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5 Rules of Social Media Optimization (SMO)

This is the original post that started the Social Media Optimization revolution and has been cited by thousands of blogs and media sources around the world.  For a more updated view, read the 5 New Rules Of Social Media Optimization published by Rohit exactly 4 years after this post on 08/10/10.

First Time Here?  Read an introduction to this blog here.

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For years now, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for websites has been honed into a fine art with entire companies devoting considerable effort to defining best practices and touting the value of SEO for raising a site's performance on organic search listings.  While I believe in the power of SEO, there is a new offering we have started providing to clients which we call Social Media Optimization (SMO).  The concept behind SMO is simple: implement changes to optimize a site so that it is more easily linked to, more highly visible in social media searches on custom search engines (such as Technorati), and more frequently included in relevant posts on blogs, podcasts and vlogs.  Here are 5 rules we use to help guide our thinking with conducting an SMO for a client's website:

  1. Increase your linkability – This is the first and most important priority for websites.  Many sites are "static" – meaning they are rarely updated and used simply for a storefront.  To optimize a site for social media, we need to increase the linkability of the content.  Adding a blog is a great step, however there are many other ways such as creating white papers and thought pieces, or even simply aggregating content that exists elsewhere into a useful format.

  2. Make tagging and bookmarking easy – Adding content features like quick buttons to "add to" are one way to make the process of tagging pages easier, but we go beyond this, making sure pages include a list of relevant tags, suggested notes for a link (which come up automatically when you go to tag a site), and making sure to tag our pages first on popular social bookmarking sites (including more than just the homepage).
  3. Reward inbound links – Often used as a barometer for success of a blog (as well as a website), inbound links are paramount to rising in search results and overall rankings.  To encourage more of them, we need to make it easy and provide clear rewards.  From using Permalinks to recreating Similarly, listing recent linking blogs on your site provides the reward of visibility for those who link to you
  4. Help your content travel – Unlike much of SEO, SMO is not just about making changes to a site.  When you have content that can be portable (such as PDFs, video files and audio files), submitting them to relevant sites will help your content travel further, and ultimately drive links back to your site.   
  5. Encourage the mashup – In a world of co-creation, it pays to be more open about letting others use your content (within reason).  YouTube's idea of providing code to cut and paste so you can imbed videos from their site has fueled their growth.  Syndicating your content through RSS also makes it easy for others to create mashups that can drive traffic or augment your content.

There are many other "rules" and techniques that we are starting to uncover as this idea gets more sophisticated.  In the meantime we are always on the lookout for new ideas in Social Media Optimization to encourage even better thinking.  Perhaps we may even see the rise of entire groups or agencies devoted to SMO in the future …

Update (8/13/06): Jeremiah Owyang has added Rules 6 and 7

Update (08/15/06): Cameron Olthuis has added Rules 8, 9, 10, and 11

Update (08/16/06): Loren Baker has added Rules 12 and 13

Update (08/17/06): Lee Odden has added Rules 14, 15 and 16

Update (08/22/06): Jean-Marie Le Ray has translated all 16 rules into French

Update (08/22/06): Marko Derkson has translated the 16 rules into Dutch

Update (08/29/06): Marco Faré has partially translated the 16 rules into Italian

Update (08/30/06): For those interested in helping spread the word about SMO or adding rules, read my follow up post – "Adding the 17th Rule of Social Media Optimization."

Update (09/01/06): Oscar Ugaz has translated the rules into Spanish

Update (09/04/06): Marcus Puchmayer has partially translated the rules into German

Update (09/05/06): Makitani Yasuki has translated the rules into Japanese

Update (09/26/06): Alexander Lingris has translated the rules into Greek

Update (11/09/06): Luís Augusto Okamoto has translated the rules into Portuguese

Update (12/28/06): Ilia Rabchenok has translated the rules into Russian

Update (1/2/07): See below for several more articles about SMO on this blog, including my thoughts on not being the "gatekeeper" for a 17th rule to the list (for all those who have emailed me their ideas):

Update (01/09/07): Eyal Harofe has translated the rules into Hebrew

Update (11/27/07): Due to an increasing amount of spam comments on this post, comments have now been closed (old spam comments have also been removed).

