As the web expands beyond more traditional means of getting traffic via search engine optimization and paid advertising, social networks and related data management services should become an important part of your online search marketing strategy. Learning how to use blogging can help you create authority, connect better with your customers and lift your visibility in the search engines.

We know that search engines are making changes to accommodate for shifts in the marketplace, as well as a more internet-savvy community. We can see this by the way the top search engines change results and test those changes on the user community. Google's universal search layouts, for instance, embed data from video, news and podcasts in the natural search engine results. Additional services, such as personalized search, are available that allow for search engine results swayed more toward user preferences or behaviors.

Universal search results represent an issue for search engine optimizers since less screen real estate is available for traditional text listings. You may find your listing pushed off the first page if you aren't watching and executing better than the competition. Social media optimization is something you should look into now, if you haven't already.

Blogs are a great first step. WordPress is a popular option that has an open source development community and several cool and powerful plugins. You get an RSS feed infrastructure and a place for embedding not only text content, but also video streaming and audio podcasts.

To take full advantage of social media optimization, here are six things you should do:

1. Set up your WordPress blog.
If you're running a business and want to start building your own authoritative blog, I recommend using a trusted hosting partner like GoDaddy.com. It takes about 10 minutes to set up. Apply for a Linux-hosted account, since WordPress isn't compatible with Windows. Unless you have a unique domain set up for this, I suggest adding the blog as a directory of your domain: your-site.com/name-of-blog-with-keywords. TypePad and the Movable Type blog system are other free services. Blogger.com--Google's platform--is free, and Yahoo! Small Business has a variety of options to select from as well.

2. Add content.
Add a blog post once every week or more to start. Frequency is important to search engines, and users will come to expect regular updates. When you add content, make sure you add the tags and category. Tags and directory structures help show the search engines what your post is about. To get ideas for content, look up article directories EzineArticles.com and GoArticles.com. If you copy the entire text, include the author's bio box and be aware that Google may catch you for duplication of content. A better way is to start with the article ideas, change the content and make comments about the article, while still referencing the original author.

If you have more money than time, have someone from RentACoder.com, Elance.com or Guru.com write it for you. You can also look into private label rights articles, but watch for duplicate content there, too. eBay has a lot of these types of articles available, but try to make them your own. If you're in the B2B arena, you hopefully have good marketing and information-based materials you can reinvigorate for your blog.

3. Manage RSS feeds.
RSS is an easily tracked and managed XML-based file structure that allows compatible web systems to read the data. Get an account with Technorati.com and update them with your site feeds--also known as pinging. You can also use FeedBurner.com and OnlyWire.com to help distribute content and PingOMatic.com and Pingoat.com to alert systems that you've made a new post.

4. Promote your blog.
Always leverage the search engines when you can. Conduct solid keyword research to find out what people are searching for within your niche. Use the Overture search tool and look for longer keyword phrases rather than starting with the most competitive keywords. Include these keywords in the titles of your posts.

If you're active in the online community, visit related forums and other blogs to exchange dialogue and links. Make sure to tag everywhere and try to get a listing on Digg.com, as well as del.icio.us, reddit.com and MySpace.com. Educational content, such as "how to" articles, tend to be very popular.

5. Leverage podcasts and videos.
Podcasts are a simple way to provide more detail and personalization around your company or service. The MP3 format can easily be streamed for listening on the web and from your blog. You can podcast your files and even manage them via iTunes. You also can stream video into your visitors' homes and let them watch it on their Apple TV, a recently announced product.

6. Optimize your WordPress blog.
A blog should be optimized for users, search engines and income, in that order. A professional-looking blog is important. Look for clean sites--a white background works well--at the WordPress Theme Viewer site. Some of the themes are less SEO-friendly than others. Add a form to capture names and e-mails to build your e-mail list. For SEO, change your permalinks to this custom option: /%year%/%monthnum%/%day%/%postname%/ and enable the customizable permalinks. This is a search-engine friendly URL that's commonly used.

As I mentioned earlier, WordPress has a number of powerful plugins to consider. Here are some to start with:

  • Google Analytics--tracks everything on all pages
  • Chicklets--an array of social media tags for your users, including RSS reader icons
  • AdSense Deluxe--for publishing ads on your site
  • Google Sitemap Generator for WordPress--creates a sitemap for your site
  • Akismet spam filtering--filters link spam from blog comments; requires WordPress API key
  • SEO Title Tag--easy optimization of title tags across your WordPress blog
  • Ultimate Tag Warrior--incorporates the tag name into title pages on tagged pages
  • Podpress--everything you need for podcasting

More plugins are available at the WordPress plugin directory.

After you're set up, follow the basic rules for long-term success:

  • Do not use Black Hat SEO--unethical techniques--to stuff keywords and duplicate content in your blogs.
  • Provide value through quality content. If you're selling something, don't be pushy. Try to provide educational and constructive comments on products, services and competitors.
  • Use the chicklets you see on many blogs, including a big button for your RSS feed, so visitors and search engines can easily get to your data.
  • Place strategic AdSense components to generate money for yourself, while still providing value. Don't feel bad; big companies do it, including news outlets like CNN. Match the text and color with the layout of your site. Over time, you may get a check from Google.