Social media is an essential element of marketing and website promotion for businesses large and small. The Panda update that Google rolled out last year means that website developers, marketers and business owners can’t rely on old fashioned SEO and link building techniques to help keep their sites near the top of the rankings in organic search. Facebook might be thought of as online Marmite by some (I know more people who would rather repeatedly hit themselves in the face with a bouquet of thistles than use Facebook), but a significant company presence on Facebook, combined with a decent number of “likes” and links does aid website marketing and boost site traffic.
However, I think we need to question the true value social media has with regards website marketing and SEO. Facebook recently announced that 83 million of its accounts are fake. A quick search online will allow you to find websites that offer to sell “likes” and “followers” by the tens of thousands for Facebook and Twitter – these fake users appear to make a company or product considerably more popular than it actually is (all for $10 or under, thanks to assistance from outsourcing services in India and China).
In an article last July a BBC reporter set up a fake account, purchased “like adverts” and discovered “Within minutes people were starting to “like” my meaningless site, and within 24 hours I had 1,600 likes – and had spent my $10. Where were they from?”. 1,600 likes for a completely fake account and $10 profit for Facebook; not a bad business model. With fake users, fake likes and fake followers what’s next? Well just today, the BBC reported that a fake Facebook advert for £75 worth of free Tesco vouchers has fooled many users, and is nothing but a scam.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-Facebook, it is a very effective social media marketing tool, however I do still need to be convinced of Google’s consideration of social media when it comes to gauging site popularity and ranking of results in organic search. With companies profiting from creating fake Facebook accounts, and Facebook users and Facebook itself unable to accurately gauge which accounts, “likes” and followers are fake, should social media currently have a strong bearing on SEO and search engine results?
When I meet with prospective new clients, or existing clients interested in making more of their website’s marketing potential, I’m often asked about SEO/SEM (search engine optimisation/search engine marketing) and inevitably I mention the Google Panda update. If you can put up with some technical jargon, this video is a very helpful and detailed explanation of just what the Panda update is, why it was put in place, and what it means for anyone who wants to promote their business effectively online.
As I’ve said before (and I’m sure to time and time again) business websites must be viewed as an investment, not just financially, but with regards the thought and time that goes into them. Anyone can bash together a cheap website and submit it to a few search engines – but in a month or years time what will that cheap website have achieved? Nothing. Nichts. Nada. Jordan’s IQ. The reason for this is simple. Leading search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing) are only interested in showing their users good quality content. If every time you used Google you had to trawl through unrelated sites, websites that didn’t format correctly, or duplicate websites all with the same content you’d get pretty miffed. Search engines use mathematical computations, or algorithms, to work out how effective any given website is. In a nutshell they look at the following:
The quality of coding behind the site
Page load time and server response time
Originality and depth of content
Quality, range and number of inbound links
Numerous other things I won’t mention in case I do myself out of a job
By analyzing sites in such a way, search engines can begin to place all websites in an order for any given search term, so if you search for “blue paint” the best website selling “blue paint” will appear top. Why? Because it will feature good quality code (preferably validated and accessible), will be hosted on a quick reliable server (costs a little more but is worth it), the site will be filled with original and helpful content (which requires time and thought) and will inevitably have hundreds if not thousands of inbound links from other websites, directories and blogs (which can only be acquired with a bit of good old fashioned elbow grease after the site has launched). For this reason, you will never see a cheap website that’s been bashed together on the first page of Google. Fact.
What does it matter if a website isn’t on the first or second page of Google? Everything. Approximately 94% of Google users find what they want on the first page of results, with only 6% venturing onto page two, and around 80% of users only click on the first three results. Why just references to Google? Because the vast majority of people use Google for search, so if you don’t get it right with Google then you won’t have much luck with Bing and Yahoo.
What about the bamboo munching ball of fur? What does Panda have to do with this? Well, it basically makes it even harder to get your website on the first page of Google’s results. If search engine optimisation and ongoing website marketing wasn’t already a hard enough sell, Panda just made things ten times more difficult. The Panda update (named after the guy that created it, not China’s most endangered bear) added a whole load of extra requirements on top of traditional SEO techniques, as well as re-ordering many existing results (to the extent that entire businesses were wiped out overnight by a catastrophic drop in traffic, and in turn, turnover from advertising commission and/or bookings). As the video detailed above points out, the growing number of websites now in existence means that search engines really have to work hard to sort the wheat from the chaff and ensure they provide the best results for your search.
In addition to traditional SEO techniques, businesses need to further invest in their website marketing to ensure the following:
None of your website content should be duplicated (across your own web pages or any other websites), and it must be as original and enticing as humanly possible. Using management speak you may need to do “blue sky thinking outside the box”. If you have access to a unique video clip that relates to your business, photos of your work or services that show something special, the ability to write a blog or produce informative articles, you should get these things on your website to show Google that you have something special, and that your site is worth making note of by visitors.
Your visitors metrics (behaviour or analytics) must be positive with a low bounce rate, so the design and content arrangement ensures site visitors stay on your pages and engage in your website. If visitors to your site leave shortly after arriving, only look at one page, or look at a few pages but are gone within seconds, your metrics will suggest that people don’t like your website. If you get your content right (first point made above) you should naturally retain visitors longer and you will end up with much improved metrics.
Your website must feature references on a range of different media platforms, so instead of just inbound links from other sites, blogs and directories, you have a presence on social media as well. When Google initially developed its algorithm to work out how to gauge the usefulness of websites and where to rank them for search requests, it needed to work out how popular a website was. For this it looked at the overall number of inbound links, working on the basis that a website with 100,000 inbound links must be more popular than a similar website with just one inbound link. That worked well for ages, but along came social media. The web is now littered with people tweeting about websites on Twitter, liking websites on Facebook, and chatting and commenting on numerous other social media platforms. In addition to inbound links to your website, the Panda update now means that Google also takes into account links, comments and the overall number of references to your website in the world of social media. You may not have time to do it, you may not have any interest in getting involved, but getting your business and website involved with social media is now a key part of online promotion and is heavily interlinked with SEO/SEM.
The Panda update goes way beyond what I have time to mention here, but if you’ve reached this far into the article without falling asleep and stotting your head off the keyboard, you will have realised the importance of continued search engine optimisation, website promotion and online marketing. Now, more than ever, business websites must be viewed as an ongoing investment if they are expected to succeed as a useful marketing tool.