Rising Heat: Social Media Optimization

In SEO, they like to say “Content is King…but SEO is Queen!”

Well, despite the four-inch minis and tottering heels, I’m a feminist, so when I began to realize the red hot ruler burning up the web like the bhut jolokia was a daughter of our digital Isis, I needed to know more.

The term is “SMO”, social media optimization. Originating in the half-joke, half-realized FBO, Facebook optimization, SMO reached its critical boiling point this past year when Bing announced its search engine was taking into consideration “followers” and influence of KOLs, (key opinion leaders) on popular social media platforms.

The heat began to rise on Google in 2009 when it became clear Facebook was looking to become a “reincarnation of the web”. The idea that a social, and thus more personalized and crowdsourced search, would kill Google seemed completely viable in 2009. When Google’s offense as defense, Buzz failed, the rumored rivalry became one to watch.

Enter Bing (MSN). How often is it a failing site reinvents itself and wins? Digg and MySpace sure haven’t managed to channel Madonna powers recently. Maybe it was the pretty pictures, maybe it was the adorable name, maybe it was the Gossip Girl promos, maybe it was the loyalty of SEOers, maybe it was Hotmail’s great PR, or maybe it was the snow monkeys, but we are actually “Binging it!”

Bing is following in the steps of Apple, proving you don’t have to first, you just have to be the best. Last spring, as the #SXSW social snow ball blew in like PR-fueled Snowpocalypse on the web, Microsoft launched Spindex…and nobody cared. I mean we were still figuring out this Foursquare thing, who cares about social ranking? Quietly, without fanfare, with Bing Microsoft was already doing what they joked was “impossible”.

In early 2010, interviews with Bing’s director, Stefan Weitz, revealed the refreshed company had seen the future of search. When Google tangoed with the PRC, speculation on Bing rose. Then, in the swelter of 2010’s summer, the first rumors began to float in search marketing that Bing was using social media in search rankings.

Bloggers have long known links, high traffic, metatags and keywords on their sites worked the same as on regular websites to increase their rankings. The internet battle between search engines and sites which stuffing keywords to gain ranking and increase their ad prices has been going on since, well Google began to crawl. It was hardly a surprise then links bouncing from share button to social site, blogs and back would have an effect on SEO. The spark to Bing’s fire the idea of “clout”, that followers and “friends” would boost not only your social credit rank, but your SERP’s.

The story got juicier in November, when Bing upgraded social media partners, to Facebook. Access to data on 500 million users? Yes please. The result was a realization of Stefan’s dream, personalized search results. Did it make that big of a difference? Well it certainly got Google’s attention. Google’s response with a Twitter streams and “Beta” searches for “people in your network” is still TBD, but the December announcement left no doubt Google’s been Binging It.

December. It took until December 2010 for Google to “get it”. The popular response? “Google and Bing use social ranking!” Google and Bing. Booboo and Yogi? Our Google entrenched web has yet to realize who’s driving their results. Bing’s headstart on social search isn’t a fluke. Bing’s moving, Google following.

For details on how Bing and Google rank up, analysis here.
Next post will be “Cross-Pollination: SMO’s a Hussy.”

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