A few years ago the idea of choosing between a search engine optimization (SEO) program for your website, or making social media a top marketing priority would have been easy - nobody was going to locate your business on Google if the site wasn't optimized.
For companies with a tight marketing budget, improving visibility of a website or a Web page for search engines was a priority.
Today, however, a lot has changed.
Google eventually tweaked its algorithms to adopt social media into the search mix back in 2009. Now, pulling the trigger on choosing between an SEO campaign over social media outreach (or vice versa) to beef up your company's Web profile is a bit more complicated.
Search engines are designed to provide the most relevant content among a seemingly endless stream of interconnected pages on the Web. That can't be fully achieved unless social media tools ─ Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Foursquare, YouTube, ect. ─ are included in the search algorithm. After all, much of the Web's content is shared through these social media sources.
As a business owner keeping an eye on costs, however, you might have a decision to make as to which to employ.
Ideally, you should not have to make this choice and instead engage with your users wherever they may be through a balanced approach. But for arguments sake, say you were to throw all your money at either focusing on trying to rank better in search engines versus growing your circle of influence and trust through social media.
Where would you go?
Google "likes" social media
If Google likes something, it's generally a good idea for anyone trying to leverage SEO tactics to figure out the best way to like it too. Building links through social media channels will increase page rankings and traffic, as well as help grow your circle of influence and trust. Figuring out the best ways to get your links recognized is imperative.
According to recent study conducted by the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, 42 percent of marketers said bringing traffic to their sites is the main goal of employing an online marketing plan, while 29 percent said they are looking to generate leads, and 18 percent said they want to boost online sales.
Building links through social media can help achieve all these goals.
It's important to appreciate the benefit of building links from social media sources. For starters, it helps Google's algorithm determine if your site is 'useful' to Internet browsers which essentially means these links are used to decide whether your site is worth ranking... or not.
This is going to mean providing interesting and relevant content that people will Tweet, Like, Buzz, and Share. This type of social exposure is one of the more important ways Google will decide whether a website is worth ranking highly.
What the neighbors say
What our friends and peers think is actually very important. Adjusting their algorithms to make social interactions archival, hence searchable (think Facebook's Like Button and Google+1), Google acknowledged that content from friends and acquaintances is often more relevant and meaningful than content from random sources.
When you write content that provides Facebook and Twitter users credibility just by sharing it, you're going to generate quality backlinks which will improve your SEO and enhance your overall visibility.
Here are five ways social media link building will help you achieve your goals without using traditional so-called 'on-page SEO' practices in 2011.
Social bookmarking is still delicious
Earlier this week the co-founders of YouTube purchased the floundering bookmarking site, Delicious - which allows users to publicly bookmark sites and add tags to describe them - from Yahoo. "We see a tremendous opportunity to simplify the way users save and share content they discover anywhere on the Web," Chad Hurley, YouTube co-founder, said in a statement.
Having your site bookmarked is going to be important again as users store relevant information and make it easy for others to retrieve. Making content interesting enough to be bookmarked will bring more attention to your business.
Social news sites
While older news organizations struggle to update business models, news players continue to move into the news delivery space. Social news websites featuring user-submitted stories that are ranked based on popularity -- such as Slashdot, Fark, Digg and Reddit -- will continue to play a key role in sharing news with people similar interests.
Creating content that gets dropped into one of these popular information streams will provide some serious credibility to any business.
Twitter king among microblogging sites and companies like Cadmus are aiming to make Twitter even more relevant in the coming years. Cadmus recently launched a tool that changes the way Twitter users receive content based on their usage patterns guaranteeing Twitter pages aren't mucked up with Tweets that the user isn't interested in.
Helpful hint: Don't spend time building a social media profile and then abandon it. That would be like showing up at a networking event and leaving after saying hello.
Facebook and the power of Like
Do not neglect the powerful social media opportunities Facebook provides your business. It is not just for the kids. Create a page for your company, add interesting videos, maybe tutorial that adds some value for your customers, graphics, and post news to your wall.
Of course, when deciding between SEO (that's going to be covered in part two, promise) and social media everyone wants to know what is going to provide the best return on investment?
Analyzing social media success is relatively simple.
Install Google Analytics on your website to determine where visitors are coming from and monitor your highest traffic sources. Tools such as Bit.ly can measure clicks on your links and Facebook Insights measures activity on your Facebook.
Use promotions to offer discounts to your customers through social media, and measure redemption rates based on that feedback. The more you try different test patterns, the faster you'll recognize what's working and what's not. Soon you'll understand where it is best to focus your attention.
These social networking sites allow anyone to have an audience, and it often only costs you some time. Twitter followers and Facebook friends present you with additional avenues to pitch products, and plus the endorsements are coming from a trusted source or friend.
Now get out there and start generating some great content to build those links to get the SEO juice you so richly crave and deserve!
* This blog post is part one of a two part series about employing social media and/or search engine optimization for your business. Come back later this week for part two: The power of SEO.