Convergence of Search and Social:
Interview with Mike King (@iPullRank), Director of Inbound Marketing at iAcquire

Change is the only constant in digital marketing, and each day the lines continue to blur between formerly siloed channels. Where once SEO and social were seen as divergent areas, today search engines have placed their stake firmly in the ground to ensure the singularity of search and social media.We had the opportunity to interview Mike King, Director of Inbound Marketing at enterprise digital marketing firm iAcquire. Mike is an SEO expert by trade and an inbound marketer by evolution currently leading the expansion of enterprise SEO and digital strategy offerings as well as in-house marketing for iAcquire.

Affectionately deemed “SEO’s Don Draper,” Mike is a frequent speaker at marketing conferences and continues to usher in ideas that shift the paradigm of SEO and digital marketing, including the emergence of social search. He has plenty of insight to share from direct experience as we explore the marriage of these two channels.

Do you think Google’s recent changes typify the convergence of SEO and social media?

Google’s original PageRank algorithm was based on links between web pages and, while that is still a large part of how they rank pages, it doesn’t match up with where the web is at in 2013. Back in the early web 1.0 and even 2.0 days, people did primarily link to the things that they thought were interesting. Updating a website to include a new page or write a blog post about something you found on the web is a friction-heavy process. Now people can instantly share things on social media and so linking is becoming a far less natural behavior for users of the web. So obviously Google must do something to harness social as a signal of what content people believe is worthwhile.

They call Google+ an identity platform and, towards the end of 2011, I (among others) predicted that they would use that as a way to connect people to content and apply sliding scale of authority. Over the past 14 months they’ve unveiled more and more of that, with Eric Schmidt ultimately admitting it outright. So, yes, I see Google’s changes as a means for them to sustain relevance and continue to have the best search results, although I think Bing’s integration with Facebook makes them far more qualified and they are missing out on huge opportunities at the intersection of search and social.

What social network has the highest relevancy to search engine rankings?

It’s hard to say since Google isn’t telling, but a variety of correlation studies have shown that Facebook shares correlate with higher rankings even beating out backlinks. I would also venture to guess that Google is using the social activity of a given piece of content to validate spikes in link acquisition as well. Google themselves will say they have no access to Facebook data, but anybody can ping the Facebook API to get the number of times a piece of content is shared.

What is the fuel that drives brand growth in search and social?

To that point it seems that brands look at the two channels very differently. Search is seen more as a direct response channel while social is more of a brand awareness or vanity channel similar to display. However, I disagree. I think both channels can potentially be either of those things but what determines that is the brand’s commitment to content. The problem is that, although content is all anyone ever wants when they are searching or scanning their timeline, content is the last piece of the equation. Content is something that everyone owns and therefore no one owns, but for the brands that figure it out like Red Bull, Old Spice, Coca-Cola, they dominate.

How can businesses move from siloed to cohesive marketing strategies?

That’s a good question, and one that people at large are still struggling to figure out. I get why, but at the same time I don’t get why. I don’t understand why every ad on the Super Bowl doesn’t point back to a microsite which houses a gamified community. I don’t understand why brands that are running commercials aren’t making sure to cover their bases in organic search for unbranded keywords. I do understand that when they don’t do that they end up sending traffic to their competitors or they pay the opportunity cost of not building up a brand asset.

What it requires is education, communication and real collaboration, both internally and externally. If your in-house team is full of traditional marketers, they will likely drop the ball on the digital side and vice versa. Although, I would argue that it’s more important that you have leaders that can implement “pure plays” across the entire marketing mix with the right strategic partners to support them. In other words, you need brand managers that understand and bring order to everything from a high-level strategic standpoint, digital marketing agencies to strategize and execute the search and social, and a strong traditional agency to handle offline initiatives.

In an ideal world, you would have one internal team that can do it all, but there’s no denying the effect of synergized domain expertise. So knock down the walls and keep everyone speaking and working together and influencing each other’s work rather than just having your digital people doing one thing and your traditional people doing another.

What, holistically, are businesses doing wrong in organic search and social?

I don’t think I have enough digital ink to go into that, but it mostly goes back to the idea that content isn’t enough of a focus. Most brands are scared to go after the big content swings due to their inability to scale, lack of understanding of how the web works or just plain old lack of resources.

I’m a strong believer that every brand should have a content evangelist at the top. Whether it’s a Chief Content Officer or it’s the CMO that’s owning it, we all should be focused on making stellar content. That’s why people turn their computers on—they want to be educated or entertained and sometimes they want to buy things too. Otherwise we’re going to continue to have people that just want to buy links and likes and thinking they deserve visibility in organic channels.

If you don’t have the content people want, you don’t deserve the traffic. It’s as simple as that.

Algorithmic changes occur many times a year. Do you think Google’s algorithmic weight of search signals is going anywhere, or will it only get bigger?

We’re definitely just seeing the beginning of the social search. There’s so much less friction in obtaining those social signals and it is far easier to determine their authenticity. Social signals are like high gas prices. You need to learn to live with them.

Say a company has no search or social presence but wants to embark on these activities. Where should they start?

Seriously, they should start by shooting me an email mike at iacquire dot com. I love to look at people’s web presence and give quick fixes, but if you don’t want to talk to me and my team, you can check out the Beginner’s Guide to SEO on SEOmoz. I have yet to see a stellar introductory guide to social, but this one seems to cover the band. Also check out my Targeting Humans and Data Mining the Target Way talks on Slideshare. Whatever you decide, though, start from a strong content strategy.