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1. Because the search engines are watching for social signals

It used to be that Google gave websites and website pages a thumbs-up whenever they found a relevant inbound link from another quality website.

For over 10 years, backlinks, as they came to be known, were the primary means by which Google determined the quality of a site and its pages. The other major search engines followed Google's lead.

So if you had a website about coffee, an inbound link from Starbucks would gain you major brownie points in the eyes of the search engines.

However, backlinks are no longer the only way in which search engines determine the quality of a site or its pages. They now also look at social signals.

If a page is liked enough on Facebook, or a link to that page is retweeted enough on Twitter, Google will recognize those actions as a thumbs-up. Same for Bing and Yahoo!

The rise of social media has given search engines an invaluable insight into the sites and pages that people really like.

Some experts surmise that this shift to watching for social signals is a significant element of the new and ferocious Panda update from Google.

In other words, it is becoming more and more important that you are active on the major social media sites, and that you add the relevant badges on your site pages so that it's easy for readers to share your content.

2. Because it's where your readers spend a lot of their time

Over 700 million people use Facebook. Tens of millions of people log in to Facebook each day and never go anywhere else on the Web. They connect with friends, chat, have discussions, play games, grab coupon codes, and even order pizza -- all without having to leave Facebook.

Add in Twitter, YouTube, and a host of other social media sites and mobile apps, and you'll find a dramatic shift in how people are using the Web. They are spending less time looking for your site, and more time being social.

The bottom line here is that you have to be where your readers are.

Don't moan about all the time your prospects spend on Facebook. Instead, leverage that fact, create your own Facebook page, and put a lot of effort into making it interesting, lively, and rewarding.

3. Because it's a great place to build a core group of fans

Unless you are one of the very few marketers who has a huge and engaged forum as part of your site, social media offers you the best way to build a core group of fans.

Most website pages are static. They may be popular and very valuable, but people read them and leave them.

With Facebook and Twitter you can create an environment that brings people back time and time again. Not only do they come back, but they interact -- adding updates, commenting, retweeting, and more.

Best of all, because they are engaged on a regular basis, you can include links back to your main website pages with your tweets and updates, and get your content in front of your most valuable customers and prospects.

Numerous studies have also confirmed that engaged prospects are more likely to buy, and more likely to spend more. These studies have looked at both Facebook and Twitter, and found similar uplifts in purchases.

4. Because it's the best place to learn about your readers

This is related to the previous point. An engaged core of fans on social media not only buy more often and spend more money, but they also give you an invaluable insight into what they really like and want.

Facebook in particular offers some excellent metrics. You can look at not only the overall performance of your Facebook page, but also at the level of engagement achieved by individual updates.

These metrics then enable you to identify the kind of content that works best for your readers. Using those insights, you can then adjust the content of your main website accordingly.

Summing it all up...

Online marketers used to laugh at social media. Then they ignored it. Then they grudgingly accepted that they had to get involved with it.

As always, there were some early adopters who leapt in and profited from their foresight.

But today, being active in social media is no longer an option. Not only can the major social media sites help extend your reach, build loyalty, and drive direct traffic to your websites, but they are also becoming a major influence on search results.

If for no other reason, now is the time to ramp up your social media presence because you need to create strong social signals for the search engines to find.

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