So! Your site was just on the receiving end of a little nod from a much bigger site. You(/your company/your non-profit/your blog/your political organization/your band/your art collective) were the right combination of lucky and good, and some reputable online so-and-so blessed you with a product review, an event write-up, an interview, or maybe just a mention of some piece of content of yours that went viral. In other words, your brand—probably by virtue of doing something cool—earned a piece of media. Feeling especially creative that day, the marketing community gave the name “earned media” to this type of thing, and by any name, it’s manna from heaven.
Congratulations are in order. By dint of earned media, your public awareness factor is about to jump, and if the major site’s mention included a link* back to your site, you’re certain to enjoy a bump in referral traffic, and a boost in your PageRank/link profile/domain authority that can only improve your standings in the SERPs as well. And you didn’t have to pay a dime or lift a finger for any of this!
But what if you decided you now wanted to lift a few fingers to try to get a little extra mileage out of this earned media? What are some relatively simple measures you could take to put the SEO spitshine on this precious new link and thus milk it for an even bigger spike in your web traffic (and your organic search traffic especially)? You’re in luck; no matter how bright the initial spotlight it threw on you, there are ways to make your earned media glow even brighter. Here are a few:
1. Share, “Like,” Tweet, and (Especially) +1 It
Our online media outlets and our social networks have become deeply intertwined. If you’re under thirty, statistics indicate that you probably receive a third of your news via social networks, and I’ll gladly offer myself as an example of someone over thirty whose stats in that department are comparable. And though it’s probably safe to imagine the sharing of news articles being a popular activity no matter the technological climate (after all, we used to physically clip them back in the print media’s heyday), the proliferation of Fast Action Social Sharing buttons on news sites great and small has made the act of sharing faster and easier (and therefore more popular) than ever, which has had the consequence of making an online news article’s social media footprint utterly crucial to both its reach and its lifespan. That right there would be your first motive for working to improve the social media stats of your earned media: you’re going to get more eyeballs on it that way.
That articles with social media recommendations are read more widely, and live longer in the cycle, than stories without them is perhaps obvious. But the news sites of the web had an additional motivator for getting so aggressively competitive in the social sharing space, one that might not be as obvious: articles with social media recommendations perform better in organic search. Feel a second motive creeping up on you yet?
It’s been two and a half years already since Bing announced that Facebook “Likes” were entering the picture as a ranking factor, meaning that Bing users logged into Facebook would see inflated search rankings for pages that had accrued “Likes” from their friends. It’s been three and a half years since both Google and Bing started including tweets in their search results (though the partnership between Google and Twitter was ultimately short-lived). We’ve already seen a few years’ worth of evidence to indicate social media recommendations translating directly to improved organic search visibility, so you stand to gain plenty by imbuing your piece of earned media with as many as you can. And that would have been fair to say even before Google+ launched in mid-2011.
Despite still being the butt of a lot of mean jokes, Google+ remains fantastically relevant to SEO for this simple reason: of all the social networks in existence, it’s the only one operated by Google. If you read the previous paragraph and thought, “that’s all well and good, but who uses Bing? Talk to me about Google!”… well, in the wake of their Twitter partnership’s demise, Google hasn’t taken much of an interest in any social network but Google+. It shouldn’t be that surprising that of all the kids in this school play, their own is the one they care about the most.
Now, here’s what’s really interesting about Google+: in much the same way that Bing probably wasn’t an honest-to-goodness attempt to dethrone Google and crown a new king of search (but instead a means of constructing a huge advertising network), Google+ was probably never expected to gain the kind of explosive instantaneous zealous popularity that it would take to unseat Facebook as the king of social networks. It was more likely begun in the interest of compiling a mammoth store of social data that could be continually mined, organized, and fed into their algorithms, to make Google searches more personalized and refined than ever before. If you bear this in mind as the overriding G+ concept, it will make sense why Google has invested such a great deal in the significance of the +1.
How does this investment make itself known? Here’s how: Google inflates the rankings of pages carrying a +1 for all searchers who are both a.) logged in to a Google account at the time of search, and b.) no more than two generations removed from the user that contributed the +1. And “generations” here is not narrowly defined in terms of Google+ connections; it applies to Gmail and Google Chat contacts as well. [And furthermore, if you're wondering how typical it is for a user to stay logged into Google all day while pounding out search queries, you have only to track the growing (not provided) phenomenon to arrive at a cursory answer.] Simply put—as my SwellPath colleague Mike Arnesen has argued—the Google+ +1 is the single most valuable social media recommendation for organic search. Log into G+, find your earned media on its source site and any other blog or aggregator where it may have turned up, and +1 the criminy out of it.
