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There are plenty of excellent Internet marketing firms out there, but when it comes to newer forms of marketing, such as Social Media Optimization, few of them know the best way to carry out a successful campaign. The reason for this is largely based on the fact that SMO is rather young, but also because a lot of the sites that are kind enough to host users for free, are constantly guarding against their sites being utilized for such purposes. A good example of this is Flickr!, which I mentioned a few weeks ago. Cracking down on photostreams was their solution to the problem, but other sites like Digg and Stumbleupon may become trouble with friend adding. However, this is not due to the administration.

The key to any natural-search-oriented form of marketing is natural linking. If the links appear natural to the search engines, they will be more effective, and since we aren’t all so fortunate to have the support of the Internet from the beginning, we often must take it upon ourselves to spread the word, through relevant (and therefore natural in appearance) linking.

So, the key to utilizing Social Media sites for online marketing is also natural, however, natural to other users. Since the quality of internal links on a site like Digg depend on the users accepting requests to become friends or contacts, your adding of friends or contacts must first appear natural to the users. Having an incomplete profile, offensive content, or a low amount of activity is the best way to send out un-reciprocated requests. Focus first on building your presence, then your contacts, and lastly, quality, external links to your profile, as well as internal links to your site.

When people ask me what I do for a living, the inevitable followup questions will generally  lead to long explainations that leave the inquery unsatisfied. Basically, my first response is “Internet Marking”, which leads they that inquire to further do so with a question along the lines of:

“What does that entail?”, to which I respond, “Pay Per Click, Social Media Optimization and SEO.” To this they ask, “What is SEO?” and I tell them “Search Engine Optimization.”

Even to someone who is computer and Internet savvy, when I try to explain the specifics, they will usually just nod and smile, but everything goes right over their head. This isn’t because they aren’t intelligent or able to grasp the concept of quality link building, but more due to the fact that SEO can’t really be taught to someone in a college course or a weekend seminar, let alone within the twenty minutes on average that these conversations will tend to last.

Like many Search Engine Optimizers, I was given direction during the course of my training, and the rest was self-learned. Sure, the advice of learned others will always benifit those that learn, and instruction can provide foundation, but SEO is always changing, because the “rules by which we must play” are always changing. SEO is not so much a science, but more a type of branding.

Just as a brand is an idea communicated to the target market which associates a name, slogan or idea with your company (and hopefully results in leads, conversions and sales), SEO is the branding of search engines. We use creatively implemented tools to leave an impression on bots that crawl the web, and encourage them to tell the rest of the world about our client’s product or service when they search for related terms.

So yes, while the results of Search Engine Optimization are the sum of links pointing to a site, as well as the quality, quantity and variance of those links, the idea is not so simple in practice. To do this job right, an SEO must be an architect of the Web, constructing a functional, yet appealing structure that serves a purpose and leaves an impression on our target audience, via search engines.

To learn more about branding your company name using highly effective SEO practices, please consult an Internet Marketing Firm like Reciprocal Consulting.

I’ve discussed before how a relatively well-ranking blog can destroy your reputation by showing up in searches for your company’s name, but consider the alternative – a network of bloggers that increases your targeted traffic by 300% in one day. I wasn’t so sure this was possible, but I experienced this first-hand.

While comparing an eCommerce or strictly informational site to a personal one may not be the most suitable example, the principles are the same. As far as Social media Optimization and SEO are concerned, quality, varied, and extensive links can build your rank for certain keywords, and your page rank overall. As usual, I have to offer my disclaimer for the use of the term “page rank” as I am not referring to the little green bar that appears in your Google toolbar, or the number assigned by various spy sites. This is the number which you will never really know the value of unless you have a very good friend who works in the right office at Google. Don’t worry about it – Search Engine Marketing is based upon the focus on generating keyword links, not a popularity contest.

However, when it comes to onsite content, and well targetted keywords in the right niche, one post or update can win over an entire blogging community, as was the case for me just a few days ago. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – it is a good idea to setup a blog for your company (or have an Internet marketing firm like Reciprocal Consulting do it for you). This is why…

I decided to embark on a project a little bit different from my usual pixel-based bead art. Don’t laugh, it’s perfectly normal for a 27-year-old man to make real-life pixel art using kid’s craft beads. Moving on, this new project of mine was a musical album, or rather a preview of an album in progress. For 6 or so months now, I’ve been posting to my own personal, self-hosted, WordPress blog. During that time, I’ve done quite a bit of SMO for the domain, and I’ve managed to rank in the top ten for most of my keywords, number one for many of them. Still, I’ve never seen more than a few dozen views in a given day. In fact, just last week, I topped out at 79 visits. I suppose I thought this was decent for a personal blog.

