Social Increasingly Driving Web Site Traffic -- But So Is Quality

About a year ago, the content mill Demand Media was conducting its IPO. Many critics of its approach to generating content -- which was based on gaming Google’s search algorithm to gain top spots in search results pages to drive clicks to its often less-than-authoritative content -- were demanding that the search engines change their ranking criteria.

Google complied, and Demand Media and its brethren experienced noticeable drops in search ranking, and in traffic.

The new golden rule then was that only truly authoritative content produced to genuinely inform, entertain or otherwise engage an appropriate audience was the key to achieving top search rankings. While that rule is still true today, increasingly the new top content aggregation sites -- think BuzzFeed or Wetpaint -- are seeing more and more of their traffic come not from clicks on search results but from social sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.  In some cases, these sites are seeing up to 35% of their traffic come from clicks on social links, according to a recent report.

Listen to these site managers, and they will tell you they’re not only optimizing for search, but also for social, making content bite-sized and easily shareable on Facebook or Twitter.  Still, it’s the actual content that matters: the stuff that is actually engaging an audience and which inspires them to share it. Quality original content is also what top advertisers are looking for; they see it as a premium offering and will pay more to buy space around it.

Because original content production is expensive and time-consuming to produce regularly, it’s important that publishers and content marketers are doing everything they can to get the most out of their investment in that media.  Often, original content has a certain evergreen quality, and publishers should be quick to resurface it when interest in the content’s subject matter resurfaces.

For instance, it’s a good idea to leverage interest in any given piece of content by presenting past, related content, which aids in content rediscovery.  The more you engage and retain an audience’s interest, the greater the chances your audience will share it across their social graphs.

When you do publish a piece of content that gets picked up and goes viral, make sure the page the content is featured on provides other ways to engage the audience. For instance, if you’ve published a blog post, include a related photo gallery or video; publish a poll that relates to the content soliciting your audience’s opinions; or include the Twitter feed relating to the content or topic referenced in the content.

By producing original content, intelligently recirculating previously published media, and highlighting the best of aggregated media relating to the topic at hand, you increase the chances of deeply engaging your audiences and improving social sharing metrics.

Oh, and your search rankings should improve, too.

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