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Easily Buy (White Hat) SEO Lift & Disrupt Google’s Vaunted Search Algorithm

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Google Plus  /  SEO

[Author's note: Before we start, all of the techniques shared in this post involve real users responding to compelling content, honestly. There's nothing black hat, nefarious or evil. That said, if you have wonderful content, a big wad of cash and know what to do, it's frighteningly easy to buy SEO dominance. The author wishes to thank Annalise Kaylor, Dion Plakos, aimClear® , and Ian Lurie, CEO of Portent, for research, editing and support.]

At aimClear, we love paid-organic amplification: Buy organic looking ads in social media to drive attention to content and reap the rewards in the form of additional likes, comments, shares and naturally built links. We wanted to put together a comprehensive list of which social media networks would let us buy ads pointing at other social networks and organic search results. So, we’ve been researching. For instance we wanted to know if we could buy:

  • Facebook Ads to Pinterest pins and Google+ posts
  • LinkedIn Ads to Google organic search SERPs and Pinterest pins
  • Promoted Tweets to Google+, LinkedIn or Facebook posts
  • Bing search PPC ads to Tweets and LinkedIn company pages
  • Many other combinations of Facebook Ads, Promoted Tweets, LinkedIn Ads, Bing & Google search ads sending traffic to each other

The results, which we share in this post, are fascinating and have some important implications, especially for search engine optimization. Below you’ll learn what social and search ads channels DO allow ads pointing to Google+ content. Pay attention to that. The tactics discussed here are so powerful that ultimately mass adoption could harm Hummingbird, Penguin or whatever fuzzy creature Google breeds, IF we assume some part of the algo is based on Google+ social sharing and subscription.

Facebook As The Prototype
Marketers who use Facebook Page Post Ads understand what it means to distribute social content to audiences targeted by paid psychographic clicks. The results are nearly always some valuable combination of:

  • In-Facebook post engagement, including page and post likes, comments, sharing and other social behavior
  • Targeted and scalable social psychographic traffic to external content at a predictable cost
  • Attributable external conversion from that traffic
  • Links from sites with domain authority, as well-targeted users discover the content
  • PR distribution to precisely targeted journalists, bloggers and myriad focused media-role users

Layered Page Post Ad Actions

Same As It Ever Was
Social ads offer powerful targeting. Because of the psychographic focus, paid social traffic to quality organic social content has almost always worked to seed organic social engagement and associated goodness. The same holds true for search PPC ads. For example, Nike has every reason to buy the search PPC keyword “snowboard videos,” with the destination URL being YouTube.

Snowboard Videos Search
The search PPC amplification builds video views, shares and comments and the relative importance of the video on YouTube. It also increases the likelihood of those videos appearing in blended search results. Boom!

Ads to social content have always been precious. Back in the day we drove many a Google search user to MySpace and StumbleUpon pages, which resulted in all the good things that happened organically with MySpace and SU. Packaged correctly, driving highly targeted paid traffic to social content has nearly always resulted in wonderful social things.

The caveats: The ads’ creative needs to take a truly organic tone and destination content must be deserving of the attention.

In fact, well-packaged and targeted social paid amplification often generates engagement lift that exceeds purchased reach lift. In the graph below, reach for page post ads increased from about 2K impressions a day to nearly 3 million.  Don’t get too excited. Remember we bought the reach:

Facebook Reach Graph

As the next two images illustrate, engagement scaled in this case at a higher rate than reach, which is often the case. That’s pretty big because you can bullshit reach, but not engagement.

Facebook Like Sources

 

Facebook Talking About

Enter Google+
;ous-danny

First, we’re not going to show similar charts for Google+ because we don’t want any of our clients to have trouble with Google. We don’t use these techniques for aimClear’s content. Just know that scaling Google+ post traffic with social and search ads achieves similar results to what you just saw with FB Page Post Ads, in terms of gaining a lot more engagement within plus-the channel.

Paid social traffic has especially interesting implications with the arrival of Google+, because “social engagement” in G+ lifts SEO. For a couple of years now, I’ve joked at conferences by sharing this riddle: “If we buy Facebook Ads to a Google+ post page and the result is a user’s +1 share or Circles follow, were the Facebook Ads SEO?” The answer, “of course it is,” comes because of direct or correlated SEO lift Google affords G+ page owners from users engaging in G+ behavior. While there are hundreds of ranking variables and disagreement about how Google+ impacts SEO, professionals do seem to agree that Google+ affects the Google SEO puzzle in major ways. We’re not here to argue whether Google+ causes ranking boosts. It does. When a user G+ your content, that person’s followers (your second degree of separation) see your stuff in personalized SERPs.