Leave it to a guy who blogs for Wired.com, and in one day I managed to get over 1,800 visits to my site that day. Basically, I posted the links to my free album preview on December 2nd, the day that I got my 79 views, and the next day, this guy saw it, posted about it at Midnight on the 4th, and referred to me 75% of my views that day.  But that’s not the end.

For the next few days, I received anywhere between 182 and 437 visits, which climbed to over 3,600 on the fourth day. Apparently, the word was spreading.

The day after that, my servers were overloaded and I didn’t know why. My bandwidth was well under the limit. 20,714 views, in one day…that’s how. I couldn’t even post to my blog, there were so many people visiting – who puts their personal blog on a dedicated server? I didn’t, and I sure didn’t think I had to, either.

The point of all this is that many companies overlook the value of the Social Media as a tool to their advantage. Most of the time, an investment in Internet Marketing can be a calculated effort, which results in relatively expected results – not that there is nothing wrong with this. However, I believe that many businesses could benefit from investing in Social Media. An average campaign for Pay Per Click Optimization for one of our clients will drive a few thousand hits a day to their site, but receiving two weeks worth of targetted traffic in one day (without paying two weeks worth of clicks) can do wonders for your ROI. I wouldn’t by any means recommend giving up the PPC campaign, but using as many channels as possible is the best way to make the most out of marketing on the Internet.

I’ve been using Flickr! personally for the past few years in order to share my artwork through groups, individuals, and the handy RSS feed included in the basic Flickr! account membership. Although I am a member on many other Social Media sites aimed towards artists of different sorts, including deviantART, Myspace (music), and ETSY (although more of an eBay for crafts), Flickr! has thus far been the best catalyst for self-promotion of my work.

The beauty of a Flickr! account is that each photograph is basically treated by search engines as a separate web page, the main difference being the extension used. In the spirit of the structure of an search-engine-readable page, each image submitted to Flickr! contains a name and a description (which may contain links), much like a web page contains a header, title and body, which may include links. The reason for this special treatment is to make Flickr! submissions search-able in both image and web searches, as a means to encourage online sharing of photos.

Thus far, I personally have gotten a lot of attention and a bit of publicity by using Flickr! as a sort of gallery for my artwork. Likewise, many businesses have found Flickr! to be an invaluable means for Social media Optimization, or SMO. Unfortunately, as of recently, Flickr! has been cracking down and doing some searching of their own – for strictly business accounts using Flickr! for SEO.

Although only time will tell where the hard-working staff at Flickr! will draw the line between personal and business accounts, here are a few things to consider if you don’t want to find your Flickr! account deleted:

  • Interact with the Community. Normally, I would say that it is better not to draw attention to an optimization based account or profile on any of these sites, since it may draw attention to the fact that you are not a personal user – however, in this particular case, it seems to me that a complete lack of interaction (via messages, comments, etc) would be a red flag to the ‘cleaning crew’ and may more likely result in account deletion than sticking out like a sore thumb (as long as that sore thumb appears to look like a natural human kindly interacting with other members).
  • Use Links Sparingly. This may seem obvious, but when you split up 80 links between 80 photos, you may not immediately realize how many there are in total. While I personally do not get a lot of traffic to my personal blog through Flickr!, many businesses use it for that purpose. Be conscious of how many links you are throwing to the same URL – you should only place a few links here and there, and make sure the surrounding text is relevant but not ‘selling’ anything.
  • Post More Pictures. This does not mean you should post a ton of pointless pictures, but if you were only uploading pictures of products and linking each one to a product page on an eCommerce site, this would draw attention to the ‘misuse’ of the account, and blatant violation of Flickr! user policy. The key is to post pictures of many different things, all somehow relevant, but not all blatant image adverts. The more you mix it up, the more natural and ‘random’ it will appear to both human and bot browsers of your photostream.

These are a few things that I personally will be trying out to avoid getting my account deleted, but I would think that businesses would have to exercise more caution than personal users.

For more information on effective Social Media and Search Engine Optimization services, please consult an Internet Marketing Firm like Reciprocal Consulting.