Update (02/17/09): Jarern Lucklertkul has translated the rules into Thai

Have more rules to add or a translated version of the rules?  Send me a link to your post at rohitaustralia [at] gmail [dot] com and I'll add it here.  Also, I am tagging you can view all posts that reference the idea of SMO with the tag "socialmediaoptimization" on

156 thoughts on “5 Rules of Social Media Optimization (SMO)”

  1. This is really useful.

    Another, often overlooked, piece of the SMO puzzle requires no technology and no technical implementation: find the people in your organization who actually have something interesting to say and empower them to say it via your website.

    That’s a winner.

  2. Hi Rohit;

    Good point about using white papers to bring traffic to your site. White papers are perceived to be very valuable by many different types of prospects.

    For example, a recent study by MarketingSherpa showed that for software companies and ASPs: White papers are the most effective forms of lead generation (36% reported), followed by webinars (31%) and free trials (28%).


  3. Great post! We have been offering clients a similar type of service and for many companies we work with it is one of the most important things that we do for them. I am glad that someone has coined a term around this idea. I think that there needs to be some case studies and examples of SMO such that people can realize the increasing importance and utility of it. Many of the more successful companies have implemented SMO tactics because it just makes sense to their business. Most of these are companies that have products and services that already revolve around the social mediums and I think that we will definitely see a rise in the number of people that provide these types of services.

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  6. Excellent piece to start what should be a long-standing discussion in halls of blogdom. I’m glad I found this post, via Copyblogger, and hope the follow-up rules are just as sage.

    (Nits & lice: Copy/paste of embedded code, for all manner of web widgets including video, far pre-dates YouTube.)

  7. Interesting post, Rohit. I think SMO should be used together with SEO (like you point above) and I don’t think SMO will replace SEO near the future but complement it. 🙂

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  9. Hi Rohit,

    Nice post and nice moove, indeed. Would you authorize me to translate your post in french and publish it on my blog,, aiming to share english written resources with french spoken people?
    Many thanks,

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  11. Rohit;

    I am interested in this statement in your second point:

    “…[provide] suggested notes for a link (which come up automatically when you go to tag a site).”

    Is there an easy way to do this?

  12. Rohit, thanks. What a brilliant post. I recently joined an SEO firm from PR group in the UK to focus on creating a set of services for clients in exactly the space you describe.

    My view is that SEO practice is evolving into this area simultaneously as PR and marcomms does. Something like SMO will be the approach that brands will need to work with in order to win in the near future.

    I’m drafting a response on SMO and look forward to joining in this fascinating discussion.

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  14. This totally makes sense now. I was thinking you meant theere was a way to make notes stick and auto-appear when a post was tagged, but this makes perfect sense. Thanks for clearing it up for me.

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  17. These are great guides to help lean about this new social phenomina. The concept is relatively new to many of us, and anything like this that can help us understand the value is very wecome.


  18. Good Evening, I just came by the way of Max’s post Web Site Owners – Must Read – 5 Rules of Social Media Optimization (SMO) on the ActiveRain site. Tons of info here and a must visit for anyone interested in SEO and the like.

  19. Great post, Rohit. Some excellent ideas that we could start working with to make our corp blog community-friendly.

    Would you have any good examples of SMO by corporations? Thanks!

  20. Rohit – thank you for starting this indpiring thread. I notice there is allot of talk about SMO strategy and it does make sense to me. Can you provide some insight on how a marketer would execute such a strategy, either for their own site or a clients’?


  21. Hi Michael and Grace,
    Thanks for commenting. To respond to the common thread between your questions – I think that doing SMO well depends ultimately on creating good content. Assuming you have great content to work with, either through a corporate blog or white papers, implementation is really about getting as many people as possible to see the content, comment on it, and link to it. A few ways of doing that are adding things like easy buttons to make it easy to tag content, directly contacting influentials about your content, and starting a conversation which you can keep up. In terms of some examples of corporations that I think are doing this well, Boeing comes to mind with their efforts through Randy’s blog and other community related efforts. I also think that Google typically does a good job of opening their product line and efforts to generating more conversation among the audiences they most care about.

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  23. I have been seeing articles and forum discussions regarding SMO here and there of late. Is this something that will pass or do you think it will create a whole new SMO consultancy industry like SEO?

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  25. Once again, Rohit, I must thank you for helping to educate me on another facet of marketing/performance of which I was largely unaware until visiting your site. I feel like I now have a beginner’s grasp on both SEO and SMO.

