Friday, January 27, 2012

Using Social Buttons to Enhance Search Engine Optimization from

Social "signals" increasingly influence search results in both Google and Bing. The search engines are coming to consider social signals as more indicative of how searchers value a page than traditional link signals — though links remain very important to search engine optimization. In addition, the engines consider social signals harder to falsely manipulate than the content and link signals that have traditionally driven SEO. I recently wrote about this growing trend in "Managing SEO and Social Media Together." Ecommerce merchants can increase social interaction with a site simply by including the right social buttons or widgets on the right pages of the site.

Search-Engine Access to Facebook and Twitter

Bing and Facebook have an agreement to include Facebook social data into Bing's search results, both as actual results and as a way to influence rankings of other pages that Facebook users "Like" or link to. Google doesn't have access to Facebook data as directly as Bing does, but signs point to Google's ability to crawl public portions of Facebook to cull some social signals. In addition, Google has its own social network in Google+, enabling Google to harvest all sorts of juicy user data about which sites and pages users like and link to. Both search engines have the ability to crawl Twitter for social signals as well. Social signals are clearly important to search engine optimization, but many ecommerce sites struggle with how to encourage more customers to behave more socially with their brands.

Give Customers an Easy Button

For starters, make it easy for consumers to be social when they're on your ecommerce site. Say a consumer is looking for a pair of wool socks that are warm when wet, not itchy and are comfortable enough to hike in all day or lounge around the house in. Wool socks are not that interesting, but to the right person the search for the right pair of wool socks is captivating. That person — and millions of others bent on their own pursuit of things interesting to them — will very likely Tweet, Like, +1 or blog about that product when he finds it. If the product page contains social buttons for Twitter, Facebook or Google+, that consumer is far more likely in his exuberance at having found the perfect pair of wool socks to Tweet, Like or +1 that product page on the spot. Conversely, if the product page does not contain those buttons, behaving socially may not even occur to that consumer. Or it may cross his mind and the thought of copying the URL, going to Facebook, pasting the URL, and thinking of something to say is just beyond the effort he's willing to make.

Including social buttons in the right pages and at the right stages of the conversion funnel is key to increasing consumers' social behavior. The payoff of that social behavior is that the consumers' friends who also search for wool socks are very likely to see that same product page in their search results. Of course, those same friends are also very likely to see the Tweet, Like or +1 and click straight through to the product page to shop on their own as well.

Zoom Enlarge This provides the Facebook "Like" and the Google+ buttons on its product pages. provides the Facebook "Like" and the Google+ buttons on its product pages.

Which Social Buttons and Where?

The big three buttons are Twitter, Facebook and Google+. Choosing which buttons to include comes down to a few key factors.

  • Find your customers. Which social media sites do the site's target audience use most? If you're not sure, check some recent studies like KISSmetrics' findings on social media site usage by gender, income, and other relevant demographics.
  • Consumer or business? Is the product or service targeted toward a consumer or business audience? Business-to-business sites may want to focus on Twitter and LinkedIn sharing.
  • Communicate with the marketing department. Which social media sites does the marketing team focus on? If marketing is working hard to drive transactions from the Facebook channel, it will be important to include Facebook sharing buttons on the site.
  • Space considerations. How much space can be carved out of the existing page templates? Is there room for one button, three buttons, or one widget? Work with design and user-experience teams to balance the social and search benefit with the user and brand experience.

KISSmetrics can help merchants identify which social media sites their prospects use.

KISSmetrics can help merchants identify which social media sites their prospects use.

Choose the Right Social Graphic

After choosing the social sites to support, choose which types of icons, links, buttons and widgets are most appropriate on each different page type. For example, many sites include in their headers or footers a set of icons that link to their Facebook or Twitter profiles along with their email newsletters and RSS feeds. Icon links like these enable customers to interact with a brand over time, but do not encourage point-of-excitement sharing such as the wool socks customer would engage in. Linking icons are important for their own reasons, but they're simply not functional enough to encourage the sharing of individual pages.

Each social media site offers a variety of sharing buttons and widgets to encourage visitors to sites all across the web to share content. These buttons and widgets are free from the sites themselves and come in a variety of sizes, shapes and functionalities. Facebook alone offers 11 social buttons and widgets from the basic Like button to Facepile, which "displays the Facebook profile pictures of users who have liked your page or have signed up for your site." The other major social sites' button and plugin offerings can be found at Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Facebook's "Social Plugins" page.

Facebook's "Social Plugins" page.

Beyond Social Logo Links

For example, if an ecommerce site chooses to enable stronger sharing for Facebook across its site, it may use the following buttons, depending on the type of page.

