Last month I attended Incisive Interactive's Search Engine Strategies (SES) Conference in Chicago. If you are responsible for your website's SEO strategy, these conferences are must-attend workshops that help demystify the 'black box' stereotype that SEO has become.
What really surprised me though was learning just how far the SEO marketing industry has matured over the past few years. SEO strategy has moved away from simply trying to 'game' search engines, focusing now on building meaningful SEO content that actually addresses the needs of customers.
One of the most interesting methods of building this type of content is by properly leveraging the SEO benefits social networking sites can give your site.
The idea is that social networks are similar to search engines, where the goal is to ensure that the most relevant and interesting content bubbles up to the top. On sites like Digg it means having enough votes from the community to move your news article to their front page, while on a site like MySpace, your measure of popularity is all about how many friends you can get.
So the question is, how can marketers in the auto space use social networking sites to your SEO advantage?
The answers are surprisingly straightforward.
Get involved with different social networking sites
The easiest way to start is by simply building a profile for your brand or product on sites like MySpace, Second Life and CarDomain. The self-publishing tools these sites offer are easy to use and accessible to everyone.
You may want to build a professionally designed presence for yourself (like Honda's MySpace page), or put one together that uses existing templates offered by the community. To get the SEO benefits you want, you need to include links back to your official website.
Now, here's the important thing to remember: Once you've built your presence on these sites you must then stay engaged with the people who visit your page.
You can do this by periodically posting new content relevant to these audiences and responding to friend requests you receive. You will soon find that the users of these sites will start adding their own content on your page and linking back to you. The SEO benefit here is that you establish well-regarded search engine content that also links directly to your company's web presence.
To interact with 'tagging' sites like Digg, Netscape and Del.icio.us, submit news that you feel is relevant to the readers of these sites. If the news you post is compelling and timely enough for readers, their audience will cast their approval by voting for your news. The more votes you receive, the higher up the list your news feature will appear.
The SEO benefits here are the direct links from well-trafficked pages to your site. However, the second benefit is a bit more grassroots and possibly even more valuable to your SEO efforts in the long run: Your news that is featured on these sites is now positioned to be picked up by bloggers who scour 'tagging' sites looking for their next news item. Once these bloggers start picking up your stories and provide multiple, well-regarded links, the SEO benefit can be quite substantial for your site.
Build relationships with other well-regarded community members
Even though becoming an active member on these sites will help your SEO efforts, building relationships with other well-regarded members is a great strategy for promoting your own material. On CarDomain, we've seen members grow their network simply by posting useful comments on other member's ride pages.
Some enterprising business members take this a step further, seeking to address the automotive questions other popular members are having. However, instead of presenting the company perspective through unsolicited advertising, they actually engage users with detailed repair recommendations. The benefit here is that this popular member who receives a great answer provides tons of visibility and credibility by recommending the service to their friends.
On 'tagging' sites the relationship you want to develop with other popular members is a bit more straightforward. In order to bubble your content to the top of a news category you will need others to vote for your news.
One way of accomplishing this is by introducing yourself to other members and forming an informal network. What this means is that everyone submits their newly posted news to this network and anyone who feels it is a quality story will add their vote to it.
The benefit here is that it helps give your news story enough votes for it to be positioned in front of the larger editorial community. Without this assistance your chances of being found are much lower.
Wash, rinse, and repeat
And finally, don't give up! Building up these relationships and creating a well-regarded destination on these sites takes time and effort. But the long-run effects of these efforts on your SEO will be both meaningful and very hard for your competitors to overtake.