In Search Podcast: Social Media Branding & SEO

It used to be that SEO was the antithesis of brand. Brand is the thing that you couldn’t measure and SEO brought the free traffic. But nowadays, both can do so much more if they work together.

In this episode Jason Barnard discusses:

  • How social media can amplify your brand image
  • How is social media used for SEO

Jason BarnardThe Brand SERP Guy, and founder and CEO at Kalicube is an author and digital marketing consultant. He specializes in Brand SERPs and knowledge panel management. He hosts a leading digital marketing podcast (intelligent, interesting, and fun).

What’s the Role of Social Media in Brand Strategy and How Does This Impact SEO?

David: And today, we’re going to be taking a look at the role of social media and brand strategy and how that impacts SEO. Joining me to discuss that is Jason Barnard. Jason, why is everything so intertwined nowadays?

Jason: Thanks for having me on, David. Well, I think it always was. Google was always crawling all of these different resources, be it social media, media sites, YouTube, video sites, your own site, obviously, and your competitors’ sites. But it wasn’t really capable of bringing it all together into one single block that it could understand and exploit in terms of how it represents your brand and how it represents your brand in SEO more widely. And the recent technology advances they’ve made have made that much simpler, and much more effective for them.

D: So Jason, you’re certainly involved in many different areas of SEO and digital marketing. How would you describe your specialization nowadays?

J: Yeah, I’m specialized in a really interesting niche in SEO, which is brand SERPs. And that’s basically how Google represents your brand to your audience when they search your brand name. And as far as I know, I’m the only person in the world specializing in that.

Why Should You Focus on Social Media for Brand SERP SEO?

D: Okay, brand SERP SEO. So that certainly makes sense from an SEO background. So why are you so focused on social media at the moment?

J: Great question. I was never really interested in social media before as an SEO because it doesn’t really have that much impact on SEO, but in brand SERPs, the social media platforms tend to rank incredibly well. Google is representing you to your audience. So it’s going to show your social media platforms that are the most active and the most engaging for your audience. So I had to start investigating social media in the context of a brand SERP which meant that I started to investigate it pretty much from every aspect.

Best Social Media Channels for Your Brand SERP

D: Are there certain social media networks, if you can call them all that under that umbrella, that play the nicest? Are there certain social media networks that play nicest with the brand SERP in terms of the information that Google can get and display from them?

J: Yeah, different industries and different entity types, entity type being a person, a company, a film, a podcast, or whatever that might be, have different priorities in terms of how Google will represent those social media platforms, which is logical because those different industries and the way that the audience engage with them, and the different types of entities such as products, or brands, or podcasts, or people will be different. So you can’t actually say one particular social platform will dominate. You need to look at an industry level. But what is very interesting is that Twitter has a firehose feed right into Google. So Twitter is incredibly interesting. If your audience is potentially on Twitter, Twitter is a great place to focus, because Google gets Twitter tweets in real time, and they’re incredibly present on the brand SERPs.

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Competitor Research

D: Okay, and just to clarify what you’re saying beforehand, are you saying that, what you have to do is look at your industry, look at your competitors, and see what social networks Google are using in order to augment their SERP. And that’s probably an inkling into the social networks that Google was more likely to pay attention to you.

J: Exactly. If you can get an industry overview, and we do that at Kalicube, we’ve got a platform called Kalicube Pro, and we look into your industry. We take perhaps 1000 competitors if we can find them, or 100 if we can only find 100. And we put that information together to figure out which social platforms are dominating. And that then allows you to prioritize your social media strategy. And if you want to do it by hand, you can just look at all your competitors manually and see which social platforms rank on the first page of their brand SERP. So when you search their exact match brand name, see what appears, take notes, figure it out, do a Google spreadsheet, and then you can say we would need to focus more on Twitter or more on LinkedIn or more on Facebook, depending on which one you’re seeing.

