The Challenges of SMO

Rohit Bhargava recently coined the phrase Social Media Optimization, or SMO. In contrast to refining websites with a goal towards organic search listings (Search Engine Optimization – SEO), this practice implements “changes to optimize a site so that it is more easily linked to, more highly visible in social media searches on custom search engines (such as Technorati), and more frequently included in relevant posts on blogs, podcasts and vlogs.”

He outlines five rules which he advises clients in the context of SMO:
1. Increasing linkability.
2. Making tagging and bookmarking easy.
3. Rewarding inbound links.
4. Helping content travel.
5. Encouraging the mashup.

It’s worth clicking through to his original post to read it in detail and see others who have built upon it. Search engine guru Danny Sullivan (who announced his departure from SEW and SES this week) wrote in response “Conceptually, some of this stuff isn’t new” but that “it’s worth considering.”

I personally see a tension for online marketers between traditional ways of building traffic through destination pages versus new methods in social spaces. While the former is site-driven the latter is individual-driven. When content is expressed and resyndicated via individuals, by definition it looses its roots. On one hand, that’s a good thing as it becomes untethered and free to roam; but on the other hand, it presents a challenge because it’s unharnessed and difficult to manage.

Danny Sullivan’s post about the Five Rules of SMO continues,

“For me, that’s one of the biggest adjustments coming from the SEO world and into SMO, understanding that your presence can be in multiple places without being harmful… Generally in SEO, it’s good advice to have one single web site that you point to. Build traffic to a common domain, rather than divide it among various places… With SMO, the adjustment is understanding that you have multiple places that while you don’t own them still can be valuable to you.”

What solid ground can web marketers grasp onto when the social web has the world in flux? Is it true that “widgets are the new web pages,” as Hooman Radfar would have it? “The web ala carte”? They could provide the necessary link between content origination and manifestation via the individual, if the reality comes to bear which Fred Wilson predicts: “all of the functionality we currently have in social networks is going to emerge on the Internet at large.”

The SMO rules which have been coined above are helpful, but are definitely the first in a playbook that is still being written. And with some like Nicholas Carr trying to put “social software in perspective,” it’s safe to say that we shouldn’t throw out that SEO/SEM owner’s manual just yet.

David Beisel

David Beisel is a co-founder and Partner at NextView Ventures. He has been focused on early stage Internet startups his entire career, both as an entrepreneur and venture capitalist. As an investor in the digital media space, David was most recently a Vice President at Venrock and previously a Principal at Masthead Venture Partners. Prior to becoming a venture capitalist, David co-founded Sombasa Media, an e-mail marketing company best known for its flagship product BargainDog. Sombasa was successfully acquired by About.com where David served as Vice President of Marketing. David holds an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and an AB in Economics, magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, from Duke University. He also founded and leads the Boston Innovators Group, an organization which holds quarterly entrepreneur events drawing a thousand attendees.

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