SMX London – Social Shares: The New Link Building

I recently attended the Search Marketing Expo in London which is one of the most highly regarded search marketing conferences. It’s held around the world in 11 locations, run by Search Engine Land, in particular Danny Sullivan who is the editor.

The first session I attended was about how the world of search is changing to include social factors. The speakers discussed some of their best techniques and how to become an influencer within social networks. As well as being one of my favourite sessions, this topic was right at the beginning of the day, meaning that I was feeling fresh and could maximise the amount of information I took in.

1st Speaker: Lisa Myers, CEO, Verve Search

Link to full presentation

The first speaker was Lisa Myers from Verve Search. Lisa spoke about the history of search and the start of a whole new world incorporating social integration.

Social shares and links are votes that count towards your rankings
The first point Lisa made was that Google sees links as votes which determine how high a site should rank. She also discussed how the value/score of links has evolved to become more accurate. A great post with more detail on this is How Google Evaluates Links by David Naylor.

Google’s algorithm is now very sophisticated but there are still weaknesses – as most black hatters will know!

The next logical step is for Google to integrate social signals; there is proof of the correlation between this and higher rankings. This study was completed in 2011 by SEOmoz.



Then in 2012 after Google+ was released this study was completed:


This shows us that Google+ shares and followers are the top ranking signals when it comes to social.

No more link building?
Don’t race off and replace all of your link building campaigns with social strategies just yet. Social signals seem to have a time restraint, e.g. if you get 100 shares over a short space of time, you can shoot up the rankings – but you might not stay there. At this point in time I would still prefer a link over a share, but it shouldn’t be one or the other – they should both be integrated into your campaigns.

How do we know Google is serious about these integrations? All you have to do is look at the recent products and changes Google has implemented and you will see which direction they are heading:

  • Google+
  • Search + My World
  • Rel=author

So I need the concept of a Meerkat campaign or the budget of Pepsi?!

No! As long as you can be a little creative, display strong communication skills and strategic thinking, you can win with social sharing. Most SEOs already have these skills.

Recipe for great content:

  • Intelligent
  • Interesting
  • Thought provoking
  • Funny
  • Newsworthy
  • Educational
  • Well timed
  • Interactive

Perhaps one of the most important ‘ingredients’ for creating viral content is timing. Getting the right content out there at the right time can be a huge factor in scoring social shares and links.

Plan for Better Content

Day to Day Content Activities

  • Research/White papers
  • ‘How to’ articles and blogspots
  • Breaking industry news
  • Infographics
  • Competitions
  • Interviews

Longer Term Social

  • Creating a social community within your site
  • Blog
  • Hub for white papers, research etc
  • Build up the social authority of people that work in your company

Lisa says: “wake up!.. Don’t just be an SEO but a Social SEO… create votes to a website whether via links or social.”

Follow @lisaDMyers

2nd Speaker: James Carson, Digital Strategist, Bauer Media

Link to full presentation

James Carson spoke about using the right platforms and different techniques to get your content shared by the right people.

Which social platform?
James began by talking about the different social platforms. Google+ might have the biggest effect on rankings but it has one of the smallest reaches, so it all depends on what you want to achieve. Here is a list of the main social platforms in order of reach:

  • Facebook
  • Youtube
  • Twitter
  • Tumblr
  • Google+
  • Pinterest

Facebook and Youtube have a lot more active users than the rest; YouTube is more of a video search and hosting platform than a social network. But as James said; you don’t want to just go by reach, the audience is very important. For instance if you work within the fashion or lifestyle industries Tumblr and Pinterest would be more effective because they are strong in these areas. Similarly, the technology and news industries will do very well on Twitter. But don’t just take the word of others: try out different tactics for yourself.

Finding influencers

  • If you find influencers on Google+ they are normally influencers on other social networks too
  • Followerwonk uses Twitter bio data for finding related users.
  • Klout =“Nooooooo!”( but this can be useful to find influencers for individual topics)

I would also add “ask your client for a list of industry experts” which can be beneficial.

Econsultancy has written an article on How to find a social media influencer.

Reaching influencers
One of my favourite things that James spoke about was ‘rippling’; a fairly simple technique which is actually rather clever. It can be hard to get a top level A-lister to share your content, so instead look who they interact with and see if you can target them, creating a kind of ‘Mexican wave’ effect.

Time of day
James spoke about various studies that test the best possible time and day to send tweets and Facebook updates. For example Twitter and Facebook are more effective on Thursday and Friday afternoons, but Tumblr is more effective in the middle of the night. The best thing to do is take note of these studies but try for yourself and find out which is best for your users and the different industries.

Other tips

  • Run competwitions
  • Use Trendsmap to see local Twitter trends
  • Don’t buy shares, focus on quality
  • Instead of asking “do you agree?” say “like this post if you agree!” when asking a question on Facebook.
  • Facebook uses an algorithm called Edgerank to work out which users see different content

Follow @James Carson

3rd Speaker: Simon Heseltine, Director, AOL inc

Simon Heseltine is the top guy when it comes to SEO at AOL but they also own a number of news sites which he is involved in, these include:

  • Huffington Post
  • Engadget
  • Tech Crunch

Huffington Post

It was very impressive to listen to Simon talk about the success of Huffington Post. He had some mind blowing figures for before and after AOL bought the site out. It’s one of the most shared UK sites on Facebook and it’s had over 50 million comments on the site this year.

Their success is due to the very engaged community they have created. One of changes they implemented was to build a community/social network. They gave away badges to some of the most active users along with the ability to moderate and delete comments. This is all very similar stuff to a forum but it gave the users a feeling of value, responsibility and made them feel special.

Social Media
The Huffington Post is a massive news site covering a huge amount of different topics so instead of just setting up one Twitter profile and one Facebook page they created profiles for different topics, e.g. comedy, UK news, weird news and so forth so users can just follow the topics of interest.

Whenever a tweet was sent they would re-tweet it 3 hours later to capture the second wind. (2.7 hours is the average half life of a tweet – you can capture up to half the amount of traffic from the first tweet so its worth doing). Personally I prefer to be cautious about overdoing Tweets as there is always the risk that overkill could annoy your followers, but a couple of times is fine.

Follow @Simon Heseltine

Top Takeaways

In my opinion these are some of the most important points to take away from the “Social Shares: The New Link Building” talk:

  • Google + shares and followers have biggest effect compared to other social votes
  • Social shares are time–sensitive and have an expiry date
  • Focus on quality shares over quantity
  • Think of social shares and links as votes towards your rankings
  • Timing is one of the most important factors in creating successful content
  • Use Google+, Followerwonk & Klout to find influencers
  • Use rippling when trying to get influencers to share your content
  • can show you trending Twitter topics by location
  • Ego bait can be used to get influencers to share your content
  • Facebook uses an algorithm called Edgerank to work out who sees see what
  • Instead of asking “do you agree?” ask “like this post if you agree” when asking a question on Facebook
  • Muckrack is a very useful tool for finding out what journalists are discussing
  • Review the location of your share buttons. Lisa Myers found that moving the buttons to the top of her post had a massive effect
  • Capture second wind with tweets
  • Don’t just rely on the opinions of others – test these things for yourself!

Sam Allen

A strategic thinker who ensures that Zeta and all of our clients keep striving forward. A marketing expert addicted to all things digital.