Twitter for Brand SERPS

D: Understood. And you obviously mentioned that Google has got a firehose from Twitter of everything directly into it. So it can take all that data and do something with it. In terms of the strategy itself, what are the most important aspects of what you do on a social platform like Twitter? For instance, is how you display or how you write your bio absolutely key? Or is it more about what you include in your tweets or how often you tweet or who you follow? What are the key metrics to really get a handle on?

J: Well, so far of what you’ve mentioned, I would have to say all of it, because you’ve mentioned the most important part, which is, the bio you put at the top is what will appear in your brand SERP. So when your audience searches your brand name, they will see that. So it’s obviously incredibly important that the brand message is clear and it resonates with your audience.

But then the firehose into Google from Twitter is actually really important. Because what it can then do is show your most recent tweet, if it’s a result in the blue links, but it can also trigger what we see as Twitter boxes, which is the latest tweets. And at that point, there are two things. Number one is in those Twitter boxes, if you use media, images, and video it will show them and that’s really attractive to your audience, and it makes your brand SERP look, let’s say sexier. And the other thing is that you can only trigger those Twitter boxes by tweeting original tweets, i.e., not replies or retweets, but original tweets that you create to start the thread and that your audience truly engages in. Because there’s a firehose, Google gets all of that information, right from the horse’s mouth. So it can tell if you’re cheating. So it is backed by our original tweeting with media, getting your audience engaged, and you’ve won the Twitter game at least.

D: So how do you deliver confidence to Google that the ‘you’ on Twitter is definitely the same as the ‘you’ on your website? Is it as simple as linking to your various social networks from your website?

J: Yeah, you need to link from your website to the social media platforms and then back to the same page where you have the link going out coming back so that Google gets that two-way confirmation. But then you can also go to all your profile pages. If you’re an author, for example, you could go to Muck Rack, Search Engine Land, in my case, Search Engine Journal, etc. and make sure they link to your Twitter profile, make sure they link back to your site, and that your site links to them and to Twitter. And that gives Google this eternal circle of links that just goes round and round and all of this is interconnected. Because what Google is looking for is that interconnected web of relationships that confirms who you are, which are your social media accounts, and which are your profiles, and that helps to drive it to understand about who you are, what you do, who your audience is, and that will help it build your brand set the way you want that brand SERP to be built.

D: An internal circle of confidence, is that fair?

J: I like that. Yeah, that’s brilliant, David.

The Impact of Brand SERPS on Your Overall SEO

D: One other thought in relation to SEO is that it’s all very well and good in augmenting your brand SERP with all these rich results. But does it actually deliver a measurable, positive impact on your SEO efforts?

J: Well, the question of measurable is always difficult because it’s branding. If you’re building up brand awareness, you’re pushing people to search your brand name. So you’re putting all that money into the brand awareness and the measurement of the KPI of the success of that brand awareness is going to be the volume of searches on your brand name. And the quality of what those people then see when they do search your brand name on Google. And at Kalicube we have a KPI which is a quality score and a control score that measures the brand SERP, how good it is, how attractive it is, how sexy it is, and how convincing it’s going to be for your audience.

D: And I guess from Google incorporating social media posts into its SERP, does that tell you something about the performance of your own social media strategy as well?

J: Yeah, absolutely. I tell my clients that if you’re investing, for example, in Facebook, and Facebook doesn’t rank when somebody searches your brand name, you’re investing badly, either because you’re investing in the wrong kind of tactics or techniques on Facebook, or because Google simply isn’t seeing it. And if Google isn’t seeing it, then you’re not pointing to it enough. It doesn’t know it’s you. So the success of your strategy revolves around making sure that the right people, your audience, are engaged so that way it reinforces Google’s understanding of who your audience is. And Google actually sees it and it sees that it is indeed you.