Gaining Google+ Traction With High Quality Paid Traffic
First, we’re not talking about going to Fiverr and buying + votes. That generates low-engagement behavior. When you send a real user to Google+ for a compelling reason to consume meaningful content, the G+ behavior is real and should be hard for Google to argue with.

Here are the tactics to unsettle Google’s SEO algo and buy SEO lift:

  • Post your amazing content on a public Google+ profile or page.
  • Create a Facebook page post. Make sure to “repackage” it by replacing the image (properly formatted). Every text field is editable as you post the content on your wall.
  • Buy News Feed and mobile Facebook Page Post Ads. Remember, you want external traffic to the Google+ post! Dial in deadeye psychographic targeting.
  • Tweet an awesome tweet with a shortened link to the G+ post. Promote the tweet to appropriate audiences.
  • Create a LinkedIn Ad using the + post as the destination URL.
  • Buy Google and Bing search PPC ads to highly relevant KWs. The destination URL can be the Google+ post.

Simple, right? Not so much. There is a problem.

Facebook Says, “NO Google+ Paid Clicks For YOU!”
FB disallows ads pointing at Google+. Facebook does allow outbound paid clicks to numerous other major social media channels, including YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter and Pinterest. FB even allows ads with destination URLs to Google SERPs.

Does Facebook have some motivation to protect Google’s algorithm? There is little (or no) difference between a Facebook Ad pointing at a Pinterest pin or a YouTube video or the same image or video on a + post. Probably not, even though to allow such destination URLs to Google+ would be very disruptive for Google.

More likely, Facebook considers Google+ competition, which is kind of paranoid because Google+ has about 52 active users. Still, every other network is specialized and offers no direct, broad competition with Facebook. But G+ is really a direct competitor (even if they’re much smaller). If they allowed us to buy clicks pointing at G+, then Google could hire folks to buy ads pointing at G+ content and thereby build membership. Don’t worry. Every other major search and social channel allows ads pointing at Google+. We don’t need Facebook.

Facebook Ads Email

One thing’s for sure: The more awesome traffic we sent to great public Google+ content, the more great G+ things (+1s, shares and Circles) occur. Great G+ things result in SEO advantages. Scaling well-targeted psychographic paid traffic to Google+ means paid, predictable, scalable SEO. In other words, the ability to do so would threaten the vaunted G+ based Google organic search algorithm. We’re surprised that Facebook won’t allow it just to mess with Google.

Summary Of Test Results

  • Twitter Ads, LinkedIn Ads, Google AdWords Search Ads and Bing Search Ads all let you point destination URLs at Facebook page posts, Tweets, Google+ posts, Google SERPs, Pinterest pins and LinkedIn posts.
  • Facebook Ads lets you point at Tweets, Google SERPs, Pinterest pins and LinkedIn posts. They allow Sponsored Stories with a + destination URL, which means you can market the + URL to friends of FB users who liked an organic page post pointing at +. FB does not allow ads or page posts with + destination URLs.

Facebook Ads To Organic Search Engine Results Pages
You can point Facebook Ads at Google organic search results. This is an interesting concept. Smart marketers have been exploiting Google personalized search for years. Sending a prospective client a link to SERPs or asking them on the phone to search for [keyword] instead of providing a direct link skews future searches that user might make. Facebook’s policy supports that loophole, which is surprising.

Google’s Official Method Of Buying SEO Lift
While Matt Cutts, Google’s affable spam ambassador-engineer, has refuted the importance of G+ as a direct ranking factor, Google came right out and said it in (of all places) their PPC blog as early as 2011.

AdWords Plus 1 ButtonThe ability to vote with a + directly from a PPC ad, assuming that these votes help SEO, probably amounts to buying SEO lift.

Sample Results Screen Caps From Our Study
Because we don’t want any blowback from Google, we did not run many examples for very long for any identifiable Google+ accounts. For the purpose of this post, we only proved the ads could be approved and received paid impressions. Here is a sampling of the results.

Facebook Page Post Ads to Pinterest

FB Page Post Ads to Pinterest

The landing page on Pinterest

FB Ad Image on Pinterest

Facebook Page Post Ad to Tweet

FB PPA to Tweet

The landing page

Annalise Tweet

Disapproved FB PPA to Google+ post

Disapproved FB PPA

The landing page

aimClear Google Plus

Sorry, no Google+ ads for you!

