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Social SEO: Search optimisation in a social age

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), largely through Google, has been the main way to be visible to customers researching your category, product, or brand for 15 years now.

Sometimes loved, sometimes loathed, it’s been essential, as the internet has directed ever more of our time and purchase intentions. 

The last few years have seen this evolve. This has (and continues to) receive too little attention. Quite possibly because website metrics still focus on the ‘last click’ which often stays with Google, even though the steps before are taken elsewhere. Equally possible, is that, much like Hemingway described how one goes broke as “Gradually, then suddenly”, we don’t realise quite what’s happening until it overwhelms us.

A tablet on a table with Google search open
The 'old' way...

So, if Google isn’t the only way we research things now, what is? 

Put simply - social media. Algorithm-driven results, within social platforms.

TikTok is staking a claim to be the world’s 3rd biggest search engine, after Google and YouTube. Google has noticed, and TikTok is even experimenting with having Google results alongside their own. YouTube’s role in search has been underappreciated for years, with their videos appearing within Google results, but also queries inside YouTube consisting of a significant amount of research.

So, what should someone do, who wants to optimise for their brand/product’s visibility?

One route is to consider how different audiences use different platforms to search. Think Social SEO. TikTok is not meaningfully challenging Google’s dominance in the over-50s anytime soon. But for thirty-something women, Instagram is a viable rival for searches around fashion and beauty. 

The other route is to look at the role of different platforms for different categories. Financial Services and Google remain firmly entwined. YouTube for auto, however, is significant, and Instagram for travel, and TikTok for books… etc.

Researching the different behaviours, meaningfully, in a data-led way, matters.

The biggest shift from the Google-dominated age, however, is a shift away from keywords and hashtags to algorithms. Optimising for visibility in a social platform which contains many more signals to the algorithm, means users seeing personalised results. This mitigates in favour of a much more audience-led approach, understanding different cohorts will use different platforms to search different things at different times.

Two women researching social media

So... what does social SEO mean for me?

Ultimately, it’s making it more complex to be visible. It means the role of brand in driving visibility becomes more important, as algorithms pick up authority signals, but also cast a halo factor for well-followed profiles. It also requires greater integration of brand, performance marketing, and PR, to ensure visibility across a basket of activities.

Ultimately it requires a new lexicon, moving beyond SEO, to broad visibility on brand, product, or topic level. For marketers beloved of acronyms, silos, and templates, this may yet prove the greatest challenge of all.


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