GenuineVC David Beisel's Perspective on Digital Change

September 1, 2006

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.

  • Hooman Radfar

    David, you make an excellent point with respect to the dynamic tension. I definitely have engaged in similar discussions with content providers. Although they want to participate in the emerging social media space, they also want to encourage increased traffic at their sites to increase their top line. That being said, I believe that widget syndication is a mechanism via which they can expand their respective audiences and ultimately make more money. People are going to steal content regardless. It is getting easier and easier. Marketers should embrace this user trend and harness the collective desire to socialize over media via monetization mechanisms, rather than attempting to fight user behavior. Admittedly, there will be cases where site traffic is adversely affected by syndication. However, if content owners play it right, that shifting traffic pattern may be a more profitable avenue in the long run. Should be interesting to watch!

  • lawrence coburn

    One of the biggest fears that we’ve had in freeing up our community’s content is the dreaded “duplicate content penalty” whispered about in forums like WebmasterWorld in which search engines filter out pages with unoriginal content, in an attempt to show only the source. Identifying the source is apparently hard to do, as there are many horror stories about sites who syndicate out content from a site ranking in the SE’s, while the original home to the content gets wiped out.

    My own take is that effective SEO is still a more consistent driver of traffic than effective SMO, but as widgets start to proliferate, sites like Digg and Deliciious go mainstream, and the number of sites that allow widgets proliferate, the pendulum could start swinging the other direction.

    Just another part of the tension that you talk about, I guess.

    So one important question coming from this discussion is whether you can run effective SMO without sabotaging your SEO?

    A second interesting theme is the implication that if SMO starts to trump SEO as a more cost effective way to drive traffic, would that not mean an overall lessening of the might of search engines in general?

  • Cameron Olthuis

    Lawrence – I think SMO and SEO can and should be used in concert. It is to the point now where it’s all boiling down to how good the actual product/service is. The two share a lot of similarities and if done right they can benefit one another.

    I think it will be awhile before SMO trumps SEO; The critical mass still uses Google to find their information. They don’t know web apps but they know what a search box is and how to use it. Plus, with SEO people are actually seeking out your products/services.

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