New Wall Post3

The nice rejection letter from FB

FB Disapproval

This is pretty freaking major because psychographic traffic to Google+ could disrupt Google’s organic algorithm by scaling Google+ shares and Circles additions. It would work the same way as in FB, but “Likes” in G+ amount to SEO. DoubleClick (a Google property) touts their “partnership” with Facebook because they participate in FBX. Is that why Facebook does not allow + as a destination URL?

Facebook ALLOWED us to run Page Post Ads to Google SERPs

FB Page Post Creation

This is the FB page post ad pointing at Google organic search engine results

FB Page Post

…and the landing page :)

aimClear Marty Social Content SERP

Here’s the data showing that FB is willing to market Google SERPs via Page Post Ads

Google SERP FB PPA

FB is more than happy to send traffic to YouTube video posts

FB YouTube Ad

The landing page

YouTube Video

FB PPA pointing users to LinkedIn

FB Desktop News Feed Ad Preview

The proof

FB Ad

Promoted Tweet pointing at LinkedIn post

Promoted Tweet

The landing page

LinkedIn Front Page

Promoted Tweet to Google+

Promoted Tweet to Google Plus

The landing page

Google Plus Article

Promoted Tweet pointing at Google SERPs

Promoted Tweet to Google SERP

The landing page

aimClear Marty Google SERP

Promoted Tweet pointing at Pinterest

Promoted Tweet to Pinterest

The landing page

Pinterest Image

Promoted Tweet pointing at FB

Promoted Tweet to FB

The landing page

Facebook Post

Promoted Tweet proof

Promoted Tweet Results Graph 1

 

Promoted Tweet Results Graph 2

LinkedIn Ad pointing at G+

LinkedIn Ad

Google AdWords search pointing at G+, Facebook and Pinterest

AdWords Ad

The live ad

Lake Superior Fall Google SERP

 

Duluth Pictures Google SERP

 

Hummingbird Update Google SERP

Bing search ads pointing at G+, Facebook and Pinterest

Bing Search Ads

Anyway, there you have it. We tested other combinations and may share them in future blog posts. Be responsible and don’t spend money marketing crap. Let us know how these techniques work for you.

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20 Comments

  1. Don on October 21, 2013 at 5:12 pm

    The premise of this entire article that G+ helps with SEO is flat out wrong. The Mox study clearly states that correlation does not equal causation and that’s why Pages with high number of Facebook Likes rank higher even though clearly Likes have no SEO benefit.
    The Adwords drivel is just that, the Adwords staff knows less about the Google Algorithm then you do :-)

  2. Marty Weintraub on October 21, 2013 at 6:53 pm

    Don,
    We can agree to disagree about Google+. Your comment is much appreciated.

  3. Jason on October 21, 2013 at 8:21 pm

    Interesting study, Marty. What’s your take on the rank correlations study by Search Metrics? Do your small-scale studies support or contradict their findings?

  4. Russell on October 21, 2013 at 10:04 pm

    Marty,

    Now this is an interesting article. Was just having a conversation with a buddy about social advertising and was making the claim that there are so many different ways and methods to use the new vehicles that we can’t say a blanket statement like social advertising is a waste of money (which was the premise).

    I could see how this would resemble link wheels and other no-no’s of yesteryear in some engines eyes, but you could make a pretty strong argument that promoting a youtube vid to gain social and hopefully viral traction if perfectly legit. Why not the same with posts.

    Wow, thanks, now you have my head spinning.

  5. Anthony on October 21, 2013 at 11:36 pm

    Thanks for the great article Marty. This is something that I have thought about doing for a while and your post will definitely save me some research time.

    Do you think these tactics are appropriate for small-medium sized businesses that don’t have huge advertising budgets?

    Where would you focus to get the best results on a smaller budget?

  6. Marty Weintraub on October 22, 2013 at 12:10 am

    @Anthony: Yes, these tactics are totally appropriate for SMBs and smaller audiences. It’s important, IMHO, to have a pro set things up so that there are as few moving parts as possible. Target the few and highly focused users to keep the spend. Basically an SMB can handle three buttons 1) on/off 2) choose the audience 3) watch the money. You’re welcome for the post. Thank YOU for stopping byu.

