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Is Community Building More Important Than SEO?

James Perrin

by James Perrin on 18th September 2012

CommunityWhether you started 10 years ago or 1 year ago, what were you told about the purpose of SEO? Was it something along the lines of, ‘to make a website more visible in the search engines, to drive additional traffic and custom?’ Well since that time, search engines have changed what’s important to them, so isn’t it about time you changed the way you carried out your campaigns?

What I am alluding to here is the rise and rise of social media, but in addition, the growing emphasis on branding, as well as content marketing when it comes to your SEO campaigns (something we’ll discuss later on). All of these methods and platforms (services in a broader sense) revolve around the idea of community building.

Some significant changes have occurred, paving the way for community building. Something most of you will be all too familiar with. Algorithm updates have played a huge role, forcing a shift from primitive SEO techniques towards more natural, even beneficial techniques. Depending on the type of business and how competitive your market is, such white-hat SEO will only take you so far. If you want a website that ticks all of Google’s boxes and has a greater chance of staying future proof you need to build a community. Here’s how.

Social Media 

Having a presence on social media is incredibly important for your brand. The obvious ones are Facebook, Twitter and Google+; however do not rule out niche social profiles and forums, which will help to drive much more targeted traffic.

Some businesses and companies now consider traffic from their social media profiles as being even more important than in search engines, because it shows the user/consumer has already engaged with the brand in some capacity. With Google wreaking havoc on rankings, it’s not just the businesses that are getting frustrated, but webmasters and digital marketers too. This has led some to start something of an anti-google movement.

Tadeusz Szewczyk, a respected and well-known optimiser, is advocating this with what he calls SEO 2.0, which works independently from the search engines. His stance is a bold one, but one that has been born out of frustration. However, he’s not the only one. There are many businesses that have been caught out because of Google’s algorithm updates, which leads me to suspect that there is something in what Szewczyk is saying, despite the fact that I don’t agree with him 100%.

If you solely rely on Google for your traffic, there’s always a chance that you may come a cropper at some point. This is where social media (as well as related and additional marketing techniques) will help. Building up your followers on social media will not automatically mean that you will start to rank in the search engines again. But what it does mean is that you’ll have a receptive audience of existing and new customers to share all sorts with – promotional content, educational content, entertaining content, as well as deals, offers and discounts. This will help to direct additional traffic that is highly targeted to your site, and if someone likes what they have seen, read or heard, they will share it with their friends. This is where social signals are incredibly important – again, they have very little direct influence over search engine rankings at present, but they indicate whether something shared has been popular.

So where does the SEO come into it? Well, in some respects it doesn’t; but that’s not a bad thing. You’re gaining additional traffic away from trying to game Google’s system (however white-hat you say you are). Yet, if you create something that is so good and appealing to your audience, you’ll build those natural links over time, which will eventually help with your SEO efforts. It’s about being as natural as possible and thinking about the user experience, this is the only way to future-proof your SEO efforts (or digital marketing efforts to be more precise).

Offline Activities And Branding 

 So, when it comes to being as natural as possible, do legitimate businesses go to conferences, events and so on? Of course they do. Now Google do not want to know all about your offline activities in a literal sense. However, by building your brand and consequently your community, they will start to trust that your are legitimate, and not a poxy website that’s just trying to manipulate rankings and visitors.

Whilst community building may come across as simply setting up a few social media profiles, it’s actually a whole lot more. Within your niche and market, think about how you can grow your own audience. There’s a lot to consider. For example, events, conferences, networking opportunities, meetups, as well as charity parties, dinners and all sorts. All of this offline activity will only serve you well when it comes to building your band of followers. Whether it’s industry insiders, partners, clients or customers, they will all help with your community building programme.

This brings me onto branding, and sticking out of the crowd.

Growing your brand’s awareness offline, as well as online is massively important to any community building efforts. It is the very essence of what community building is all about, and something that search engines are keen to reward. This can be seen with recent algorithm updates, and Google’s emphasis on rewarding the most trusted and respected sites with the top positions.

More information about online branding efforts can be seen in @Koozai_Tara‘s most recent Koozai video below:

 

Community Management and Content Marketing

It’s all well and good me saying that building a community is important for the aforementioned reasons, but how is it actually possible? Well we’ve established that you must start focussing your efforts on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. We’ve established that you need to think about harnessing your offline activities to help promote your brand. And we’ve established that online branding is just as important. But how do you actually entice people to follow you in the first place, let alone get them to stay loyal to your brand? It’s tough, but the key is Community Management as well as Content Marketing.

