By Marcia Riefer Johnston published July 7, 2016

5 SEO Strategies for Social Media You Need to Know Before You Hit Publish


Do you use social media with SEO strategies in mind? If not, says Josepf Haslam, senior director of social SEO at Education Dynamics, you might as well be pouring water into the moat of a sandcastle — the evidence of your effort disappears in the blink of an eye.

Solid SEO practices are like a “concrete foundation” for your social media moat. “The water you pour (social activity) can accumulate and create an enduring benefit,” he says.

Here are some recommendations from Josepf ’s talk at the Intelligent Content Conference. Some of these will sound familiar; others may be new to you. Either way, you’re sure to find some ideas that your team hasn’t yet put in place and could benefit from, simultaneously strengthening your SEO and social media efforts.

All ideas and quotations, unless otherwise attributed, come from Josepf’s talk, and images come from his slides or our correspondence.

1. Make your content segmented, searchable, snackable, and shareable

If you want to use social media with an SEO mindset, start with content that has these four “s” characteristics:

  • Segmented
  • Searchable
  • Snackable
  • Shareable

Make your content segmented

Each piece of content must address the needs of an audience segment you know well. Do these people even care about what you have to say? Until you can say yes with confidence, don’t bother creating any content.

Each piece of #content must address the needs of an audience segment you know well says @josepf. Click To Tweet

You can learn about your audience segments from many online and offline tools. One of Josepf’s favorite online tools for learning what targeted groups of people are talking about is Twitter Advanced Search, which enables you to search for words, phrases, hashtags, and users. “You can fill in these fields many ways to hear conversations,” he says.


Josepf also recommends listening in on social media conversations using tools like these:


Josepf gives this example for a company that makes solar-energy products. To discover content opportunities, you might set up streams in Hootsuite (or whatever tool you’re using) and monitor the hashtag #solar and keywords like “solar energy,” “sustainable energy,” “renewable energy,” and “wind energy.”

To listen, you read through those streams and identify hot topics, influencers, pain points, and questions.

Want an easy way to curate what you find? Josepf uses Storify, integrated with Hootsuite, to save relevant conversations in one click.


When you listen to people’s needs, you can create content that they’ll value.


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Make your content searchable

To make your content searchable, use the words your audience searches for. What are people saying to Siri or typing into their search boxes? Make sure that your content includes those terms.

To make your #content searchable, use the words your audience searches for says @josepf. #SEO Click To Tweet

To find out what phrases people are searching on, try tools like these:

Make your content snackable

When Josepf says “snackable,” he’s not talking about “short, sweet fluff.” He’s talking about scannable, well-organized, chunked, labeled content — content “with headings, tables, charts, and illustrations” — content that people want to keep taking bites of.

Make your content shareable

Track social shares monthly. These numbers don’t tell you whether a piece of content is helping you meet business goals, but they are still a useful metric as an “acid test.” In fact, Josepf goes so far as to call shareability “the No. 1 KPI for content.” He argues that “if you get people to your content and they go ‘meh’ and bounce off the page or do not share, then you’re not hitting the right note. The content that gets shared the most is probably resonating the most.”

He suggests boosting your most-shared pieces.

Put a little money behind them to get them circulating even more in your social channels — Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, wherever your audience is. I’m not talking about a lot of money. It could be $10 on Facebook. It could be $20 on LinkedIn. I’ve put $1,000 behind things on LinkedIn that were exploding on their own.

Boosting your content makes the most sense when it’s highly shareable and tied to lead generation — when, for example, it invites people to download something.

How do you know how shareable your content is? “Track your social shares — along with traffic, backlinks, and leads generated — over time, lots of time,” he says. Josepf suggests using a spreadsheet to track the performance of every web page. Here’s an excerpt from his own spreadsheet.


Click to enlarge

Bonus tip: To make your content more shareable and more snackable, Josepf suggests repeating your main messages in occasional click-to-tweet boxes like the one below. On some platforms, you can use a plug-in to easily create these boxes.