  7. Marty Weintraub on October 22, 2013 at 12:16 am

    @Russel: These are real users. What Is Google going to say, “Oh, that user found the content on + from Twitter..? The authentic G+ behavior does not matter?” …EVEN though it’s a real user, EVEN though the endorsement is true, from users’ love of content? Even though the follows are totally honest? Dude, SEO was for folks that had money before. It’s always been that way. These paid organic cross channel amplification methods are just more efficient while the focus is still on fantastic content.

  8. Marty Weintraub on October 22, 2013 at 12:19 am

    @Jason: we’ll let everyone else slug it out as to the “real” meaning of Google+ for SEO. I think both the Moz study and the SearchMetrics studies are cool and interesting. Only Google knows what the actual deal is. Obviously when users engage with Google+ it’s good for publishers. That’s all we need to know.

  9. Andrew Beckman on October 22, 2013 at 8:44 am

    I bet Google likes the idea of driving any traffic to G+, they sure need the interactivity. If paid traffic is related to the G+ landing page, and drives up circle engagement, it’s a win for all!

    More Circles = increased exposure to your brand when those consumers are logged into Android, Gmail, Youtube, etc.

    Definitely worth testing!

  10. Brad on October 22, 2013 at 8:44 am

    Marty,

    This is helpful knowing which networks allow paid ads to which destinations. I imagined some sort of flow chart between all the networks showing how the equity might flow.

    Can you share some Analytics charts showing how this impacted your organic traffic in the same time period (or subsequent time period)?

  11. Aaron on October 22, 2013 at 8:47 am

    Your example would be much more compelling if you had shown actual organic search traffic increases after your promotion.

    The only “SEO” value in this example is your assumed value of G+ signals, not very compelling to me and certainly not worthy of your hyperbolic & misleading article title.

  12. Jason Jell on October 22, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    So basically what you are seeing is the 2013 version of link amplification? When people lost the ability to super-spam the SERPs with junk links, they focused on building link equity to existing links via link spam (i.e. social bookmark an existing backlink so it gets indexed and stronger).

    This is fundamentally doing the same thing but with newer social signals correct? Although I am referring to more black hat methods, the logic as to why it worked is the same here and super interesting.

    The other side benefit for us is that most of the social platforms are mobile optimized whereas most sites are still lagging behind. You can capture engagement/response signals to the Google algo from those channels while you catch up with mobile optimization as well. I think this is a huge advantage right now. I know our site level performance from mobile alone is poor vs our content performance on social sites like Facebook/twitter.

    Funny enough, we pulled way back on some paid advertising in December of last year and saw a large increase in SEO referrals. I tied this in part to traffic source switching but my data also suggested an influx of new SEO traffic, likely from the increase in engagement with my content from the SERP’s pages once the ads were removed.

    Fun times! I like where this is going so far.

  13. Jason White on October 23, 2013 at 8:07 am

    I read this going to sleep last night and then again in the morning to make sure I didn’t dream it! Do you see any drop off due to making a user perform additional clicks to view what they want? Once the baseline statistics are established, does this tactic replicate predictably?

  14. Charles Taylor on November 12, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    Marty, I’ve been testing this with our content for the past week. We’re definitely seeing some engagement but I’m not sure it’s the lasting kind that Google “should” be watching for in the algo. It also hasn’t been long enough to know if this helps our SEO. Overall, I think you’re definitely onto something here and will continue testing.

  15. Marty Weintraub on November 21, 2013 at 10:36 am

    Charles, It take testing to determine the best combination of content types, targeting, and how that works in your space. Thanks for stopping by and let us know how things go.

  16. Marty Weintraub on November 21, 2013 at 10:39 am

    Once the baseline statistics are established, the tactic does predictably. However, every vertical, content type, targeting type, etc.. resonates differently…just like FB.

  17. Marty Weintraub on November 21, 2013 at 10:40 am

    Jason, you comment is insightful. Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment. Keep us informed.

  18. Marty Weintraub on November 21, 2013 at 10:41 am

    Aaron, thanks for the feedback. We purposefully did not include the data. We’re not the only ones “assuming” the value of +. Sorry you don’t like the title. It was steeped in hyperbole on purpose to get attention to the concept and generate engagement…like yours :).

  19. Marty Weintraub on November 21, 2013 at 10:42 am

    Brad, We did not think it prudent to provide specific examples because we don’t want Google sniffing around empirical data.

  20. Marty Weintraub on November 21, 2013 at 10:43 am

    Andrew, Agreed. We think that this should work for Google’s spam team. We’re sending real users. Let us know how your testing goes and thanks for the comment.

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