Social Media Optimization (SMO): The Next Phase Of SEO

I mentioned it my previous post, but the term social media optimization or SMO may be new to people and I thought it deserved more in depth coverage. SMO is a relatively new term to describe a practice that has been going on for awhile. You might notice that I’m not doing many of these things on my own site so this post is more of a do as I say rather than do as I do. I will be implementing many of these suggestions though, with a new redesign in the coming weeks and months and I am happy to say I do practice many of the rules of SMO, if not all of them yet.

Once again Rohit Bhargava was the first to use the new term and he describes it as:

The concept behind SMO is simple: implement 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.

For years we’ve been optimizing our sites for search engines, but SMO takes the concept a step further and has us optimizing our sites for the social media. Just about anything you can build a community around would constitute social media. Blogs, forums, podcasts and wikis would be examples. As would sites like Digg, Delicious, Facebook, and MySpace. All are part of the social media and all have potential to drive large amounts of traffic to your site.

Rohit started the discussion with his 5 Rules of Social Media Optimization (SMO). Cameron Olthuis and Loren Baker have upped the rules to 13 with their respective posts Introduction to Social Media Optimization and Social Media Optimization : 13 Rules of SMO. Lee Odden added three more rules taking the count to 16 in his post New Rules for Social media Optimization.

Optimizing For People

I think one of the main differences with SMO is that it’s about optimizing your site for people more than just for search engines, though optimizing for the social media will also improve your search visibility if done right. Rule number one is to increase your linkability after all. However it’s done through providing content worthy of being linked to.

The idea is extended to making it easy for people to add links to your site, such as adding the buttons that are becoming popular around the web to bookmark pages at or links to ‘digg this post.’ By helping people tag and bookmark your content you make it easier for them to build links for you and get your content seen in places other than the web. It’s a way to get the web to work for you instead of working to attract it to you.

Danny Sullivan has some interesting remarks about how SMO involves the understanding that you can have a presence in locations other than your website. You can have profiles at Digg,, flickr, and Technorati to name a few. You can have your own page at MySpace or Facebook. You can drive traffic to yourself in any of these spaces and either make use of the space directly or drive traffic from your part of this space to your site. Many still debate how useful MySpace traffic is in terms of conversions and revenue, but it is an awful lot of traffic and I’m sure there will be those who figure out very well how to convert this traffic if they aren’t already doing so.

I also find it interesting that many of the rules seem in line with my own thoughts on karma and generally doing good online since the web can be a place that easily calls out posers and others seeking to sell snake oil. A good part of SMO seems to build around the idea of being a good citizen on the web.

The Rules So Far

The rules will continue to grow and already are on the comments to the original post Rohit made. I’ll even add to the list. First though, here are the 16 rules to date.

  1. Increase your linkability
  2. Make tagging and bookmarking easy
  3. Reward inbound links
  4. Help your content travel
  5. Encourage the mashup
  6. Be a User Resource, even if it doesn’t help you
  7. Reward helpful and valuable users
  8. Participate
  9. Know how to target your audience
  10. Create content
  11. Be real
  12. Don’t forget your roots, be humble
  13. Don’t be afraid to try new things, stay fresh
  14. Develop a SMO strategy
  15. Choose your SMO tactics wisely
  16. Make SMO part of your process and best practices

I’d like to add to the list:

  1. Syndicate your content – It would seem to be implied and is probably covered as part of rule four, but it hasn’t been mentioned explicitly. Part of the rise and power of blogging is how fast the word can spread and much of the spread can be attributed to syndicating the content. Having your words appear in many places make is much easier to draw attention to you and your site.
  2. Add buttons to make syndication easy – This goes along with rule number two, but geared specifically toward syndicating your content mentioned above.
  3. Karma – It might seem kind of silly to think spirituality in terms of marketing and optimization, but I’m talking about the watered down version of karma and not its real spiritual meaning. Helping others and doing good can build a social network that can be mobilized when needed. With so much noise online, being a good citizen on the web can go a long way and bring many rewards.

