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Ah, the joys of picking keywords. Some call it a process, others consider it an art, but in reality keyword selection involves tedious manual research and a whole lot of guesswork—a sort of keyword trivia.

No matter what your method, what lie at the center of keyword selection are your customers, potential customers, and site visitors.

With 60% of internet shoppers using search engines to find what they are looking for, accurate keyword selection is of utmost importance to drive transactions. But, how do customers search for your company? What words do they use to describe your products? How do they talk about your industry and the business you are in?

Analyzing the search terms people have used to reach your site begins to paint the SEO picture, but not the whole picture. The more valuable terms are the ones that your company is overlooking, the ones that drive valuable Web traffic elsewhere, when it should be going to your site.

Enter Social SEO, a new approach to keyword selection and SEO strategy that puts your customers' conversations at the center of SEO efforts and delivers accurate search terms the way your customers will actually search for your brand, company, and products.

Customer conversations are everywhere today—social networks, blogs, forums, and other social-media outlets. These are unbiased, unfiltered interactions that can deliver rich information about how your customers talk about topics that are relevant to your company and brand.

Though it would be nice if people were to use your company's messaging in their everyday interactions, the reality is that for the most part they don't.

Social SEO—tapping into how they talk about you and your industry so that you can determine how they will search—is the most effective and foolproof way to master that art/science/guessing game of picking keywords.

Let's say your company makes fishing equipment. The various names and descriptions for all of your gear have already been integrated into your search keyword strategy. For example, if someone is searching for fishing poles, you're all set. But, this year, striped bass fishing has been unbelievable, and people are sharing their experiences, pictures, advice, locations, and other information within their networks.

There are keywords within these communications that are not obvious to your company but represent some high-yield online traffic that would be directed to other sites.

Listening to the conversations going on about fishing would reveal this information and inform your SEO strategy with some rich insights. So, how to get started?

  • Determine your relevant social networks and Web sites: It's not just about Facebook and MySpace. There are a ton of niche social networks where the truly passionate people tend to spend their time and can be far more informative than the big guys.
  • Think about starting your own network around your brand: Are your customers passionate people? Do they love to talk about your products? If so, start a network for your customers on your site and monitor that closely. Connecting like-minded people produces some of the most passionate and insightful conversations and can help inform many more aspects of your business than SEO.
  • Monitor and analyze customer interactions: There are many ways to do this, and it's the most important step in the social SEO process. Several companies are emerging that provide automated ways to track social networks; or, you can set aside time and resources to sift through it yourself, but this option can be a time-consuming process.
  • Trust your customers: Some of the ways they talk about your company may not be intuitive or seem representative of your brand, but have faith and trust their interactions.

Social SEO provides a new take on a dated and undefined process. Collective intelligence is being applied all over the Web to drive new technologies and processes, so why not SEO?

What customers say is what will eventually end up in their Google or Yahoo search bar, so staying in tune with the many ways customers might want to find you online will not only move you up on the search results page but also contribute to your revenue and overall visibility.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dan Neely is the CEO of Networked Insights (www.networkedinsights.com) and has been instrumental in the creation of the Networked Insights social-media listening platform SocialSense.