Search Engine Optimization or Social Media Optimization?

9 04 2010

Changes in the Web 2.0 era tend to happen at alarmingly fast rates. What might be an essential skills for employees to have two months ago may be outdated or not as important today. As someone who has been trying to enter the job market in a social media position, I commonly see job requirements that list experience with SEO, or Search Engine Optimization. SEO relies on the architecture of search engines like Google that use tracking “spiders” to find information on the web. The information is uploaded to the internet in the forms of keywords that people may use when they are searching the web. The goal of SEO is to ensure that a company is easily identifiable when consumers search for information on search engines. This should be an important goal for any company that is trying to establish a presence online.

However, Brian Solis suggests that this method is not the only important consideration for establishing a web presence. According to Solis this trend is changing. Once again Social Networks are at the front of significant changes on the internet. They are overtaking search engines as the main source of information for many internet users. This might eventually render search engine optimization useless. This is being overtaken by Social Media Optimization (SMO). Solis explains the possible reasons as to why this process started and its effects:

“Facebook recently overtook Yahoo as the second most visited site in the United States. And in doing so, Facebook along with other social networks set the stage for a confluence of social and search that fundamentally changes who we, as a society, discover and share information, and in turn, where attention is directed and driven.”

Given the impact and relevance of social networks today SMO should be a part of any company’s marketing and engagement strategy. While this transition continues to take place, Solis suggests the overall approach that people should keep in mind with this new method: SEO + SMO= Amplified findability in the traditional and social web”.

Getting to know and understand the actual SMO process requires a redefinition of traditional optimization practices. The earliest online article I could find about SMO dates back to August, 2006 on IMB, or The Influential Marketing Blog. The originally posted an article called “5 Rules of Social Media Optimization (SMO).” This list was eventually adapted by other media scholars and grew to be a 17 point list. Some of the later points are redundant or right-down unnecessary, in my opinion. For example: 14. Develop a SMO strategy, 11. Be real, 10. Create content. The first five points are the most useful and important, even today, almost four years after this list was initially developed:

  1. Increase your linkability
  2. Make tagging and bookmarking easy
  3. Reward inbound links
  4. Help your content travel
  5. Encourage the mashup

I would argue that these rules are all about embracing the participatory web and thus its success hinges on companies being able to interact with their users on social media platforms. However this is not just limited to interaction, nor is interaction the most important component. Instead the focus here it foster and allow sharing to take place. This is essential for sharing not only content but also sharing and spreading brand awareness and enhancing. This thus enhances the spread and attention that any given brand may receive. Going back to first Brian Solis article, he has a chart that shows the origins or referral traffic for some websites. It is not surprising to see that social networks, (including Facebook, Twitter and Myspace) have become the predominant sources for referring traffic to these brands.

USA Today leads this group of brands in terms of generating traffic via social networks. I imagine that this is due to their posts and news stories which many people probably go on to share on social networking sites. These probably include some sort of link that re-directs the viewer back to the USA Today page. The only brand that has not experienced this shift is Gap. If they wanted to increase their presence and traffic generated by social networks I imagine that a strategy based around coupons or sales, easily shareable on social networks, would drive traffic to their websites from these sources.

As social networking sites it will be interesting to see how much their impact continues to change the entire internet. They are currently the main source of attention for online users, thus companies need to establish a presence on these sites if they want to continue to be relevant for their current audience as well as potential audiences.