KPI #1 for content is shareability, says @Josepf. Click To Tweet

2. Learn to speak spider

You’ve heard it before: Write first for humans, second for spiders — those emissaries of search engines, those robots that crawl the web looking for clues as to which pages should come up first in search results.

“A website is not a field of dreams,” Josepf says. If you build it, no one will come — unless you learn to talk to spiders.

Spiders are simple creatures. They do three things:

  • Follow links on web pages
  • Collect information for the search engine’s index
  • Measure the popularity of web pages

To speak a spider’s language, think FISHIES. (Just go with it. SPIDIES doesn’t work.)

F = Frequency
I = Interesting
S = Structure
H = Headings
I = Inbound links
E = Engagement
S = Sitemap

F = Frequency

Spiders scan for new content. Publish regularly.

I = Interesting

Spiders crawl your pages and compare them to all the other pages on a similar topic. Spiders can’t judge interestingness for themselves, but they constantly get better at guessing which pages will interest readers, and they reward those pages.

S = Structure

Consider the organization and labeling of not just individual pages but also of your whole website. Think about your taxonomy (for example, blog categories and tags) and your information architecture. Spiders like a well-structured site.

H = Headings

Organize your pages and posts thoughtfully, “as you would college essays,” Josepf says. Break your pages into sections with headings. Use the H1, H2, H3 HTML tags to indicate heading levels. Spiders like well-organized pages with enough substance to require nested headings.

I = Inbound links

Inbound links or backlinks — links to your pages from other websites — serve as digital word-of-mouth. Create content that influential bloggers and other contributors to authoritative websites in your industry would want to link to. Spiders have their sticky feet all over backlinks.

E = Engagement in social channels

Many believe that social engagement — people linking to your pages from their social accounts — also influences your search rankings. While speculations vary as to exactly what spiders and their search engines do with social data, it only makes sense to create content that your audience would want to share in social channels. (See above: “Make your content shareable,” where Josepf talks about shareability as the No. 1 KPI for content.)

S = Sitemap

A sitemap gives spiders “a cheat sheet that says, Hey, here’s our site.” To help spiders do their job, include a sitemap.

3. Use social media meta tags wisely

Social media meta tags or social tags are HTML tags that start with the word “meta.” You put these tags in your page’s code to help determine what information appears in Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc., when people share your URL.

When you set up meta tags, your social shares get noticed and shared more.

When you set up meta tags, your #social shares get noticed & shared more says @josepf. Click To Tweet

Josepf suggests adding meta tags to old content that has performed well. Adding meta tags, even long after the publish date (presuming that the content is still relevant), can give old content a boost.

I had one older post get over 10,000 shares on Pinterest within three weeks. All I did was put meta tagging on it. It got rediscovered and got circulated as a result.

Example of meta tags:


Click to enlarge

Don’t be intimidated by this code snippet. You don’t have to go into code view to add meta tags. Josepf recommends using a tag tool such as:

To keep track of your social tags, you might build your own spreadsheet as Josepf does or use an online resource like the social media meta tag generator by Secret Sauce (which Josepf suggests exploring if you’d like to get an idea of the basic entries for meta-tagging.)


  • Social tags make it easy for people to share. For example, you can specify that a share include a quotation, a hashtag, and an @mention.
  • Social tags give you control of the share image. If a post contains several images, you can determine which one shows up in social channels. People can delete or change your default image, but most will simply click and share.
  • Social tags help search engine spiders understand what your content is about. The more the spiders understand, the more likely your content is to show up in rich search results, increasing the chances of your page getting clicked when someone sees it in the results.

4. Use on-page metadata wisely

On-page metadata is metadata on your website, including the following types that can play a role in SEO:

  • HTML title and meta description
  • Search-friendly URL
  • Alt tags

Unlike backlinks, social media shares, and other “off-page” SEO factors, your on-page metadata is within your control.