So for example, you’ve got a Facebook profile with a totally different name, and you haven’t done that backward linking that we were talking about earlier on, then you’re going to struggle. But if you’ve got two names that match incredibly well, all your social media platforms have the same username, then Google’s going to recognize it more easily. And it’s going to be able to recognize that user engagement much more easily. And once again, I can’t stress enough. It’s relevant user engagement. It’s your real audience. Google knows who your audience is. And it understands who that audience is on these different social media platforms. So you can’t really start cheating on it anymore.

D: So your SERP can actually indicate whether or not you’re doing a good job at social media. But what about directing the content that you should be publishing? Is there an argument to say that you should actually be looking at your industry-level brand SERP? So your brand SERPs should have all your competitors and see what is successful for them? And having that lead your own social media strategy.

J: Yeah, there are tools like SparkToro, which tells you with whom you should be connecting about specific topics. And that’s a really powerful insight into your activity and with whom you should be engaging. In terms of content, the real way is actually just to spy on your competitors. To go along, look at what they’re doing. But also, and I think it’s really important, that a lot of people just copy their competitors on the assumption that their competitors are doing it right. Let’s take a big step back and see, are they actually doing it right? Does it make sense? Are they getting the engagement? You want to look at your competitors, and you want to, let’s say copy them but only copy them if they’re actually doing something that’s making sense. From my perspective, with Kalicube, we’ve been very active on social media as part of a strategy to test quite how much it does and can affect brands SERP. And what I’ve noticed is that our social media strategy has been driving clients to us incredibly successfully. And so anything that Google then gives me after that is a bonus.

Social Media Best Practices

D: Obviously, you’ve done a lot of work on Twitter, and I’m sure with other social media platforms as well. Is there a general best practice list of things that you would recommend to clients in terms of frequency of social media posts or types of content that is more likely to be picked up by the brand SERP?

J: Yeah, rich media is incredibly important. Videos. I mean, I know you’re a big fan of videos. But videos allow images, sound, and text to be extracted from them. And one thing people I think don’t really realize is the video boxes. When you see videos on brand SERPs or any SERP, we tend to think YouTube, it’s all YouTube, and that isn’t the case. It’s, let’s say 80% YouTube, but that still leaves 20% for other platforms, including Facebook and including Twitter. So posting videos across these different social platforms is incredibly powerful in a brand SERP context, but also from an SEO context, and also from the actual engagement you get from users. And I think what I’ve learned over the last year, is that the focus on social media is bringing me clients and bringing me an audience who are truly interested in what I’m talking about. And the brand SERP effect reflects the fact that people are actually interested in what I’m talking about and I’m talking to the right people. And that is such a powerful insight.

New SEO Strategies

D: I think these are key things for SEOs to think about. I think many SEOs will still be of the mindset that I’m ranking number one and that’s my job done. Let’s get more keywords ranking number one and get as much traffic as possible. But the touchy-feely stuff of what the SERP looks like, and what kind of perception potential customers have of your brand, as a result of experiencing it for the first time on the SERP can make a significant difference much harder to measure, of course, but it doesn’t say that it’s not necessarily just as important, if not more important.

J: Yeah. I mean, from that point, the idea of SEO is that I want to get somebody on my site, and I’m counting the conversion rate. So I’m going to be aiming for the real bottom of funnel stuff of generic words like ‘buy red shoes’, and that fails to take into account the fact that some people don’t ever make that search before coming to your site. They see your site somewhere else. They go through different touchpoints, they become convinced, they search your brand, and that’s when they click through and they buy. Because they know you sell red shoes so they don’t need to search for it on Google. They’re searching for your brand because they want to buy red shoes specifically from your brand because you’ve convinced them on another platform.

D: I think this conversation is giving a lot for an SEO to think about. This is what I also need to try and incorporate within the brand SERP. It’d be great to have a follow-up conversation about how to measure that. What are different ways of measuring the success of doing that? And how do you compare the value of an augmented brand SERP versus a fairly plain text one without all the frills that you can possibly offer, but hopefully we can get you back on and have that further conversation.