  • Header or footer on every page. Insert icon links to the Facebook profiles for the site. The goal is to enable longer-term communication with customers via the site's Facebook profile.
  • Category pages. Place the Facepile widget in the side navigational channel to show customers which of their friends Like the site as a whole. The goal is to inspire confidence in the site based on the number of people overall — or friends specifically — that also trust and like the site enough to Like it on Facebook.
  • Product pages. Place the Like button near the product image or name. The goal is to capture point-of-excitement Likes regardless of whether that person eventually buys the product or not.
  • Shopping cart order confirmation page. Place the Like button near the images or names of the products purchased. The goal is to capture Likes from people who are proud of their purchase and want to show it off. Each product needs its own Like button, however, because the goal is to increase Likes for the product pages for purchased products, not to Like the confirmation page itself.
  • Blog and marketing pages. Insert the Like button under the main headline or near the primary visual. The goal is to enable customers to spread the word about initiatives and charitable programs to increase positive buzz about the brand naturally. The Facepile widget could also be beneficial on these pages to engender trust.
  • Email newsletter. When products or initiatives are featured, include a Like button at the end near the "Read More" link that the customer would click to visit the product or initiative page. The goal is to capture Likes from customers who have read enough in the newsletter to know they Like the product or initiative but have no intention of clicking through to the site to transact or read more.


This article has been a single example of using two plugins for one site. Major etailers like Amazon use all of these tactics and more to capitalize on the value of social buttons and widgets to their organic search and other marketing channels. The easier and more pervasive the social buttons are across the site, the more likely customers are to engage socially, but it doesn't have to be an all or nothing proposition. Consider dipping a toe in the social plugin waters with a single page type and a single social network to get the feel for how the buttons interact with the platform and how consumers interact with the buttons.

Longest Tips for SEO from - - Part 3

Optimizing a Page for Search Engines, Part 3: Keywords to Content

I discussed keyword research and content mapping in detail in the earlier two articles in this series on content optimization. But keyword research is like any form of data collection and analysis: It won't drive a single additional organic search visit or sale until it's acted upon. With their keyword maps firmly in hand, content creators and search marketers can effectively and efficiently create or optimize content that turns those potentially valuable keywords into real search-engine-optimization traffic.

Write for Readers, Optimize for Engines

It's obvious when content is written for search engines instead of customers. It tends to focus on high keyword density — having a higher ratio of keywords to other words — and tends to lack readability and interest. Instead of this, inform writers of the keyword theme for the page and let them write freely and creatively with the keywords and the brand messaging in mind. When they're finished writing, go back over the fresh copy with an eye to replacing some phrases with keyword phrases. Be careful not to kill the spirit of the content in the process.

Where keywords are placed can have a big impact on how strong a keyword relevance signal they send to the search engines. This is referred to as "keyword prominence." If a page is meant to rank for "online games for girls" but the keywords related to that phrase aren't used on the page in prominent places, it will have a difficult time ranking. So before we start flinging words around the page, keep these content optimization guidelines in mind.

  • Beginning. The beginning of an element is always more prominent than the end.

  • Phrasing. The order of the words within a keyword phrase matters. To target a keyword phrase most strongly, use the phrase exactly as it appears in the keyword map. For example, using the map from "Part 2: Keyword Mapping" — last week's article — a page targeting "online games for girls" would want to use that exact phrase in the most prominent elements on the page, not mutate it as in "online fun games forlittle girls." Similarly, the keyword research and map indicate that the exact phrase "online games for girls" is stronger than a rephrased version such as "games online for girls."

Zoom Enlarge This ImageOnce the phrases have been categorized and analyzed, the mapping begins — as shown in this spreadsheet.

Once the phrases have been categorized and analyzed, the mapping begins — as shown in this spreadsheet.

The Prominent Elements for SEO

  • Title Tags. The title tag is the most prominent keyword relevance element on the page. For detailed guidelines and examples, see "Title-Tag Optimization for Ecommerce Sites," my previous article on that topic. In general, place the targeted keywords at the beginning of the title tag and keep the title tag to 65 to 70 characters.

  • Headings. While less prominent than they were a couple of years ago, headings are still as prominent as bolded or italicized content. Again, place the targeted keywords at the beginning of the heading, especially the H1 heading that typically headlines the top of the page.

