Social Media Optimization (SMO) is the practice of building and maintaining social network profiles and activity in ways that are most likely to have a positive effect on one’s search engine rankings, increase brand awareness, drive traffic to web sites, and generate sales and leads. SMO starts with optimized profiles.

Public social network profiles tend to rank easily in search so they obviously are indexed by the search engines. At the most fundamental level, then, a well-optimized profile has the person’s or brand’s name in the manner in which people are most likely to search for that person or brand. Next in importance is including keywords for which one wants to be found in the description or biography part of the profile.

Finally, if the network allows links in the profile, the person or brand should link to their main properties on the web.  Note:  Links on some social profiles may be automatically tagged to as “NoFollow” for search engines. That means the search engines will not pass on any “link juice” from the social network to the linked-to site. However, these links can still be valuable for driving referral traffic.  There is growing evidence that search engines are experimenting with “co-citation,” where a relevant mention or link to a brand or other entity may carry some authority, even if there is no link or the link is no-followed.

How does  Search Engine Optimization differ from Social Media Optimization? 

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and SMO actually overlap in the area of strategy to positively affect search rankings. SMO seeks to do that more indirectly through building influence in social networks that will send positive signals about one’s site and brand to the search engines. As described above, SMO also has concerns that go beyond search into brand identity and direct traffic generation.

SEO is entirely focused on those things which seem to have the most direct effect on search rankings. It seeks to optimize both on-site (making it easy for search engines to crawl and index the site and identify what it is about) and off-site (building authoritative links from other sites to the targeted site).

How do search engines measure social influence?

Optimized profiles provide the foundation for SMO, but alone are not likely to provide dramatic results. The next step in SMO is building out and utilizing influential networks on the various social platforms. There is increasing evidence that search engines are interested in ascertaining what individuals and brands are seen as authoritative and trusted by real people on the Internet. Such influence-power would be measure not only by the size of one’s network, but who is in it, and more importantly, who interacts with and recommends an individual’s or brand’s content. Services like Klout are early attempts at measuring and quantifying such influence.

Probably the most visible and interesting current project by a search engine aimed at measuring and using social influence metrics is Google’s Authorship feature. Authorship allows content creators to link their content from across the web to their Google+ profile. This qualifies them for an author “rich snippet” result in Google search. This rich snippet displays the author’s profile photo next to his or her results, along with a link to more of his or her relevant content.

There has been some indication from Google staffers that the long range intent of Google Authorship is to collect data from social and other signals to try to ascertain the level of authority and trust around a given author in various topic areas. This scoring, which has become known as Author Rank, could then be used as a factor in ranking that author’s content for relevant searches. There is no evidence that Author Rank is in use yet, at least not as a major factor, but it’s possibility has huge implications for how one’s social influence may affect search in the future.

What are the pitfalls to avoid when optimizing your social efforts for search?

SMO does not carry some of the risks that are inherent in some forms of SEO. As search engines become more sophisticated in detecting SEO techniques that exist for no other reason than to “game” search results, they have become more aggressive at penalizing sites suspected of utilizing those methods. Since SMO has a much more indirect effect on search, gaming it with the express intent of manipulating search results is both harder and less effective. Therefore search engines don’t seem very concerned with scrutinizing social media efforts as they are with link building efforts.  So the chief pitfalls for SMO campaigns lie more in the area of abusive or misguided practices that short circuit their potential effectiveness.

These bad practices include:

  • spamming networks with too many self-referential links
  • over-selling – turning nearly every social communication into a direct sales pitch
  • poor targeting – not selecting the networks most likely to have audience for your topics
  • poor listening  – not paying attention to the expressed needs and questions of the audience; failing to respond to direct communications
  • inactivity– letting social involvement slack off; social audiences have short attention spans and slip away quickly 
  • over-activity – being so noisy and domineering in your channels that people are turned off and unfollow you


This is the second part of my interview with  Mark Traphagen  and Phil Buckley of Virante, specifically about how social media interacts with search engine  marketing and  social media optimization.  Read the first part here:  The Social Media Play on Search Engines


Join us live for Cisco’s Social Media for Savvy Marketers Event:  April 18-19, 2013 at Cisco HQ in San Jose, CA.  Get session information and register for this free event today! http://cs.co/SMevent. Webcast registration:  http://cs.co/SMEventWebcast