Some people use the terms community managing and content managing interchangeably. To be clear, community management is with reference to how your brand is communicating with your audience via social media, whilst content managing or content marketing is providing more than just social media content. Some incredibly useful tips that’ll help with anyone’s social media and subsequent community building efforts can be found within this Koozai post on social media community management best practices.

When it comes to Content Marketing, I’m not just talking about writing the odd article here and there, just to get a link. Remember, search engines have moved on, away from the primitive thinking of website + link(s) = rankings. So when it comes to creating good content, SEO should be that last thing you think about; SEO will be the natural effect of good quality content, but shouldn’t be used as the driving force behind it. By this I mean that if you think more about the user experience, and what the user wants (in this context through content marketing, but the same applies for whatever you do in SEO) you will then have your website’s best interests at heart. Then your content will attract the links. So in other words, don’t go chasing links; if your content is good enough, it’ll attract all the natural links possible – and that’s the whole point of organic white-hat SEO.

Some good examples of quality content creation would be both on-page content and off-page content. On-page is with reference to a blog or news section on your site. This gives you the opportunity to create as much industry and topic specific content that you think your audience will love to hear about, but importantly share with their friends (hence growing your community). Nell Terry has written a good post detailing many ways to build a community with blog creation, where daily posts play a crucial role.

In addition, think about how you can add value to your existing and potential customer’s lives through off-page content marketing. Offers, discounts, vouchers – these are a tried and tested way of delivering traffic and getting people to remember you. Highly targeted content will also help massively. Scan industry and niche specific forums, websites, blogs, question and answer sites, anywhere there’s an existing audience participating in online discussions. Whenever anyone debates or asks a question to which you feel you could add real value and insight in the proceedings, then either direct them to an existing blog post of yours, or spend a short while answering their query, providing more than what they asked for, as well as a link to your site. To be honest, what you are saying here will be more important than the link itself, so make sure you’re adding true value to the conversation – this will help develop your’s and your brand’s profile, and further grow your online community.

Final Thoughts

Overall then, what I am suggesting is that traditionally thinking of SEO in terms of being the main driver of traffic is not the way forward. Sure, there are certain aspects of SEO that should and continue to be at the forefront of what you do. For example, technical SEO, ensuring that page speeds are quick, links are not broken, so that sites can be trusted. On-page SEO, ensuring that titles and headers are optimised. But, when it comes to trying to target that much wanted traffic, you need to stop with the poor link building, and start with the community building – it’s what search engines want, and it’s the best way to develop your brand within your own market.

Image Source

Large Crowd Of People via BigStock

James Perrin

James Perrin

Content Marketing Manager, James Perrin is a regular contributor to the Koozai blog. Well experienced in sales and marketing, James also has a passion for journalism and media, especially new media. From the latest industry related new stories to copywriting advice, James will provide you with plenty of digital marketing information.

10 Comments

  • Rick Noel 21st September 2012

    Awesome post James. Social and SEO very complimentary, especially since the Google Search, Plus Your World update/G+. Both Social and SEO are necessary and neither on their own is sufficient. LinkedIn is great, but G+, facebook, twitter, pinterest and others can all have a place and all impact/integrate with SEO. We too get more B2B leads from Social than Search.

    Reply to this comment

    • James Perrin

      James Perrin 26th September 2012

      Thanks Rick, I think you’re spot on. The two worlds are merging, so it’s important to have a strategy in place that can cater for both. Thanks for your comment.

      Reply to this comment

  • Brian Crouch 21st September 2012

    “Your content will attract the links. So in other words, don’t go chasing links; if your content is good enough, it’ll attract all the natural links possible – and that’s the whole point of organic white-hat SEO.”

    It doesn’t happen automatically, for most. And while you may esteem it “chasing links,” a good SEO will leverage the value of the content created, and the community that’s been fostered, to take action to harvest relevant and authoritative links (which, by the way, are still the most important organic search ranking factor).

    Think about the presence of infographics on blogs or forums without a citation to original creator. They might link back to the venue/page where they first saw it, but that can be rare. We live in a “right-click” age, with content easy to copy and utilize. I’m not saying it’s all malicious or ill-intentioned, it’s just a fact that people are now sharing content with too rarely a thought to crediting the original source, in social channels and also on owned sites.