  • Anchor Text. Traditionally identified by its blue underlined styling, anchor text consists of the words that users click on to follow a link to another page. Anchor text is doubly prominent because it affects the keyword theme on the page where the words appear, and also passes a keyword signal along with a linking signal to the destination page. Adding relevant anchor text with links to relevant pages to the body copy described below is an excellent way to strengthen two pages' keyword signals. It's important to note, however, that a link that uses an image as its anchor does not strengthen either page's keyword signal, even if that image contains keywords.

  • Body Copy. Descriptive text on a page acts as an anchor for that page's keyword theme. As other features and products come and go, the body copy remains to consistently target the page's keyword theme. Any block of text that contains several complete sentences like this page at LL.Bean can be called body copy. A page that consists entirely of a grid of product images and names with no descriptive contentlike this at Bed Bath & Beyond has no body copy. The SEO practitioner's first challenge may be working with design and development teams to create a space in the template to insert body copy and a method of editing it. Regardless, the most prominent area of the body copy is the beginning of the text block and any anchor text that is used within the body copy.

The other textual elements of the page aren't as prominent, including meta data, alternative attributes for images, title attributes links and text locked inside of images. That's not to say that they are completely useless to SEO, they just do not carry the kind of prominence that the preceding elements do. In fact, meta keywords are no longer used by search engines as positive ranking factors. They only count as negative ranking factors if a site tries to stuff them full of redundant or irrelevant keywords.

While not a prominent ranking factor, the meta description is actually a valuable SEO team player. When the engines return a page of search results, the meta description can be used as the black descriptive text for the page's search result. As such, it's important to optimize the meta description with the same keyword theme as the rest of the page, because it may influence the searcher to click on your search result rather than your competitor's. Keep the meta description to about 180 characters and make sure to use the keywords from the map. However, since this element doesn't impact rankings, there's no need to be quite so slavish to using the keywords at the beginning of the element.

Where to Write

Many ecommerce sites are fitted with a content management system or CMS. If the CMS is familiar and pleasant to use, by all means go ahead and write or optimize a page's content directly in the CMS. I've never met the CMS that I felt that comfortable with, however. They tend to feel stark and intimidating, forcing my creativity into their little white fields. And then I forget what I'm doing as I multitask, close my browser, and the page of content I was nearly done with is gone.

I prefer to write content and optimize pages in Excel. It's fast, it autosaves, it counts characters, it sucks in keyword data, it enables me to concatenate — i.e. link — things that follow a predictable pattern like preliminary versions of title tags, and I can keep it with my keyword research and map.

Zoom Enlarge This ImageAdd new columns to the keyword map to represent the elements that need to be optimized.

Add new columns to the keyword map to represent the elements that need to be optimized.

Even though it's difficult to see everything at once, I take my keyword map and add new columns to it to represent the elements I need to optimize. This way, every element and keyword I'll be using is represented in a single row for each page. As I get farther along in my optimization, I can look down a single column like body copy and see at a glance whether I've unconsciously fallen into a rut where I'm repeating the same phrases over and over on each page instead of writing more unique content.

With these guidelines in mind and a keyword map in hand, content optimization is much more effective and efficient than randomly optimizing pages for keywords that might be useful. The process could easily be spread across a team of optimizers, simply by assigning rows of the spreadsheet to individuals to optimize. Once the optimization is done, upload the content via the CMS or with the help of the developers and measure the impact it has on the optimized pages' SEO performance.

Longest Tips for SEO from - - Part 2

Optimizing a Page for Search Engines, Part 2: Keyword Mapping

Keyword research is essential to search engine optimization. It's the window into the words that real searchers use to find products like the ones you sell. But at the end of the keyword research process — detailed in "Part 1: Keyword Research" — search marketers can be overwhelmed by the vast amount of data staring at them from their Excel spreadsheets. Keyword categorizing and mapping help move the optimization process from the research phase to the actual optimization phase.

Categorizing Keywords

During the keyword research process, patterns start to appear. Different types of keywords emerge that can be logically grouped into different categories that reflect the site's business goals and core product offerings. For example, if my site sells subscriptions to online games for kids, my keyword research could be 12,000 phrases or more based on the research conducted in Google's freeKeyword Tool. But because each keyword is needs to be related to my core product offering, I can start to categorize them and delete the ones that aren't directly relevant.

Let's say that my site sells games. But it doesn't sell just any games; it sells online games for kids. That's three vital components to choosing keywords that are specifically targeted to my product offering: "types of games," "online vs. offline," and synonyms for the word "kids," as listed in the spreadsheet, below.

Zoom Enlarge This ImageBy creating columns for each of these three keyword components, I can identify which of the 12,000 keywords are the most relevant to my business, and filter them to more easily choose phrases to optimize the different sections of my site.

