You Can't Separate Social Media and SEO

Ian Lurie

Social media and SEO are now inextricably linked. You couldn’t separate ’em if you tried.
I used to tell clients “Hey, we’ll do SEO, and if you pay us extra we’ll execute a nice social media marketing campaign, too”.
Truth is, though, you can’t do a good job in SEO any more without social media marketing. And you sure as heck won’t succeed in social media marketing if you ignore SEO.

SEO Needs Social Media

Search engine optimization, at its core, is based on relevance and authority.
Relevance comes from content that has the right keywords and concepts. What’s one of the best ways to add content to a site? A blog! Assuming, of course, you can keep the site owner from having apoplexy at the prospect of writing 200 words once a week.
What’s another great way to add content to a site? Community! Comments, discussion forums and ‘submit your story’ type stuff drives growth.
And guess what? Blogs and community content are part of that mushy, IPO-driven concept called ‘social media’.
Authority comes from links. I dare you to carry out a successful link campaign without bloggers and sites like Digg, Stumbleupon and all those other communities we spam on a weekly basis, begging folks for just one vote.

Yes, I’m oversimplifying. Lambast me in the comments if you must.

Social Media Needs SEO

You can no longer succeed in social media without a boost from the search engines, either (Unless you’re famous, of course, in which case you don’t really need social media at all).
You can try to launch a social media campaign purely through social news sites, bookmarking and outreach. But what’re the odds you’re going to hit the front page of Reddit or Digg? Pretty slim, since there are at least 999,999,999 other slavering marketers trying to do the same thing.
Your success in social media will eventually depend on search rankings in a blog search tool and the general search results. Maybe it’ll be your bookmark page, maybe a Twitter post, or the page itself, but the search rankings will matter. Have a look at my rankings for ‘Hassenplarfer’:
That little experiment shows just how much rankings can drive traffic to social media. Had ‘hassenplarfer’ actually been a real word, this result would drive traffic to all of my social media placements. Take away search and most of those placements would gather dust.
And blogs, of course, can’t survive without SEO. In spite of my wide-ranging stardom, readership of nearly 10 people and my 3 friends, Google still drives most of my site traffic:

Mated For Life

SEO and social media marketing are now inseparable. Next time you think about saving a few bucks by slashing one in favor of the other, keep that in mind…

Ian Lurie
CEO & Founder

Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent and the EVP of Marketing Services at Clearlink. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). He's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Follow him on Twitter at portentint, and on LinkedIn at

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  1. Thanks for the nice article – and YES, I think you are absolutely right. A nice blend of traditional SEO with Social Media topic on it will do the best job.
    Looking forward for some other good reads. 😉

  2. Ian,
    Totally true. I once had someone who was about to embark on social media marketing tell me that SEO didn’t matter because they weren’t e-commerce.
    But if you’re ever going to get anyone to see your stuff, it certainly does matter. Good post.

  3. Agreed, and your post reminds me of a quadrant chart I did last year. Search feeds social, and social feeds search.
    It was mainly to get some abstract concepts more concrete in my head, but my grid had “Optimization” (which I equated to on-site efforts) at the top half, and “Marketing” (offsite efforts) on the bottom. The left and right of the grid were Search (bot-audience) and Social (user audience).
    Both top and bottom, and right and left sections of the grid enhanced the results from the other. It was also helpful for me in doing initial client reviews to figure out which area of the grid held the most/best “low hanging fruit” to attack. You usually don’t get the opportunity to work all four quadrants at once. 🙂

  4. @KatFrench:
    That’s a great model. I had a professor in grad school who loved explaining things in a 2×2 matrix, and if SEM were his subject, he would have loved this as well.
    I have appropriated your diagram, re-created it, filled the quadrants in with specific initiatives, and I expect it to show up in the next sales .ppt I put together! Thanks again.

  5. I totally agree, however, when you mention “social media marketing” to most clients they think you are going to create a Facebook page for them and that’s it. I don’t think a lot of clients understand the difference between these at this point. However, more and more they are becoming savvy, so I’ve been slipping it into documents and proposals more often as of late.

  6. With this, however, we raise the golden question: How does an average e-tailer go about integrating social media without “advertising” all the time?
    Of course the short answer is “become a part of the community”…but what does that really mean? What 140-character twitter post could possible achieve both getting our brand name out there as well as adding content and something interesting to the community?
    Almost an ethical dilemma we have here now. Any ideas?

