<< Continued from Part 1: THE SEARCH SHIFT

Social-based signals can be highly valuable to Google because they serve as pointers from human users who, in previous search generations, couldn’t “vote” for content with emotion and commendation. With the inclusion of social signals, Google will take what people like or share into consideration. Your friends – as opposed to brainless bots – will actually influence what you see online.

Social signals seem “fair” because don’t rely on the elitism of one website linking to another—meaning the web will return to a more editorial model. Think about it: how many of us are likely to follow a business that’s inauthentic, manipulative or spammy? What’s more, spam campaigns in the social sphere are quickly exposed and openly hated. In fact, hatred for spam can go viral and yank down a site’s rank via negative sentiment.

Of course, the problem will remain of insecure forums and social sites where spammers can vomit their links, but the search engines should be able to filter out some of these using trust-based metrics.

What do social signals mean for self storage?

To maintain web visibility in the new generation of search, storage operators will have to get out of their cinder-block cubes and be a lot more outgoing and engaging online.

Renter reviews already play a key role in local self storage search—just just take a look at what’s happening with Google Local. And this year we’re sensing that social signals from Facebook and Twitter are directly influencing search results too. In fact, that has been confirmed by both Google and Bing.

How can you stimulate social signals?

According to Danny Sullivan, search engine guru of Search Engine Land, the following signals are what you’ll need to bear in mind as you dip your toes into the social web:

  • Diversity of sources—generate signals from more than one place

  • Timing—share older content as well as new to indicate lasting value

  • Surrounding content —stay relevant to indicate potential industry worth

  • Engagement levels —maintain capacity of clicks, retweets, likes, etc.

  • Quantity, ratio, weight, and bias of friends/followers—influence but diversify

  • Topic focus/relevance—retain authority and patterns in sharing behaviors

There are numerous ways for self storage to go social, and a lot of them are actually fun. Just ask the 640 million users on Facebook, 175 million on Twitter, 100 million on LinkedIn, 30 million on Flickr and 2 million on Foursquare.

For starters, you can remind renters to rate your facility, review your managers, and comment on your amenities. You might even offer a rental coupon in return for a user review on a prominent online spot like your Google Local listing. Reviews are well worth the effort for SEO, and they serve to increase conversions to boot. That being said; pursue scores that are “real.” A flawless five-star rating holds less credibility than a median four-star score.

Another social signal that sets off in your neighborhood is online check-ins. Platforms like Foursquare and Gowalla have turned social into an on-demand type of local search. We often see tweets from Foursquare’s users bragging, “I just became the Mayor of Public Storage on XYZ Street,” so we know it’s already happening in our market. Hey—you don’t have to “get it,” just do it. In Google’s eyes, it has illogical-human written all over it.

The bigger networks – Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube – shore up social signals on a much grander scale.

Even though Facebook and Google don’t seem to play nice, Google does have a deal with Facebook that provides it with data about what happens on fan pages. Google can see likes, comments and status updates, as can Bing. So you won’t want to neglect the social network giant. And you’ll want to concentrate on generating good content that attracts followers and comments.

That being said, you should know that Google is moving in different directions, using a variety of non-Facebook services. One notable social reserve is Twitter.

“This is just the beginning. We’re going to be doing much more to improve the comprehensiveness of Google Social Search.” Mike Cassidy, Product Management Director for Search at Google

The benefits of Facebook-based activity aren’t limited to Google and Bing. Like the AOL of yesteryear, Facebook has countless users who don’t veer out of the network to search. And here’s a little tip: paid search ads are a smart strategy on Facebook. Savvy web marketers know these ads put them in front of people early in the search cycle. Plus, Facebook has a lesser click-through rate than Google, so pay-per-click campaigns are [currently] economical.

Back to the topic of Twitter. Consider this: 95 million tweets are sent every day, and those little seeds of content are pecked at by Google. Depending on a tweet’s quality (number and relevance of retweets) and the author’s authority (number and relevance of followers) a tweet can have a pretty substantial impact on rankings in the short term, as well as some long-term nascent value. So get on, build a following, interrelate, and tweet great content with key URLs.

While you’re at it, feed your tweets directly into your LinkedIn profile. Don’t have one? Get one. And be sure to connect yourself to the company profile on LinkedIn—you should have one of those too. Yes, it matters, and not just to Google’s social signals. As you’ll deduce from “Online Brand Equity” below, brand value and social signals are interrelated. You might also participate in LinkedIn Groups—there are hundreds to choose from, with many opportunities to connect with like-minds.

YouTube remains one of the most popular search engines on earth. Huge numbers of searches happen there, as do uploads (about 24 hours of video every minute). For the paid search marketer, it’s a great place to consider placing targeted ads. But if you’re looking for SEO opportunities instead, remember that user views and ratings are a key factor in YouTube rankings. It takes ambition, creativity and a great sense of humor to pull it off, but if you can do it, there’s plenty of “free” traffic to go around. Trust us: Google will notice (it owns YouTube, after all).

Last but not least, you can create a blog. Blog until you’re sick of blogging, and then blog some more. Yes, blogs will continue to have a social impact in the next generation of search, despite the general population’s waning desire to write more than 140 characters at a time. You can set up and get started within an hour on WordPress; it’s one of the easiest and most popular platforms out there. Plus, it’s free. But take note: Google powers Blogger, not WordPress.

>> Continued in Part 3: BROWSING BEHAVIOR (What people are looking at)

This story was coauthored by Carrie Royce and Robert Zhou. Major sources include SEOmoz.com, SearchEngineLand.com, SMX West 2011 conference speakers, Quora.com (answer by Edmond Lau), SeoByTheSea.com, Econsultancy.com, and GoogleBlog.BlogSpot.com.