By creating columns for each of these three keyword components, I can identify which of the 12,000 keywords are the most relevant to my business, and filter them to more easily choose phrases to optimize the different sections of my site.

For example, the keyword "free games" is huge, with an average of 823,000 searches per month in Google. That's a mighty tempting keyword to target, but is it not directly relevant to my site's core offering. I don't offer "free games," I sell subscriptions to online games for kids. A search for "free games" could represent someone looking for pickup basketball games, games to play as a family, pirated video games to download, or any number of other game-related desires. It's too broad for my site and even if my site could capture those searches, only a small percentage would convert. It may be worth a test to see if enough additional volume could be driven that even at a lower conversion rate I'd see more sales, but it's unlikely to be worth the effort.

"Free games online" is also quite large at 201,000 — getting closer because it represents two of the three key elements of a targeted keyword for my site. But still, the searcher could easily be looking for any type of free game online for any age group, and I still don't offer free games. Perhaps it may be worth discussing offering a few free games or some free trials to be able to target these larger "free" keyword sets. That's a decision that needs to be made at the executive level to ensure that it's in line the company's business goals.

Analyzing Keyword Categories

Regardless, to see the phrases that target my niche specifically, all I need to do is filter out the "free" keywords and all the blank cells in columns B, C and D so that I'm left with only terms that have all three elements: online, kids and games.

Zoom Enlarge This ImageBy filtering out the

By filtering out the "free" keywords and all the blank cells in columns B, C and D, I'm left with only terms that have all three elements: "online," "kids," and "games."

Now I can see that the largest generic keywords in my research that specifically target my niche are "online games for kids" and "kids games online" at an average of 12,100 searches each per month in Google. I can also analyze the most prevalent keyword patterns within the categories I've designated. For example, I can determine from my full keyword set that 56 percent of the keywords contain the word "kids" as opposed to only 3 percent of the keywords that contain the word "children." This little tidbit tells me that when I'm writing copy for my site I should use the word "kids" more frequently than the word "children." I can also see that 23.5 percent of the keywords relate to virtual world games, while 2.7 percent relate to fashion games and 2.1 percent relate to educational games.

In "Part 1," I explained how navigational phrases on a site should influence the seed list for the keyword research. In turn, analysis of the categories and patterns that emerge in the keyword research can also be used to influence a site's information architecture and navigational phrases. Of course, these statistics depend entirely on the accuracy and thoroughness of the keyword research. If the search marketer misses a category of terms accidentally, those keywords obviously can't figure into the category and pattern analysis.

Keyword Mapping

Once the phrases have been categorized and analyzed, the mapping begins. First, make a list of all the URLs that need to be optimized. This list may be the entire site, or it may be a smaller subset of the major categories and most valuable subcategories and products. Each URL needs a unique primary keyword. It's important that each URL have its own unique keyword theme so that a site's own pages don't compete with each other for rankings for the same phrases. In addition, each URL can also be assigned a couple of secondary keywords that are very closely related to the primary keyword.

Zoom Enlarge This ImageOnce the phrases have been categorized and analyzed, the mapping begins — as shown in this spreadsheet.

Once the phrases have been categorized and analyzed, the mapping begins — as shown in this spreadsheet.

In this example the girls.htm page has been assigned the "online games for girls," the largest relevant keyword, as its primary keyword. It also has two secondary keywords assigned to it that are nearly identical to the primary, except for word order and other slight differences. Assigning a set of very similar keywords to the same page enables the writers or optimizers to vary their copy to avoid the most annoying forms of keyword repetition while still maintaining a strong keyword theme.

If the map has empty spaces where URLs aren't assigned keywords, more research is needed to identify the relevant keywords for that page. Conversely, if a group of keywords from the research lacks a URL to map to, more pages of content could be created to target those keywords.

The exercise of mapping of keywords to URLs identifies which pages should be optimized for which keywords, but not how to use those keywords on the pages. The upcoming "Part 3" installment of this series on content optimization will focus on actually using the keyword map to optimize content.

Longest Tips for SEO from - - Part 1

Optimizing a Page for Search Engines, Part 1: Keyword Research

In its purest form, optimizing content for search engines consists of modifying one page to send a strong keyword signal for one keyword or phrase. The amazing simplicity of this concept is often lost on marketers, many of whom think of content optimization like taking aspirin: If two is good then four must work even better. Sprinkling lots of keywords on the same page will not improve organic search rankings, nor will using the same keyword on lots of different pages. The key to content optimization for SEO is matching one keyword to one page in a methodical and disciplined manner. Scalable methods of optimization become necessary if the site is very large, but even the largest sites still "manually" optimize a selection of critical pages by matching one keyword to one page.