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  27. Lyndon,
    Perhaps you might have missed the link to “add to” at the top of the article just below the title? I will see what I can do about updating this to perhaps include icons to click rather than text links which might be easy to miss …

  28. 18. Have your own style of writing. Don’t blindly subscribe to a way of writing … one kawasaki doing their overly professional 10-point things is enough in the internet. Not everything needs to be with numbered points.
    19. Stories about kids don’t make the blog interesting. At least if it’s not the main subject of the blog. Even though some powerpoint and marketing guru writes in some book that you can make success dragging kids to every story, it does not have to mean that only that one author made that observation in his general marketing target groups.
    20. Have content that people want to interact with. Like this…

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  30. I think SMO will be more successful than SEO because it’s more transparent. For example, you can’t stuff a zillion tags in a blog post without people realizing you’re spamming. Your 5 rules post and the followup are both excellent compositions. I’ve suggested a possible 17th rule via my tagblog. 😉

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  32. Since the planning stages of our new site, we’ve been practicing SMO just without having a name for it. This article (and the additional pieces contributed by various other authors) is excellent and the methods listed work. We’ve done no paid advertising for PlugIM. We’ve only used SMO and we continue to receive a steady increase in traffic flow and links. SMO is the future.

  33. I had been serving as an seo. But it seems that the smo is the next hot topic. So i have thinking to change course of site a little bit. It is not clear to me what kind of job the smo includes? Is it only optimisation (link building) or what it is and what kind of job it is (of course much more than the link building)? Could you clarify, help me!

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  40. Rohit

    Thanks for starting this conversation. I just added a 17th – Respect your target audience. The Sony PSP flog showed me how – putting aside that it was a big fat lie – companies treat their target base as morons.

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  43. Rohit, I’m quite skeptic about the third tip “reward inbound links”. Well, this might be misused and may sometimes be harmful to us. Because, if this is automated, people can link to us from an illegal site and if we link to the illegal site, it may develop bad neighbourhood. Especially for big sites where moderating each site would be a big headache.Anyway, nice article. 🙂

  44. Hello Rohit,

    I’ve been reading a lot about social media optimization and this thread is the golden nugget, if you will, on how to do SMO for personal or commercial websites. It’s 2007 and I can see more SEOs using these innovative strategies to improve the content on a website and make it socially relevant. Great thread!

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  46. I would add an 18th rule of SMO: don’t focus on the construction of just one website. Many make this mistake and place all of their energy on one site, rather than building a network of related sites.

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  49. My curiosity goes UP and UP, here Rohit emphasis more on SMO, and he include in it’s draft that Inbound can be found through SMO. But I think One thing he forgat all social bookmark are come with limited IP, and it help very little.

    In SEO we know we have to get Inbound from different IP and having good Page rank, I am really Confused

    SEO Expert

  50. A few days ago I have published a paper concerning the application of SMO for companies in the German Computerwoche. Beside it is – of course – also written in German I would appreciate comments from the community.
    You might read the paper here. Actually, this paper includes a lot of the discussion that was going on here during the last months.


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  52. Excellent post there and I am impressed. it is obviously working for you judging by the number of subscriber readers you have.
    I will be putting some these thing into prcatice for my blogging at which is my site on Digital photography, or more presisely about selling photos online.
    My other blogs are at and
    Mostly I use WordPress but I have also started to use Joomla to manage my content.

    Looking forward to reading more of your articles


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  55. Hi Rohit, I was tracking this wonderful and comprehensive blog points since Aug’06. I should take an opportunity now to say that you have done a great research on this and this sought of Social Media Optimization will be more helpful to the users as well as search engines.

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  57. Dear Mr. Bhargava,
    We have decided to take your 17 Rules very seriously. We translated them into Hebrew and uploaded them into our Hebrew site for all of our Israeli customers. Already we have received positive feedback. Keep up the good work.
    ZviPeretz Cohen

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  59. Hi Rohit,

    This is really great information that is of obvious value :o)

    Do you perhaps have all the 17 rules into one document? I realise it’s a bit cheeky of me to be asking for it instead of just compiling it myself, but I didn’t want to offend by just taking this and reusing it. It’d be a great PDF to spread around – if you haven’t already done so ;o)


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