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Okay – pull up a chair. I’m about to lay down some truth – and it might not be pretty. If you’re approaching search engine marketing with one department, social with another, and content with a third, you are shooting yourself in the foot.

A lot has been written about how SEO and content marketing overlap – but social media deserves to be in that mix too. Here’s why:

Search engines love social media.

Google and other search engines do a good job when they point users to the information they want – the very best fit for their search engine terms. Since social media is fueled by people’s interest in topics, resources and (I’ll admit) funny cat pictures, it’s becoming an important part of how search engines understand information. Twitter popularity – such the number of retweets – play into content indexation, which means that social media popularity factors into your search engine rankings.

ALL customers are social.

According to Pew Internet Research, 52% of online adults now use two or more social media sites – up from 42% of Internet users in the previous year. If the trend continues, 2015 will see over half of people logging into Facebook, checking Twitter and more on a daily basis. Those are your customers. You need to be where they are.

Building your brand presence is essential.

Although there’s a lot to be said for technical SEO, things have definitely changed (for the better). Your thought leadership through your content and your social media activity create a brand presence that search engines can’t afford to ignore. Publicizing your brand through strategic social media usage leads to higher rankings.

The three act like one when it comes to your digital marketing success. Here’s a 7-step guide to bringing SEO, content marketing and social media together in an integrated plan that gets results.

  1. Figure out who exactly you’re trying to reach.
    Target persona, ideal customer, potential buyers – no matter what you call them, they are out there and you need to define them. People share content that resonates with them, which in turn lifts search engine rankings and leads more people to the content. You need to know exactly who those people are, what their concerns/questions/goals are all about and where they are spending their time online. When you do this first – instead of launching an Instagram campaign or paying for a long list of “top” keywords – you save yourself time and frustration.
  2. Audit your website and current content assets.
    It’s 2015. I’m not going to pretend that you don’t have a website and some semblance of content already. Whether it’s a blog that’s been limping along for two years or a series of white papers you never quite publicized the way you should, those are assets that can be reused and refined for your new integrated plan. Take a look at your website and those assets through your target persona’s eyes. Are they meeting their needs? Answering their biggest questions? Motivating them to buy in to your brand? Ask the tough questions. It will be worth it. You may realize that your website was written for your CEO and not your customer, and that’s okay. There’s time to change.
  3. Set goals for your integrated plan.
    You can build your brand, grow your incoming traffic, gather new leads, convert new customers into buyers and build loyalty within your existing customer base with this three pronged approach. You can probably do a few of these things at once – but not all of them. Define a clear goal so you know exactly what to measure and how you’ll define success. This way, when that CEO asks why you need a website rewrite when it looks perfectly fine to him, you can point to your goals that are directly tied to business objectives.
  4. Develop a targeted keyword list.
    “Wait!” I can hear you say “Isn’t that old school SEO?” Why yes it is – and it’s still relevant. Just because search engines aren’t ranking pages based on how many times they use the word “mold and fungus removal Atlanta ga”, it doesn’t meant that they don’t matter. Targeted keyword selection can help you develop new blog topic ideas, find a new audience on social media and better optimize your brand’s presence overall. Dust off that Excel file and see what people are looking for, then develop themes for those keywords that you can use across your website, your content marketing pieces and in your social media presence.
  5. Use your content themes to produce a killer content calendar.
    Content is everywhere – on your website, on social, on your blog, on your email newsletter and yes – even in your smartphone’s camera. It can get downright overwhelming if you see these as separate strategies or projects. Instead of re-inventing the wheel for each new format, use a themed approach to create a killer content calendar. Each month or quarter you focus on one big idea using a selection of keywords that you weave through your blog, newsletter and social media platforms. It’s simpler to do, it will show you how effective your keyword/theme selection is and – as a bonus – you can repurpose old content in new formats.
  6. Be valuable – but toot your own horn.
    Once you start generating better content based on your themes, you need to tell people about it. Depending on your audience this may be through articles on LinkedIn, through visual content on Instagram or through a community on Facebook. But you have to be valuable as well as self-promoting. Share what your audience would like to read and share, and then sprinkle in some of your own content.
  7. Track, rinse and repeat.
    I feel like this is the last point to most “how to” guides for online marketing. But I’m not being repetitive – it’s exactly what you need to do. Pull together your social stats, website traffic and clickthroughs to see what resonated with that audience that you defined in step number one. After all, as my daughter told me this morning as she dipped a piece of bacon in her chocolate smoothie – “you never know until you try.”