Google+ has an additional feature still unknown to many but ideal for the kind of outreach that can grow your presence on the web: Ripples. Ripples allows you to track the total reach of a particular public post on Google+. You can input a URL in a search bar at the top and see every Google+ post linking to that URL, as well as the names of all the users who’ve posted about it, and the names of all the people in their circles who’ve publicly shared those posts. What a treasure trove for outreach! Try inputting the URL of the earned media mention and see what names come up. Whether you know the folks or not, you stand to lose nothing (and potentially gain a lot) by adding them to your circles, and commenting on their shares with a statement of gratitude and a stimulus for further conversation (“if you’d ever like to talk more about this…”). After all, that sort of community-building is what both social media and web marketing are all about!
In summary: the social graph has slowly but inexorably become a major factor in search visibility, and with Facebook just today announcing a potentially landscape-altering new social search engine called Graph Search, its importance to SEO will only be growing. If you’re looking to get some extra organic search mojo for your earned media, endowing it with social media recommendations—and encouraging your friends, loved ones, and colleagues to do the same—is one of the simplest and most reliable means to that end.
2. Blog About It
Your site has a blog, or a news feed, right? Right? If it doesn’t, start one. Then, toss off a post about the earned media (it doesn’t have to be long), and link to the source.
You might be asking: why bother? It may seem like it would add little to the shimmer of your earned media to write a story about the story. But be wary of focusing too narrowly on the link graph here. It’s true that returning your source’s backlink with one of your own wouldn’t do much to improve your link profile directly (not nearly as much as the original backlink from the earned media already did, to be sure), but think of all the things it would accomplish:
- It would give you a chance to express public gratitude for the earned media and present your perspective on it (if it were an interview or an event that was the basis of the original story, then you’d have a whole experience to supply your personal take on);
- It would almost certainly expose the earned media to at least a few loyal readers/fans/friends/grandmothers of yours who didn’t chance upon it on the major site;
- It would amount to an authentic, whitehat link exchange with the major site, a show of good faith and community that’s bound to be appreciated even if you needed their link a lot more than they need yours;
- Though it wouldn’t affect your site’s link profile, it would give you a chance to improve the link profile of the earned media, which ultimately would benefit you. You’d serve that end even better if you took care to implement SEO best practices on your own post, optimizing its URL and meta tags, and linking to the earned media using relevant, descriptive, keyword-rich anchor text. And why not ice the cake by beefing up your post with the same social media recommendations that you lavished upon the original earned media?
3. Reach Out to the Author
The web is now the most significant of all journalism platforms, so the chances are strong of the earned media’s author having a presence on Twitter and/or Google+. Track down the author on these channels, follow/friend/circle her, and look for her own links to (or mentions of) the article that constitutes your earned media. Did she post a link to it on her personal G+ page? Go comment on it and make your presence known. Did she tweet a link to the article? Retweet it, and augment the retweet with an @mention to the author where, again, you make your presence known. Finally, you can email her through her contact page at the source site to express your thanks, and in the process, you can offer her a quote, or a brief supplementary interview, to add further value to the piece, or inform her next one. Any of those tactics is bound to help your name stick in the author’s head, and who knows how much more earned media that could lead to in the future?
*0. Get a Backlink
I’ve termed this Step Zero because the above measures will count for a great deal less if the prominent website that mentioned yours failed to provide a link in the process. If this is so… well, they definitely messed up, and unfortunately, the onus to set it right is on you. Zoom over to their contact page and get a hold of somebody as fast as you can to ask for a link. If the mention pertained to some particular content or campaign on your site, suggest that the link point to the relevant landing page. Otherwise, the homepage will be fine.
[We at SwellPath see this happen to our clients more often than you might think, so here's a tip to help nip it in the bud: you can use Google Alerts to track earned media. Visit google.com/alerts, and enter the name of your site in the search query field. You can get every bit as Boolean in this bar as in Google's web search bar, so if your site (or the organization it represents) goes by more than one standardized name, or if you also want to return alerts pertaining to your personal name or those of other contributors, go ahead and use as many quote marks and "OR"s as you need to. Then you can rest easy knowing that you'll be emailed when a prominent site mentions your brand by name but fails to include a link, and you can fix the problem right away.]
While nobody has a magic wand to wave and make earned media appear, there is real, demonstrable value in knowing what to do with it when you’re lucky enough to attract some. I hope this post might be of use to you the next time you find yourself so lucky. If you have any other advice to share on the subject of amplifying earned media, please share them in the comments. And thanks for reading!