    A good SEO tasked with link-building will monitor the propagation of that infographic using image search, such as TinEye. When the graphic is found, a polite message requesting a link is usually all that’s needed to get it. In this and in many other cases, the content didn’t *generate* the link, it created the opportunity for direct action to obtain it. The SEO had to do the “PR” work of outreach, to get full value out of that content. (Note: I do understand the graphic may contain a branding impression). Often, a blogger will write in-depth on a topic without knowing of a relevant piece which augments their thesis. If an SEO finds this, there’s nothing amiss with reaching out in a genuine, helpful way, and sharing the link to it (not in comments but through direct private contact). The blogger might really appreciate finding the supporing evidence to advance their argument and cite it within the body copy: that link didn’t happen by itself.

    In the same way, a great new product doesn’t draw attention by itself, it needs to be marketed, promoted.

    As you said, having a community (organically established) is fundamental to the promotional process, over the long-term. A group of engaged readers or customers can provide most all the promotion you need, sharing content with others and generating the social shares to eventually get it cited on a page that can generate referral traffic, and, hopefully, pass authority for help in ranking for search terms. But without engaging in manipulative or black hat methods, you can take steps to find and offer relevance and an exchange of value.

    Reply to this comment

    • James Perrin

      James Perrin 26th September 2012

      Hi Brian, I appreciate your comment, and you’ve raised some really interesting points. Fundamentally you are suggesting that in order to gain additional SEO value, you will need to participate in black hat methods. I only see this as short-termism, which is why I would advocate that building a community and positioning your brand within that community is becoming more important for long term SEO. I would argue that if the content you’re creating is good enough, then it will naturally attract links as the more people within your community share the post. Additional link building is fine, but as long as these links are natural and relevant. I just think that more focus should be on community building, rather than traditional SEO tactics, especially for long term gains.

      Reply to this comment

      • Brian Crouch 26th September 2012

        That is incorrect. Nothing I suggested is even remotely black hat. It is entirely appropriate to contact someone and ask for a link if they’ve posted your content.

        I think you misunderstood my example: I am saying that if you have created a piece of content, and you see it shared without a link back to you, it is entirely appropriate, natural and organic to ask for the link that the content should have gotten. The original creator of a graphic or photo is too often “ripped off” and obtains no referral traffic or link equity from it.

      • James Perrin

        James Perrin 27th September 2012

        Hi Brian, I do apologise, I totally misread your original comment. Yes I absolutely agree in additional link building, gaining value where necessary, but that is not the main focus of my post. I’m suggesting in asset building first and foremost, positioning a brand within that community and then focusing on traditional SEO techniques. BY and large, if something has been a hit using Social Media platforms it will attract natural links, but you’re absolutely right, you can and should ask for links if bloggers, websites and so on have not linked to your content. Apologies for the confusion once again.

  • Nigel Ohrum 26th September 2012

    “when it comes to trying to target that much wanted traffic, you need to stop with the poor link building, and start with the community building – it’s what search engines want, and it’s the best way to develop your brand within your own market.”

    There is tremendous truth in these words. We should all be thinking community first and all the pieces that come into play which strengthen it.

    Good read.

    Reply to this comment

    • James Perrin

      James Perrin 26th September 2012

      Thanks Nigel, glad you liked it. I really think that community or asset building should figure in every digital marketer’s campaigns. This can be augmented by the sharing of good quality content via social media channels. SEO will benefit in the long run, but seeing as SEO itself is merging with social media, this is what I see as the way forward. Obviously just my own thoughts. Thanks for commenting.

      Reply to this comment

  • Andre Buxey 12th November 2012

    SEM in today’s age is one of the most important factors when it comes to customers, also the social media buzz you create around your niche and brand has a positive effect on rankings and traffic to your website.

    really great post and makes me ask myself some questions as well.

    Reply to this comment

    • James Perrin

      James Perrin 12th November 2012

      Hi Andre, absolutely spot on. Branding and social media are so important now. People think that this will only help your branded-keywords rank well, but naturally it will also favour non-brand keywords too. The more your site is seen as an authority, which is where branding helps, the more likely you are to rank well – so community building should form a fundamental part in anyone’s SEO campaign. Thanks for commenting.

      Reply to this comment

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