Give each page an HTML title and meta description that work as an “ad” in search results

The most important piece of metadata for SEO, Josepf says, is the page title (the HTML tag “title”).

These are stupid little spiders. When a spider comes, it tries to understand your whole page based on your title. If your title is out of sync with the rest of your page, spiders don’t know what to do with you. They just toss you over into a corner somewhere. It’s a lonely place to be.

In search results, the link text (the blue text in the example below) comes from the HTML title assigned to that page. This title, together with the snippet of meta description below it, act as your “ad,” Josepf says. It’s not an ad, but it must work like one, enticing people to click.


Use your audience’s search terms in your HTML titles and meta descriptions. “Some people like to use cute sayings, pet phrases. That may work in your copy, but not in your metadata,” Josepf says.

Cute metadata doesn’t help your #SEO, says @Josepf. #contentstrategy Click To Tweet

Give each page a search-friendly URL

The second most important piece of metadata for SEO, according to Josepf, is a search-friendly URL.

A spider reads the page’s URL to figure out the context. It compares the terms it finds there to the terms used on the page.

In the example below, the terms used in the URL — grad schools, masters, medical-specialties, physician-assistant — directly correlate to the content on that page.


Give each image an alt tag

Every time you use an image, assign it an alt tag. An alt tag is a string of text that’s associated with an image on a website. Alt tags enable visually impaired people — and search spiders — to interpret images.

Alt tags can be read aloud by a screen-reading program.

Alt tags also help people better understand what they’re looking at. In this example, when the cursor hovers over the alt-tagged image, the alt-tag text (“Physician Assistant Salary info by”) appears.


Alt tags are often overlooked. If your team isn’t using them, start today. These tags give you a powerful and simple way to make your images more likely to show up in search results.

Bonus tip: To attract a search spider’s eye, give each image a descriptive file name. Descriptive names — not names like DHZP094713.JPG — help spiders “see” the image, increasing the likelihood that the image shows up in relevant search results. When you name image files, separate words with underscores or hyphens — not spaces. (Some people argue that the use of underscores is preferred, Josepf says, but hyphens are OK, too.)

Take the two extra seconds to name every image file. File names make it easier for you to manage your image files behind the scenes, too.

5. Use an SEO-auditing tool — and understand its limitations

To use an SEO-auditing tool, you type in your focus keyword or search phrase — for example, “physician assistant salary” — and the page gets a grade: poor or good. You get a checklist-style analysis.

You might realize, ‘Oh, shoot. I’m not even using the keyword phrase — the term I want this page to be found for — in my title. I’m not even using it in my copy!’

One of Josepf’s favorite SEO-auditing tools is Yoast. It’s available as a plug-in for various platforms, including WordPress and Drupal. It looks like this:


After doing an SEO tune-up on certain pages with this type of auditing tool, Josepf says he has seen “50, 70, 400 percent more traffic coming to those pages within a few weeks. The SEO audit absolutely, directly turns into more traffic for us.”

If you’re on a platform that doesn’t have a Yoast-like SEO-auditing plug-in, you can have someone build one.

Caveat: These tools look only at the keyword phrases you audit for. In that sense, Josepf points out, these tools serve a limited role in the overall SEO effort.

Google no longer cares about keyword density. Anyone who’s preaching keyword density at this point is selling snake oil. Google is now discerning searchers’ intent. It’s processing natural language, trying to understand what people are looking for. Google’s spiders look at your pages that way, too. They want to know, do you talk about this thing in different ways and use different phrases, the way people do?

Don’t write for keywords with blinders on; write for search intent. Whatever search phrases people might type or say to Siri, you must understand what’s behind those words. Gone are the days of keyword stuffing. “That is 7-year-old practice. Google penalizes you for that today,” Josepf says.

