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 del.iciu.us 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, del.icio.us, 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.

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