ss_blog_claim=73b1cd073bba6e6518705e046b696b7d Why optimizing for?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Why optimizing for?

Do you have a blog? If so, do you include Sphinn and other social media buttons on your blog?

If so, I have a challenge for you: take those buttons off your blogs.

Stop asking people to promote your blogs through their social media accounts.

We’re living and working in the age of social media optimization. Yes, I said Social Media Optimization. We’re search engine optimizers, folks, but too many of us are engaging in social media optimization and that spells T-R-O-U-B-L-E, yes, “trouble”. That’s right folks, we’re in trouble right here in River City.

Let me ’splain.

You cannot call yourself a search engine optimization specialist if you focus on social media optimization. Why? Because social media drives a LOT of traffic (when done right). Some SEO bloggers say they get most of their traffic from Sphinn.

From Sphinn?

What kind of search engine optimization is that?

There is no Sphinn button on this blog. I don’t have a Sphinn account. I’ve only once, that I can recall, ever asked anyone to cast a Sphinn for this blog (and that was a private, offline request). We put the Feedburner Smartfeed button thingee in the navigation and that is as far as SEO Theory has gone toward engaging in anything that resembles social media optimization.

For the month of August, Google Analytics says we received 19.84% of our traffic as Direct visits. Someone has this blog bookmarked. Analytics says that 38.13% of our traffic came from other sites. And it says that 42.03% of our traffic came from search engines. So, if we assume for the sake of discussion that these numbers are approximately correct, we can conclude that SEO Theory receives a significant amount of its traffic from search engine referrals.

Among the “Other Sites” category, Google (Reader) accounts for approximately 28.77% of reported referral traffic (i.e., about 10% of our visitors use Google Reader, according to Google Analytics).

StumbleUpon, Bloglines, and (which should be listed as a search engine, actually) are the next in line for sending referral traffic to SEO Theory.

Sphinn comes in 5th place, right above

Clearly, social media sites DO send traffic to SEO Theory. Gosh, what kind of traffic would we receive if we actually went out and marketed in the social media verticals? I suspect we could double our monthly traffic, maybe even triple it. Since we first embedded Google Analytics on this domain (May 2007), Sphinn has sent more than 1/3 as much traffic as StumbleUpon, which is our largest third-party referral source.

Without resorting to social media optimization, SEO Theory has clearly benefitted from the social media experience. So why don’t I do social media (especially given that I work for a social media company?).

The reason why is that SEO Theory is all about search engine optimization, and search engine optimization is not about social media optimization. Social media optimization is another form of Web marketing like pay-per-click optimization, like banner advertising, like newsletter distribution, etc.

People need to stop blurring their distinctions between social media and search media. Search media requires a set of very different rules and guidelines. People do try to leverage social media to obtain competitive search rankings but that’s just linking and there are competitive linking methodologies. Linking, as I have often pointed out, is not search engine optimization, it’s linking.

Search engine optimization leverages the benefits of linking, social media optimization, pay-per-click optimization, and other forms of Web marketing. You can study audience demographics, keyword dynamics, page design methodologies, and other esoteric factors and bring that knowledge directly into your SEO campaigns. You can also set strategic requirements for link anchor text and destinations, create buzz about new concepts that drive queries, and help shape emerging audiences through those channels.

But search engine optimization is not social media optimization. Social media optimization is a worthwhile pursuit — it’s a money-making industry — in its own right. It deserves to be recognized as a separate discipline in the Web Marketing Industry. People need to start calling themselves SMOs and stop calling themselves SEOs if their work really focuses on social media optimization.

That’s a purist point of view, but I’m not splitting hairs. I’m acknowledging the growth and evolution that have occurred within the very broad field of Web Marketing. Social media specialization, in my opinion, has only just begun to emerge. I feel strongly there are new roles yet to be defined that will take on significant value in the discipline of social media optimization.

It’s time for people to start correctly labeling what they do. If you’re invested in social media optimization, then stop pretending you’re an SEO. You’ve left search engine optimization behind if you’re building traffic through social media. There is no shame in admitting as much and, quite frankly, whomever captures the public’s imagination with the SMO tag first will be the de facto industry leader.

It’s not easy to lose that role and the value it brings to your business. You’re the visionary, the thought-leader, the authority, the person the media turn to for sound bites and insights.

You don’t have to abandon SEO completely, but if you still branding yourself as an SEO technician (or firm or consultant) while working mostly in social media, it’s time to reorganize your brandspeak and show people that you have evolved.

SEO Theory exists for the purpose of demonstrating search engine optimization principles. The blog discusses those principles, but it’s primary function is to draw traffic from the search engines. That 40% search referral rate is important. It’s great that 30% of our traffic is repeat traffic, but SEO Theory has to focus on search engine optimization.

And there is a lot more to search engine optimization than leveraging social media relationships. I’ve made that sacrifice intentionally so as to demonstrate the strength and power of pure SEO. You should not feel like you MUST participate in social media to draw traffic to a Web site. Clearly, SEO Theory doesn’t have to rely on social media.

If I can do it through search, ANYONE can do it through search.

That’s the point of THIS blog.

But if you’re building traffic through social media, stand up and tell the world that you’re a Social Media Optimist — er, Optimizer. I think you’ll find that street lined with rewards worth capturing.


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