Don’t write for keywords with blinders on; write for search intent says @josepf. #SEO Click To Tweet

But keywords still play a role in SEO. You still need to do your research to get a sense of the terms in your readers’ heads, the terms they will respond to.

There may be a thousand keywords related to a given search. You want to understand the whole word cloud, the whole space you’re in. It’s valuable to include some of those phrases into your content. It’s easier to write for an audience when you understand the cloud of search terms that are related to the search intent.

Don’t hyperfocus on any given keyword. Include various ways people might talk about a topic. People and spiders alike will find your content more worthy of attention.

Bonus tip: Audit your video for SEO, too. Always publish a transcript with your video, Josepf says. He mentions that Yoast offers an SEO plug-in for YouTube, pointing out that YouTube is the second-largest search engine in the world. Yoast also has a video SEO plug-in for WordPress.


Is your team using all these SEO strategies?

  1. Make your content segmented, searchable, snackable, and shareable.
  2. Learn to speak spider.
  3. Use social media “meta” tags wisely.
  4. Use on-page metadata wisely.
  5. Use an SEO-auditing tool — with an understanding of its limitations.

The more of these things you do, the bigger splash your pages will make not only in search but also in social channels.

Excel at SEO With This 15-Point Plan

What impact have SEO strategies had on your social results? Please share your experiences in a comment.

Want more of this kind of strategic insight? Sign up for our Content Strategy for Marketers weekly email newsletter, which features exclusive insights from CMI Chief Strategy Officer Robert Rose.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Please note:  All tools included in our blog posts are suggested by authors, not the CMI editorial team.  No one post can provide all relevant tools in the space. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments (from your company or ones that you have used).

Author: Marcia Riefer Johnston

Marcia Riefer Johnston is the author of Word Up! How to Write Powerful Sentences and Paragraphs (And Everything You Build from Them) and You Can Say That Again: 750 Redundant Phrases to Think Twice About. As a member of the CMI team, she serves as Managing Editor of Content Strategy. She has run a technical-writing business for … a long time. She taught technical writing in the Engineering School at Cornell University and studied literature and creative writing in the Syracuse University Masters program under Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter @MarciaRJohnston. For more, see Writing.Rocks.

Other posts by Marcia Riefer Johnston

  • Renuka Verma

    I Really appreciating your post, very well explained all the tools it will going to help me in my business. content should be segmented, searchable, snackable, and shareable
    its absolutely right and use of social meta tags in a right manner.

    • Marcia Riefer Johnston

      Hi, Renuka. I’m glad that you found value here. Thanks for taking time to comment.

  • rogercparker

    Dear Maria: great job going deep into several less than obvious ideas; helpful, concise, helpful visuals. Planted new seeds to explore..

    • Marcia Riefer Johnston

      Roger, thanks for your note. Josepf laid it all out in his ICC talk. Glad you found the “less than obvious ideas” and visuals helpful.

  • Alexandra Klimowitsch

    Sincerely grateful for a really instructive post. Spiders, 4Ss.. all is awesome, thank you for writing an evergreen piece

    • Marcia Riefer Johnston

      You’re welcome, Alexandra. I’m glad you found Josepf’s ideas helpful. So did I.

  • Beth Worthy

    Dear Marcia, your well-illustrated ideas for incorporating sound SEO practices into social media activities are worth adopting by any team. Thank you for this concise and well-illustrated article. 🙂

    • Josepf J Haslam

      Marcia put a lot of work into this article, she was a bull-dog tracking me down to clarify points and give concrete examples. I think I can now be a candidate for the Supreme Court after her diligent vetting. 🙂

      • Marcia Riefer Johnston

        “Judge Josepf.” I like it.

      • Beth Worthy

        Both yours and Marcia’s collaborative approach deserves appreciation for putting together this nice article. Well done, Josepf! 🙂

        • Marcia Riefer Johnston


    • Marcia Riefer Johnston

      Beth, I appreciate your note. The ideas and illustrations are all Josepf’s!

