How to impress search engines and woo audiences online

Three key factors for establishing a lasting presence for your brand in the Digital Age.

Your brand can gain visibility in search engines and generate social traction by using three key factors as a guide. They are:

• Knowing your audience
• Generating interest in social networks
• Cultivating credibility for your message.

At the outset, these three factors appear simple, but there are no shortcuts to building lasting traction with your online audience. To gain a better perspective, let’s delve into the tactics underpinning each.

Knowing your audience

For years, we’ve heard social media gurus cite the value of listening, and they’re right. Our audiences are setting the conversation agendas online. Communicating from their perspective is crucial, because it sends a strong signal to your marketplace that your brand is in tune and responsive.

Additionally, your chances of creating content that “sticks” is much better. Tips for gaining intelligence from your audience include:

1. Use a social media-monitoring dashboard to stay on top of conversation trends.
2. Remember to drill down into focused groups and conversations—such as those that emerge around a hashtag on Twitter—or engage in conversation on a forum or within a discussion group.
3. Survey sales teams and customer service staff to identify key customer issues, desires and recurring questions.

Generating interest in social networks

The term “social graph” describes the personal networks of friends, family, peers and colleagues we build one social networks. It should be no surprise that your brand needs a social graph, too. To understand why, we need to step back and consider how online content is shared, and how people use that information to make buying decisions.

“Business decision-makers use social media for business purposes, and when it comes to creating content and sharing opinions, they do it more for business than personal reasons,” said Forrester’s Jeff Ernst in a blog post that cites data from Forrester’s B2B Social Technographics.

From the brand standpoint, this is good news—but there is a caveat. To develop your brand’s social graph, you have to give people a reason to follow or “like” your brand. Brands must grab and keep their attention, and interact with them on a human level.

“You’ve got to get personal,” says Victoria Harres, PR Newswire’s director of audience development, and the architect of the @prnewswire. “You have to find a way to connect with people on a deeper level than just your great content.

“This is not a job for an RSS feed or algorithms. This is a job for a real human being who can detect nuances, moods, opportunities for engagement. Someone—the right someone—who can embody the personality of your brand.”

Without building your brand’s connections to your marketplace, you risk wasting time, energy and resources with social campaigns. An organization can broadcast messages all day, but if no one is listening—and if no one “likes,” shares, or tweets the message—the returns on investment will be small.

Taking the time to develop presence in the social media lives of your audience is the first step in building lasting online visibility for your brand.

Cultivating credibility

There’s another critical component in this mix—credibility. The content your brand publishes must be credible to earn the trust of your audience, as well as journalists and bloggers.

Search engines notice when content is shared on social networks, interpreting that sharing as a form of recommendation between connected people. For instance, Google’s new “Search Plus Your World” focus identifies content shared by people in your social graph within search results. To that end, engaging well-connected influentials is even more important.

Winning placement in credible media outlets and blogs remains an important PR goal. In addition to placements, links back to an online asset you’ve published—website, press release, blog post, white paper, landing page, or product page—are enormously valuable, informing search engines and driving qualified traffic to that site.

As a result, communicators should aim to publish content that people will share on social networks and that journalists and bloggers will cover. This approach will deliver the credibility that is a cornerstone of online visibility.

How it all works together

These three cornerstones are interconnected. Through social listening, for example, you can find influential brand advocates, and then use relationships you develop with them to help build your brand’s social graph and amplify your messages.

Develop credibility with your online audiences, and they will show their approval by linking to your blog posts, sharing your press releases, and re-tweeting your messages. This will convey the authority and authenticity that search engines notice and reward. With care and feeding, your healthy and connected brand will generate lasting visibility and measurable outcomes for your organization.

Sarah Skerik is vice president, social media, for PR Newswire.


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