  7. @Marcelo I think you’re oversimplifying a bit. Social media covers everything from discussion forums to YouTube to Flickr to Facebook.
    Chances are, anyone with the will and the interest can find ONE place they like to go anyway and get into some interesting discussions there.

  8. Ian,
    I’m aware that social media is a composed of a broad spectrum of communities and platforms, and maybe I am oversimplifying… but what I’m trying to get at is that each community, whether because of demographic or its “culture,” makes it difficult for certain companies to integrate and mingle without adding the old “shameless plug” everywhere.
    Maybe you can understand where I’m coming from if I mention that “office products” aren’t really things to hoot and hollar about online 😉
    But that doesn’t mean I’ll end my quest for those diehard printer and binding machine geek communities!

  9. @Marcelo Ah HAH! The old “I’m too boring” issue. I understand it, trust me.
    Maybe go a little off the path: What about a blog talking about episodes of the Office from the perspective of the machines you see in there? Or just a lot of funny office stories? Or something else about office culture?
    Your social media campaign doesn’t have to be 100% in-line with your business. It just has to be in-line with your prospective audience. Does that make sense?

  10. Ian,
    Ahhh very nice…your insight gave me some hope! I guess I need to think outside the box, like you suggest. Thanks for the tips!
    And wow I’m glad I commented on your blog and had this little mini discussion!
    Keep up the good work Ian, as per your birthday wish, I’ve subscribed and will tell others about your blog!

  11. Marcelo – if I can expand on a couple of points Ian made, first consider which of the different categories of social media known as “social media” that you might want to participate. These include (and this is NOT an exhaustive list) blogs, social networking (Facebook, LinkedIn), social search & sharing (StumbleUpon, Digg, Searchles), Twitter and its ilk, and media sharing (Fkickr, YouTube, iTunes for podcasts, etc.).
    Then consider what kind of content makes sense in each. For example, I’ve seen a viral campaign created out of photos of the strangest things found jammed inside copiers. That’s office-products-related. Don’t happen to have a stack of cool photos that would be suitable? Launch a contest and have customers and prospects send them in you. Offer a small incentive (free item or discount) for anything worthwhile. Spread word about the contest virally. THAT could be huge.
    More straightforwardly, what differentiates your business? Is it customer service? Consider writing a series of blog posts about the importance of great customer service. You can use examples from all over, not just writing about your own company. Your dedication to the topic will show how seriously your company takes this.
    Hope that helps!

  12. Tom,
    Haha that is a great idea! Thanks for the tips. I appreciate the discussion and help 🙂

  13. Great post, Ian.
    I’ve found that SEO and Social Media are often treated as separate disciplines, ie in many companies social media falls in the realm of PR, and search optimization entirely focused on traditional on page and linkbuilding tactics, ignoring the SEO benefits of social Web 2.0 sites. This fails to leverage the powerful synergies of marrying the 2 disciplines – the art of Social SEO.
    I’ve found many social sites to be exceptionally search engine friendly – Twitter (very), LinkedIn, Yahoo Answers to name a few.
    And many of them are also do-follow!
    Here’s a list of 22 Do-Follow Social Media Sites:
    Lorna Li
    Social SEO Maven

  14. I agree completely. Social media and SEO go hand in hand. Not only not only do these provide resources for the company but they are also forms of marketing and can increase your company’s clientele. In today’s society one of the first places people look for businesses or services is on the internet; if a business is linked into the social networking scene, there is a better chance that they will be found.

  15. Very impressive article and very impressive media(Social Media), but I am confused. I know that Social media is a part of SEO which can’t be ignored now but is it the right thing we are doing? First we place a story on these social media site and then we dig it, sphin it or twit it. In a way or another way, we or our loved ones would be doing that to show us on first pages of these social media sites. Are we overriding default and right behavior of Google? I think the main purpose of Google is to find the right and accurate information but do we spoil all that originality?

  16. @adhs I think that’s the wrong question. The question is, is it right to ABUSE social media and manipulate it for better SEO?
    The answer to that question is ‘no’.
    If I go get 150 of my closest friends to Stumble the crap out of something, that’s not right. It’s not illegal, but it’s not right, and eventually it could backfire.
    But there is so much we can do that’s not manipulation: Making sure our clients have a presence. Bookmarking content that’s really worthy of it, and helping our clients learn how to create that kind of content. Teaching them how to network via Twitter. And so on.