  • Feuza Reis

    I am a bit jealous I did not write this fantastic piece of content! LOVE LOVE AND LOVE! this part rocks- “A website is not a field of dreams,” Josepf says. If you build it, no one will come — unless you learn to talk to spiders.

    Spiders are simple creatures. They do three things:

    I too share about SEO in a practical way and loved the way you broke it down and will be sharing and referring to it.

    • Josepf J Haslam

      Thank you Feuza!

    • Marcia Riefer Johnston

      Your comment makes my day, Feuza. Thanks for the peek into the details you liked best.

  • ChristyK

    GREAT article. Thank you!

    • Josepf J Haslam

      You’re welcome. 🙂

    • Marcia Riefer Johnston

      Glad you found it useful, Christy.

  • Phil Bradford

    This is indeed a very informative content. I’ve got to know some really good points about social media. Thanks for sharing such a rich article. But, most importantly we have to write our content in such a way that is understandable by all.

    • Marcia Riefer Johnston

      Hi, Phil. I’m glad you found value here. Josepf packed a lot in to that ICC talk (summed up here).

      • Phil Bradford

        You are very welcome Marcia.

  • Cine Dabba

    thank you so much for good tips,i don’t know about these until now as i have recently entered blogging.i hope these tips help in my blogging.

    • Marcia Riefer Johnston

      Hi, Cine. Glad you found this article helpful. Best to you in your blogging.

  • George Coem

    I find Yoast and Facebook plug-ins irreplaceable for SEO. One way systematizing your content is constatntly tracking how your competitors’ posts (or any pages) get shared in social medias. I use SERPstat tool for that. Also you made a good point that people don’t always use exact keyword when searching for something. Thus, best performing sites have one think in common – they have huge keyword pools that incorporate smart semantic core,i.e. they get decent ranking for keywords that are alos used in searching for something, but not using exact keywords for it.

    • Josepf J Haslam

      Exactly, very important to think of the cloud of related searches. best to think about how people might “say it” different ways. Then make sure you incorporate into your writing.

  • Marcia Riefer Johnston

    Thanks, Jay. Hope Josepf’s insights pay off for you.

  • Marcia Riefer Johnston

    You’re welcome, Devin. I got a lot out of Josepf’s talk myself.

  • Unibaggage

    Great, digestible tips that every content marketer can learn from. Most of these tips I already live by, but there are definitely a few new ones on the list that I look forward to trying!

    • Marcia Riefer Johnston

      Thanks for the comment. Happy to hear that you found both affirmation and new ideas here.

  • Nassera

    Such a great article @marciarieferjohnston:disqus. As a new blogger, I know now what I’ve been doing wrong into my website and how to change it to make it better 🙂 I’ve been writting blog post but didn’t get the attention I was looking for. With such a rich article, I’m sure I’m gonna rock the world of social media 🙂

    • Marcia Riefer Johnston

      Glad you found it useful, Nassera. Thanks for your comment. Best to you in getting the attention your blog deserves!

  • Muhammad Usman

    Thanks for sharing great informative article Marcia. You know the best part I’ve found is “Give each page a search-friendly URL”. Really this is really a great tip for me. Thanks and keep sharing

    • Marcia Riefer Johnston

      Muhammad, I’m happy to hear that you found this tip useful. Thanks for letting us know.

  • Matthias Moesl

    Thank you Marcia for sharing.
    Keyword obsession is so ingrained in a lot of our customers brains, that it can get quite frustrating.
    Will link them to the quotes by Josepf Haslam in the future. maybe they will understand this issue then.
    All in all a great summary with methods everyone can implement easily. lokking forward to more content like this.

  • Hitesh Parekh

    No doubt, SEO can improve your social media reach as long as you know how to utilise it. Optimising content before posting is good practice since you can double check and ask yourself if this content will create an impact to your target market and the world of online marketing.