SMO is more than SEO in that it aims to bring traffic from a variety of sources beyond search engines. SEOs have been promoting this idea for quite some time and now the idea has a name and an acronym we can all rally around. It’s never a good idea to rely on one source for your traffic and thus your revenue. Part of the beauty of SMO though, is that it should also help your SEO efforts in addition to everything else. Optimizing for the social media, especially when done well, will build many links to your site and get your content out to many more channels where new audiences can find it bringing in more links to your pages and site. As SMO also preaches to build more usable sites and optimize your pages more for the people who will be viewing them it becomes a win-win situation that improves the overall signal to noise ration on the web. The discussion will continue no doubt and rules will be added and refined, but SMO is clearly with us and with good reason. It simply makes sense.

Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.


  1. Dear Steven,

    I agree with what you are saying. I’ve stressed that to alot of my fellow SEO, but for them its alot easier to write the codes and think about Search engine robots, then writing for humans. Its good to see that you alot more are thinking about it the same way as I do.

  2. Thanks Advokat,

    I think too many still focus on algorithms rather than people. SEO in the future is going to be about people first. Even if search engine robots love your site it’s still people that will be visiting and people that will be buying your products and services. It’s people that will be reading yoru content and adding links to your site.

    By the way are you from Norway? My apologies for not being able to read your site, but English is the only language I can really understand. I wish I were better at picking up other languages, but mathematical ones seem to be the only languages I’ve been able to add to my native English.

  3. Great article. In studying content publishing, I’ve always found that good SEO was as much about good content for your target audience as it was about search engines. SMO takes it to a must have level. The bottom line is that if your content doesn’t make sense to the reader, over the long run it doesn’t matter how high your ranking is. That is especially the case if your ultimate goal is to monetize your traffic.

    SEM is very succesful at monetizing traffic, because it is at the buy now point of the purchase decision cycle.

    SEO is great at driving traffic and good at monetizing it, because the content focuses further upstream at the evaluation and comparison point of the purchase decision cycle.

    SMA is almost like brand advertising, because a lot of the traffic is in the awareness stage.

    Having a site that does it all effectively with different content geared toward each point of the purchase cycle should be the ultimate at monetizing traffic.

    PS – I am also in the do as I say, not as I do camp!

  4. Thanks Bob and interesting thoughts. I think you’re right that SMO is more about advertising your brand as you help your content travel. I think as it does it will help with your SEO, since it should bring in more links if you’ve done it right. And increasing brand awareness should help to improve click trhoughs on ads and help establish trust in the minds of potential buyers.

    It all really goes together. Each part helping the other. You could use SEO to drive traffic to your site where it finds your content and the ability to tag your content in the social media creating more links and improved SEO traffic and back through the cycle again. As your brand keeps showing up in search results more of your ads and organic results get clicked taking people to targeted pages leading to sales.

    And you’re right that it all starts with your content. I think for awhile people jumped off the content badwagon seeing links as the main thing. They forget though that all the traffic in the world won’t matter if there’s nothing there when the traffic arrives. And useful content will also bring the quality links that will ultimately bring more traffic.

    I like the more holistic approach to SMO and while I’m red faced at not doing everything in the list above I’m glad I do some of it and will work harder to do more.

  5. Why people Comparing SEO and SMO, these two Concept are different all together.

    SMO for Traffic based and SMO traffic visit website without SE

    SEO is only for SERP and SE traffic comes only through SERP, and it require on-page and Off-page Optimization

  6. Arun I think that while in it’s strictest definition SEO is only about optimizing for search engines, most SEOs see the bigger picture. It’s good to have traffic from a variety of sources even if some of those sources aren’t search engines. SEOs are probably more internet marketers or website optimizers than just adhering to the strict definition.

    But even if you only see SEO by its more literal definition then a goal of SMO is to gain natural inbound links for your site. Usually when content makes the home page of a site like Digg or Reddit it will get a lot of people looking at the content. Not too long after many of those people will link to your page. SMO can be seen as a great way to build links into a site and those links will improve where your page and site rank.

  7. Hi,
    I want to get more about SMO, as you discuss here in this post i get that SEO and SMO are not so different because search engines also give preference to sites that are most popular and optimized for people.

    SEO is part to make popular sites according to world wide through which site get sufficient and relevant traffic and get good ranking on Search Engines.

    • Social media can be a lot of things to different people. When it comes to search engines you can think of social media as a way to build relationships with people who might link to you and as a way to leverage another site’s popularity to bring attention to your brand.

  8. Interesting!

    I feel like there is a scarcity of good marketing today. Good marketing means which can convert the leads into sales. The only marketing that has moved me in the last couple of years is Social Media Optimization.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.