  17. I completely agree with this post. Blended search is becoming more and more prevalent. It’s also a great way to protect branded terms in the SERPs. More and more companies are catching on to protect their brand online and it’s not uncommon to see the two links to their url at #1 and #2 and often a facebook business page and wikipedia page at around #3 or #4. That pushes any potential negative SERP listings below the scroll. I don’t see anything wrong with that because they are primarily going after branded terms with the facebook and wikipedia page, not unbranded terms they want to rank on.

  18. This is so true. I remember the first time one of my sites got Stumbled – I thought someone hacked my site, since I had never even heard of StumbleUpon and all of a sudden I was getting thousands of visitors an hour. But like you said, you can’t rely on getting on Digg homepage, etc.

  19. I too agree that SM and SEO go hand-in-hand. But in my case, I’m talking to clients every day that want to jump into social media because they read about it somewhere or some guru said they should.
    If there’s no strategy involved, it’s an absolute waste of time.

  20. Interesting read, but I still have a hard time in grasping some aspects of using social media for SEO purposes. What is mean is, how applicable is social media when it comes to a client that needs SEO when their vertical really has nothing to do with social media at all? I’ve been wrestling with this for quite some time; for some clients, it’s a no brainer. But for clients that really have no business being in the social media space, what to do for them?

  21. yeah, well.
    sure these days you need both seo and social media, but when it comes to link-building social media is 1 of the least effective ways. I’m not saying you should skip it, but there are just many other tactics that will give more results for the same effort as social media …
    anyway, in the end it always comes down to the same thing; as long you’re site is not of top-quality most of your effort in link-building are wasted anyway; so, step 1 for link building; a quality website!

  22. SEO and Social Media are interrelated. Had social media not linked back to the sites posting on them believe me this concept would have bit the dust on the first place as the world of web is based around links. Though spammers tried to play havoc with it initially(you cant put an end to it) but i feel that social media has grown well beyond my expectations and it has found favor among SEO people and created a new field of social media optimization for them.

  23. I totally agree with you. I always use social media to get backlinks. I think you will find it difficult to find a search engine optimiser that doesn’t unless they haven’t got a clue.

  24. Social media presents many new opportunities for SEO. Social media marketing has revolutionised how search engine optimisation campaigns and strategies are planned and implemented. It has made it more essential to focus on quality rather than quantity. While it is still possible to focus on mass link SEO campaigns, the sheer size of the social networking sites make it almost impossible to target all sites blindly in some form a mass submission. Social media has made SEO experts think and focus on careful selection of channels for implementing any SEO campaign, however small or large.

  25. You are right on the money! I’m actively engaged in a case study for building a personal brand right now with SM – Google: ImJoePerez and you can see it growing daily… 30 days since beginning (6-18-09)

  26. I think SEO can be the basic of a web to do the business. After that We can use other technique. Social media also have many different type. The Social media that can support SEO is Social bookmarking.

  27. There is no doubt that SEO and SMO work best when applied together. You really helped me to understand this fact and I’m thankful to you…
    BTW: Nice Bog 🙂

  28. SEO meets social media and SEM do all tie in together. The trend of social media is so steep you can imagine the algorithms are being changed to take more account of the social media aspects.

  29. It is obvious that SEO and SMO has to go hand in hand for gaining better traffic for websites.I have seen people always worried and cared only about doing SEO for a site.
    I am sure SEO can bring visitors for a site but the attention can be brought only by using SMO(ie social media sites)
    Thanks for sharing useful content Ian.

  30. I wish they could be seperated but your right they are the linked. Whatever happened to the days of geeks being alone? Now we are expected to be SOCIAL, darn. 🙂
    I like the bookmarking sites but the twitters and facebooks have got to go. LOL

  31. I couldn’t agree with this article more. I am in charge of SEO at my firm and social media sites like Twitter and Facebook have been vital to spreading my message in a white-hat manner and getting back links.

  32. Loved your comment about Digg. The first article I ever plugged there I got 100-200 votes, crashed my WordPress blog, and thought I’d found the golden fleece. That was three years ago, and I don’t think I’ve had one or two articles that have limped over 3 or 4 votes.
    Keep hoping for lightning. 🙂

  33. You can’t have one with the other! Kind of like peanut butter without the jelly! 🙂 The only problem that I see, as someone that works with a company offering SEO services, is that most business owners still cant separate the two. That is where it get difficult!

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