J: I’d love to. One thing I’d say about that, as you said, KPI is very difficult to identify. But I don’t think anybody would ever ask me, “Is it worth doing a full-color business card with proper design rather than just print out my name on a piece of card with my email address?” Nobody would ask that question. Nobody would ask what the actual added value of that is, as it’s obvious. And if you look at Google’s brand SERP for your company, as your Google business card, I would argue it’s like printing a business card. There isn’t a debate to be had.

D: Does that mean then that it’s impossible in some instances to measure the impact?

J: Absolutely not. I’m glad you asked that question because we’re working at Kalicube to actually measure this. We already have two measurements, which are quality and control. And we’re working on what we’re going to be calling brand authority to figure out just how well the brand is understood, and how solid that understanding is. How confident Google is in its understanding. And that’s going to be phenomenally interesting. We’re going to be able to measure the quality of the brand SERP. The understanding of Google. And then I’m going to move forwards and try to start looking into Search Console data to see click-through rates and engagement rates. But that’s a big long story of what’s to come, which is really exciting.

I’m having gone from the let’s design your business card and now we need to move forward and say how can we prove the value of making it really sexy.

The Pareto Pickle – Optimize Branded People Also Ask Queries

D: So Pareto says that you can get 80% of your results from 20% of your efforts. What’s one SEO activity that you would recommend that provides incredible results for moderate levels of effort?

J: It’s actually not directly a brand SERP. Although the strategy that I developed for this came from a brand SERP problem. And that was the People Also Ask (PAA) box where there were multiple questions about the brand. So when the audience of this brand searched for their name, there were three questions in the PAA, and they didn’t answer any of them. It was a forum, it was one of their competitors, and then I think it was Wikipedia who answered the third one. So I said let’s answer those questions on the site, we created a little FAQ and we nailed those three places. And then more questions appeared. So we answered those. And then we thought, let’s go and look at the questions that those questions insight into Google’s mind. And we ended up answering about 100 questions about the brand, an astonishing number.

And that drove an awful lot of traffic of people who already knew the brand who are asking questions about the brand, bottom of funnel and post funnel. And then what we did is expand that out to the topics that the brand covered. And we now have something like 500 questions on the site. And we’re driving a phenomenal amount of traffic. And these are just very simple answers to very simple questions. And what I found is that rather than spending weeks trying to figure out the great blog posts, the skyscraper blog post, instead just answer 10 questions a week. And you’re going to gradually drive more and more traffic. And the volumes are phenomenal. And the conversion rates are amazing.

D: And a wonderful book that I’ve read about that is called, “They Ask You Answer” by Marcus Sheridan. So just shout out to him for that one as well. And he leads with to just answer all the questions of your potential audience. And that’s your content marketing strategy. I was initially thinking when you’re talking about the FAQ section as one page of answering a lot of questions, but I would imagine you’re advocating an individual URL, a different page for each question.

J: Yeah, the accordion system is something that really annoys me because if somebody is on your site, and they come to this accordion system, they actually have to search the questions. So you’re actually giving them questions that they didn’t know they had. But they’re actually looking for a specific answer. If they’ve come from Google, they land on the page, they have a specific question and they now have to scroll through and read through them all to find the one they asked. Whereas what you can then do is say one question or two per page and then related questions at the bottom. And that makes sense for Google too.

I’ve got one really good example, is Orange, a French company. They have a page for “Does an eSIM work in an iPhone Pro XL”. They have another page for “Does an eSIM work in an iPhone Pro X.” Another one for “Does an iSIM in an iPhone, Pro XXL or whatever, I don’t know what they’re called. And they’ve got literally seven or eight different pages for those X models. And each and every one ranks for the correct term, and it ranks number one, and it’s a brilliant user experience.

D: You’ve given me a brilliant host experience. Every single question that I ask, you’ve come up with an answer that I want to dig deeper into giving me the circle of confidence that you would be a wonderful guest again in the future. I’ve been your host David Bain. You can find Jason Barnard over at Jason, thanks so much for appearing on the In Search SEO podcast. Thanks for listening.

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