Search optimizers turn to social sites

Search engine optimization companies are turning to social networking sites to build traffic and get their customers' brands known

Web 2.0 has come to search engine optimization. Or rather, search engine optimizers have discovered Web 2.0.

That's according to experts who spoke on Monday at the Search Marketing Expo in Seattle.

"We all go to Google and Yahoo and MSN and Ask.com and make them work for us, that's our job," said Rand Fishkin, CEO and co-founder of SEOmoz, a search engine optimization (SEO) consulting company. "Our job is now extended into this new realm."

Fishkin and others said that they're carefully using social networking sites to improve traffic to their customers' sites and build their brands. By attracting more traffic and links, sites can improve their search rankings.

Some of the social networking sites Fishkin likes to use are YouTube, Wikipedia, Yelp, MySpace, Flickr and Technorati. Other sites, such as Digg, Del.icio.us, TechCrunch and Reddit, can also be used to boost brands and awareness through viral marketing, he said.

"Social media marketing is about going out to Web 2.0-style sites and approaching them with the mentality of 'I'm going to contribute to this community,'" Fishkin said.

That's an important distinction because marketers that use Web 2.0 sites in ways that counter the community's accepted use can run into trouble.

"If you break these rules, users get nasty," said Neil Patel, author of the Pronet Advertising blog and chief technology officer at ACS, a search engine optimization company. "They'll keep pestering you and really ruin your life."

For instance, a company that submits lots of its own content, creates multiple accounts in order to vote repeatedly, adds biased content and asks friends for votes will run afoul of most communities, he said.

But Patel also had advice for how marketers make the sites work for them. For instance, he recommends working hard to grow your "friends" list. If a marketer submits content and a lot of people vote on it, that marketer should add those people to their friends list. "Or, if you vote on stories and others vote on the same, they probably have similar interests" and could also be added as friends, he said.

Also, becoming a top user on one site can translate onto others. Patel is well known on Digg and when he goes onto Netscape, people there recognize him and then "show me love," he said.

MySpace can also be a good outlet to build a brand and improve a company's online presence, said Cindy Krum, senior SEO analyst at Blue Moon Works. Companies can have MySpace profiles for different brands or products or even for specific people at the company who may be well known. Videos, coupons for free stuff, games and podcasts are all good content for attracting people to MySpace pages, she said.

"It's especially powerful because [social networking sites] allow users to publicly affiliate themselves with a brand in a way that is highly visible to their peer set," she said.

While some companies may think that their target customer doesn't fit with the demographic of people using many of these social networking sites, the experts say participating in the sites is still worth it. "It's a jump off point," said Todd Malicoat, an Internet marketing consultant at SEO consulting company, Stuntdubl. "It may not be my audience at Digg but if they like what I have to say it will get to Techmeme and then I'll get in front of the demographic I really want to go after."

They all agreed that social networking sites can really improve a company's online reputation, but only if used carefully. Patel's ultimate words of wisdom: "Do what is ethical, don't jeopardize your brand, think long term."

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