machine after machine fades into obsolescence.”
I would like to thank Scott Buresh who is is the founder and CEO of Medium Blue (www.mediumblue.com), an award-winning search engine optimization company, for the best explanation I have come across about Organic SEO vs Artificial SEO.
In order to help show how effective social media really is with respect to rankings I’m going to use a sample article promoted by Best Rank, Inc. The article in question was promoted only on Reddit.com and succesfully hit the front page. If you’re forunate enough to achieve the front page of Reddit.com, you’ll know that your story gets pulled to Wired.com, Popurls.com, and many other mash-up sites across the web. Below I’ve provided an overview of the keyword rankings, back links, and traffic generated by our social media marketing efforts:
Page Title: Top iPhone Applications for Business Professionals
Reddit.com Title: Top iPhone Applications for Business Professionals
Original Promo Date: December 17th, 2008
Reddit Points : 19 Total, 87 up votes, 67 down votes
Yahoo Backlinks: 62
Search Engine Rankings Updated: February 4th, 2009
|best iphone apps for business||1||19||9|
|iphone applications for business||1||4||1|
|top iphone business apps||1||1||1|
|iphone apps for business||2||24||9|
|top business apps for iphone||2||1||1|
|top business iphone apps||2||3||1|
|iphone apps for it professionals||2||8||11|
|best iphone business applications||6||5||4|
|iphone business applications||7||3||1|
|top iphone applications||12||21||8|
Google Analytics Data
Time Frame: 12/16/2008 – 2/4/2009
Total Page Views: 7,117
Google Organic Views: 3,191
Google Unique Keywords: 1,514
Note: If you have a look at the table above you will notice that three of the Key word phrases achieved a number one ranking on Google, and nine of the ten were all on page one, all from social media!!!
The above case study is a great example of how social media marketing helps organic SEO efforts, as also illustrated in the below picture:
What have we learned?
After analyzing the keyword ranking data and Google analytics metrics here are my thoughts:
- Social media links are effective when targeting mid to long tail keywords. If your goal is to rank for highly competitive keywords then a more precise, anchor text controlled link building strategy is recommended to compliment your social media marketing efforts.
- Google appears to trust social media networks as a source for quality back links and appears to transfer link equity, even if most social sites nofollow their links. It’s also important to note that the residual back links created by other, interested webmasters, will also help rankings.
- In most cases, social media marketing can help create a steady stream of organic traffic and fixed, longer tailed rankings (search engine rankings and organic traffic have been consistent since the 1st week of promotion).
Note: Refer to the Google analytics screenshot below for evidence on the consistency of organic traffic from Google.
This what he had to say.
“While I can’t reveal the client’s name, I’d like to share the following case study to show you how organic SEO can boost your site’s traffic.
Client academic institution came to me to initiate an Organic SEO campaign in order to increase site traffic. After reviewing the client’s needs, we agreed that I would conduct keyword research and carry out on-page optimization of the main pages within the client’s site. No link building or off-site promotion was carried out.
After the keyword research was completed, I implemented all SEO changes and uploaded the optimized changes to the client’s server on December 12, 2008.
I set up the client’s site in Google Analytics to keep tabs on its progress before I began the keyword research. In order to establish monthly baseline traffic levels, Google Analytics was activated for the site more than 30 days before the SEO changes went live. This allowed me to establish (pre-SEO campaign) baseline statistics for the month immediately before taking the optimized version live. The following baseline site analytics were noted:
- The site received 1,808 visitors during the baseline month.
- The number of visitors arriving from all search engines was 442, or 24.45% of all traffic. (This is much lower than average, indicating in and of itself potential problems with search engines.)
- The number of visitors arriving from Google search was 401 for the baseline month.
After the SEO changes went live, the client began seeing results in the search engine ranking pages almost immediately. More importantly, traffic began building.
- In the first month, all traffic increased by 5.12% but the number of visitors arriving from the search engines increased by 40.46%. The traffic increase from Google alone was 74.58%.
- Over a two month period, all traffic increased by 24.49% but the number of visitors arriving from the search engines increased by 154.07%. The traffic increase from Google alone was 150.36%. While Google showed almost immediate results, other search engines took longer to respond to the SEO changes.
- Over the 60-day period, the volume of direct traffic (visitors typed in the URL) DROPPED by 36.26%; the volume of traffic coming from referrals (links) DROPPED by 8.72%.
The Value of SEO
Is there any question then, that organic SEO works? Keep in mind, there was NO link campaign, there were no PPC ads in place, and no other promotional activities took place during the period studied.
Clearly, SEO boosted the site’s traffic. In fact, when you consider that the traffic from non search engine sources DROPPED during that two-month period, I think you can easily say that if the client hadn’t implemented their SEO campaign, their site traffic would have declined over that 60-day period.
In my mind, the other thing this points out that you don’t need to go overboard if you want SEO to boost your site traffic. Here, the client just took advantage of keyword research services and on-page organic SEO to keep the project within their budget.”