It’s as if they live in different countries: Searchlandia and Socialstan.
Search optimizers and social media marketers don’t get together a whole lot, at least not in the same piece of content. But there’s no reason they can’t peacefully coexist in one article, in one URL.
Imagine. One topic, one message, united in quality, but with two separate and equally powerful sources of traffic: search and social.
Is it possible? Can one post be optimized for both?
Yes. And when it happens, the traffic is greater than the sum of its channels.
Um. Actually, the traffic is equal to the sum of its channels. But we’re not here to do math. We’re here to create the right type of content that gets traction everywhere.
Optimizing for search
Let’s start with a rundown of search optimization.
Our goal here is to indicate relevance, not trick a robot.
After you’ve identified a target keyword phrase:
Use the phrase in highly visible places
Those places are the title, header, meta description, and body text (of course). Yes, the tiny, barely visible places are nice too — such as alt text and the file names of images — but they’re not as important as those primary spots.
If this isn’t obvious, just ask yourself:
If you were building a new search engine today, would an image file name be a major search-ranking factor?
Include words and phrases semantically connected to your phrase
You see words and phrases semantically connected to your phrase everywhere when you use search engines.
They’re suggested in the search box as you type. They’re in the “related phrases” at the bottom of the search results page. They’re in the other high-ranking pages.
Now work these words into your copy. This is the key to semantic SEO:
Target the topic, not just the phrase.
Go wide and cover related topics and phrases, so Google has more reasons to believe that your content is relevant.
Answer all the questions related to your topic
Find the questions that are related to your topic and answer them with your content.
You’ll find these questions in Quora, AskThePublic.com, LinkedIn Groups, and even your sent email folder.
Greater depth means a greater likelihood of ranking.
Optimizing for social
You’ve indicated your relevance, gone wide across semantically connected phrases, and gone deep into the answers that your reader is hoping to find.
Now that your content is rankworthy, let’s make sure it’s shareworthy.
We’ll focus on headlines first, since they’re such an important factor in social optimization. They’re critical.
Think of it this way:
Articles don’t get shared, only headlines do.
Our goal here is to trigger a social interaction. The advice below is more about psychology, so it’s a bit less prescriptive and a bit more fun.
Choose unexpected words
You always want to avoid creating boring content. That advice is especially true for social media.
After all, your potential reader is on social media looking to cure their boredom, right? We need to trigger their interest with some unexpected words.
Short, simple words will pop off the page.
Delightful words will squeak past the other headlines.
Direct words will skewer them before they scroll past.
Negative words kill it in social media
But be careful with long words — the circuitous path through the frontal cortex is too slow
Readers scan quickly, so we need some stopping power. That one, extra word can disarm, charm, and twist their arm.
Take a look at the headline below. It was one of the top three most shared headlines on Copyblogger over the last year:
Does it make you wonder what that skill is? Me too. It’s hard not to click on it. And what gets clicked often gets shared.
Headlines that trigger curiosity and fascination are great for social media.
Fascination is one of the two most important qualities of compelling content. What’s the other? You’ll have to click here to find out.
See what I did there?
Here’s another one of the top 10 most shared headlines on Copyblogger in the last year:
Numbers in headlines have always correlated with clicks and shares. There are at least two reasons why:
Numbers are a clue that the content is scannable (low investment).
Numerals stand out among letters in a line of text (high prominence). This gives them a big advantage in fast-flowing social streams.
Don’t break your promise
Your headline is a promise. Clickbait is a broken promise, a lie.
Everyone who sees your headline in their social stream does a split-second cost/benefit analysis. They think, “Is this worth the click? Is this worth two seconds of my attention?” The headline’s job is to tell them, “Yes, it’s worth it.”
Be specific. Let the reader know what they’ll get, what they’ll learn, and why it’s important. Give them a reason to stop scrolling. Look closer. Click.
Once they’ve clicked, you’d better keep your promise. Your job now is to meet or exceed their expectations. All the depth you added while optimizing for search will help.
Customize your images
If your content has no featured image, or a weak one, it has less stopping power in social streams.
Two main elements make images more likely to be clicked:
Faces. We are hardwired to look at faces. It’s no wonder you’ll see them on virtually every cover of every magazine in the checkout aisle.
Text. Since your image appears in a social snippet, it’s a chance to make that promise we talked about. It’s a chance to indicate the benefits of clicking. So put a benefit of reading the post (possibly the headline itself) on your image.
YouTubers learned these tactics years ago. Look at any popular YouTube channel and you’re likely to find both faces and text within the images in their custom thumbnails.
Collaborate (a social approach to writing)
If you want someone to share your piece of content, invite them to contribute to it.
An ally in creation is an ally in promotion.
Adding contributor quotes from experts both improve the quality of the piece and increase its social reach. If contributors are invested in an article, of course they’ll share it.
It’s also more fun to make things with collaborators. Content optimized for search includes keywords. Content optimized for social includes people.
The battleground for search and social tension: headlines
Images, answers, contributors, depth … most of the aspects of search and social optimization can easily coexist side-by-side, but there isn’t much interaction between them.
The exception is the headline.
So, how can a headline both indicate relevance for search and trigger emotion for social? Can you satisfy citizens of both countries? Yup.
Here are examples of headlines optimized for both channels:
Collaborative Content Marketing: 5 Ways to Make Friends and Rank Like a Champ
How to Launch a New Product … and Make Your Mom Proud
10 Competitive Analysis Tools (and Tips for Spying on your Competitors)
Notice that in each example the target keyword phrase is near the beginning. They often use numbers and trigger words. Colons and parentheses allow you to add more benefits and details.
Here’s a template for search-friendly and social-friendly headlines:
keyword + colon + number + specific benefit and/or trigger words
Website Navigation: 7 Best Practices, Tips, and Warnings
Does it work? Search for “website navigation” and take a look.
A powerful way to attract more readers
Wherever you’re from — the land of search or the land of social — you’ll attract more readers if you optimize for both.
And you’ll push yourself to write better in the process.
The best content doesn’t win. The best promoted content wins.