Choosing the Best Keywords

Before keywords can be matched to pages, the optimizer must know which keywords to choose. Make a seed list of the words that will be used on the page. Think of as many synonyms as possible and record them in a Word doc or Excel spreadsheet. Be warned, these are not the keywords with which you'll be optimizing. The brainstorming process is only the start of the keyword research process. Optimizing with a seed list will result in content optimized for the way you think and search, not the way your customers do.
For example, a site that offers wedding invitations and favors might include the word "opalescent" in its seed list as an adjective describing a type of invitations. But searchers might not search on such a fancy word in high numbers, favoring the shorter adjectives "pearly" or "shimmery." Next, check out competitors' sites to see how they refer to their products. Especially note category names in the navigation, title tags, and words used as anchor text in links. If the company has been optimizing for organic search, these areas should be full of valuable keywords. Add any relevant words to the seed list that started with the brainstorm process.
In addition, I often brainstorm a list of adjectives, a list of nouns and a list of verbs, and use Excel to concatenate — i.e. join — them into phrases. For example, the adjectives "affordable" and "modern" might be concatenated with "wedding invitations" and "wedding invites" to form 4 phrases instantly, as follows.
  • Affordable wedding invitations
  • Affordable wedding invites
  • Modern wedding invitations
  • Modern wedding invites
Four phrases aren't very inspiring, but 900 phrases can be generated instantly with a seed list of 30 adjectives, 10 nouns and 3 verbs. The concatenate formula essentially takes the contents of cells or strings of text and crams them together in the specified order in a single cell. Find it in Excel in the "Formulas" tab by clicking "Insert Function" and entering "concatenate" in the search field.

Using Keyword Tools

When the seed list feels fairly complete, turn to a keyword research tool to understand the value of the keywords on the seed list and also to discover additional related keywords. While there are many keyword tools, I prefer Google's free AdWords Keyword Tool. The vast majority of most sites' organic search traffic comes from Google, so it makes sense to tap Google's database of keywords when deciding how to optimize a site. Other reputable keyword tools include Wordtracker and Keyword Discovery, both of which tools have free and paid versions. Searching Google for "keyword tool" turns up a variety of other options, but be certain of the data's sources and biases before basing optimization decisions on it.
Using keyword research tools can be tedious, but well worth the time. Begin feeding words from the seed list into the keyword tool and exporting the results. For example, the wedding invitations site might start by feeding the four phrases shown above into Google AdWords Keyword Tool. The red boxes indicate the important boxes to fill and check to get the most specific keyword results for searchers in the US searching in English using desktop browsers. Change the settings to get mobile data, data for any country or language or other variables.
Google AdWords Keyword Tool's user interface.
Highlighted with blue boxes, the keyword tool reports how many searches are conducted for the exact phrases on Google on average over the last 12 months and the level of competition sites optimizing for these keywords will face. Any keyword data worth researching is worth saving. Even if the data shows that some keywords in the seed list aren't worth optimizing for, the data should be kept as a reminder that those phrases are less valuable than others. Click "Download" to save the data in the report, highlighted in orange below, and save the file for later analysis.
Google AdWords Keyword Tool's keyword ideas section.
The Google Keyword Tool also shows keyword ideas, which are closely related to the original keywords entered. Note that different phrasings have different numbers of searches, such as the purple highlighted phrases shown here. It's not surprising in this case that the grammatically correct phrasing "affordable wedding invitations" has more searches than "wedding invitations affordable," but the fact that the former has 38.5 times the search volume is very interesting. There will also be cases where the grammatical phrasing isn't the clear winner, which can offer an SEO advantage over sites that don't do their research.
Lastly, the words highlighted in green such as "letterpress" and "vintage" are interesting because they may not have appeared on the original seed list. Newly discovered keywords like these can suggest new content or subcategory groupings on the site, or perhaps even new products to offer. The process of feeding seeds into the keyword tool and exporting the results is long and tedious. Truly, no SEO professional enjoys this part of the process. The end result is a download folder filled with individual CSV files that need to be combined into a single file for analysis as a whole. If there are too many to copy and paste into a single file manually, try merging CSV files using the command line, which I described for Windows users on my blog.
The mass of keyword data compiled from the downloaded CSV files can be overwhelming. Where to start? What to do with this jumble of letters and numbers? The next "Part 2" installment of this series on content optimization will focus on keyword analysis and mapping, followed by a final article on actually using the keywords and map to optimize content.