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23 February 2012

SES London presentation: Why content strategy is crucial for social search

Rachel Hawkes, account director, Elemental By Rachel Hawkes

Yesterday, I went along to the third day of Search Engine Strategies (SES London) to present ‘Why content strategy is crucial to social search.’   

The session, attended by about 100 delegates and moderated by Greg Jarboe of SEO-PR, was opened by Chris Boggs from Rosetta and president of SEMPO.  Chris gave an interesting look at how results in and differ when it comes to integrating social, particularly with the launch now of Google’s Search plus Your World.  Content strategy and social search resourcesSearch plus Your World is Google’s new initiative to enrich search results both with data pulled from social networks but also deliver results based on the influence of social pages and the users own social network (you can read more about that on Google’s blog). Chris talked delegates through how this new change to Google’s search algorithms will impact on a brands performance in organic search listings and how social media has a massive role to play moving forwards.

I spoke next, giving an overview of content strategy and social search from a marketing and communications perspective.  My aim was to give a practical summary of what content strategy is and why as marketers (and brands) we need to understand how social media and content has a role to play in how our customers discover us through search.  Reinforcing that, as the only panellist based in the UK, through case studies on this side of the pond.

Despite my nerves at public speaking, I hope I was able to stress the importance of building a content strategy into the overall marketing and PR strategy, yet also ensuring it draws from other departments such as customer service, sales and IT.  The biggest point I wanted to make though, above and beyond anything else is that the user should be the first and last consideration.  Yes, considering and optimising for search (not just ‘traditional’ search engines, but search within individual networks) is an important factor, but it shouldn't be the primary driver.  After all, its customers rather than search engines that buy your product or service!

Krista LaRiviere from gShift Labs in Canada rounded up the talks, taking delegates through the significant changes in Google over the last 450 days and that the search giant will never penalise you for producing relevant, high quality content on a consistent basis.  Krista stressed that brands should stop worrying about executing its SEO and social media strategies and instead focus on an optimised content marketing strategy to succeed in a digital environment.

After presentations, Greg opened the floor to questions but even he couldn’t squeeze more than a few from a shy UK audience.  A few interesting ones though:

1.    Why is Search plus Your World in the US only at this stage?
2.    Is it better to spend time optimising older content than producing new content?
3.    How do you know if / when is a good time to put out content?
4.    Can and should you create separate social media environments for verticals?

I think Google is best placed to answer the first question, however I want to expand on the answers we gave delegates for the remaining three questions.

Is it better to spend time optimising older content than producing new content?

With the exception of static, informational pages then always spend the time on producing new (relevant, quality) content.  

If it means going back to optimise your ‘About us’ page, FAQs and other content on your website, microsite, blog or social network that isn’t quickly consumed then that would be a smart thing to do.  There are a few exceptions such as changing the album name and description on your Facebook page, adding smarter tags to a YouTube video etc as these help search engines categorise your content and deliver a more relevant audience to you.

However, the person asking the question gave the example of a blog post.  Is it better to go back and optimise an older blog post rather than write a newer updated post?  From a technical search perspective, Chris and Krista were uncertain as it hadn’t been an area that had been tested much.  However, from a user perspective the answer would be a resounding no.  If you are changing a blog post after its been published (with the exception of correcting a spelling mistake, formatting and other general house-keeping things), then you could leave your user feeling a bit duped and have the opposite effect of what you were trying to achieve.  It’s far better to write a new blog post, explaining any additional information or updates, and linking back to the old blog post.

There’s always exception to the rules though.  If for example, you have written a blog post that has a significant amount of engagement and this has carried on well after the blog post was published, but you have a clarification or an added bit of information that would add value to the reader then a footnote at the top or bottom is cool, but changing the original content isn't.

How do you know if or when is a good time to put out content?

There is no hard and fast rules here, it entirely depends on the industry you work in, who your users are, the type of campaign or content and when your users typically like to consume (your) content.  This can and should be determined by measurement tools that are in place, both web analytics across your own site/s as well as data provided by individual networks (such as Facebook insights).  

Also, why not ask your customers? A quick poll will give an insight, as well as make your customers feel appreciated.

Can and should you create separate social media environments (including blogs) for verticals?

Good question, and the answer from a community management perspective is, not unless you have the ability to create and maintain a vibrant community on each vertical.  Having a thriving, dynamic community doesn’t happen by accident, it’s a lot of hard work and that doesn’t stop being the case regardless of how big the community grows.  

What you don’t want (even though from a search perspective it may give you a little bit of keyword and link love) is to have a place where people don’t engage with each other or with the brand.  That does more harm than good in the long run.  Additionally, with the social search changes that are already being implemented (where authority and influence of a social environment will go towards determining its search engine ranking), the less vibrant and engaged your social platforms are the less Google, Bing et al will determine it to be an influential social channel.

Why is content strategy crucial for social search? Chris Boggs, Rosetta

Why is content strategy crucial for social search? Rachel Hawkes, Elemental

Why is content strategy crucial for social search? Krista LaRiviere, gShift Labs

Categories: Technology, Social media, Marketing, Events, Elemental

Tags: social search, content strategy, search, SES London, search engine strategies, social media, rachel hawkes

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