SEO Mythology

With the world of social media growing and people sharing and tweeting left, right and centre, social signals are increasing their influence over the way Google’s algorithm operates. There have been varying results from the many studies conducted that were attempting to determine the correlation between social signals and SEO rankings. Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team, has clearly stated in a recent video that social signals are not part of Google’s algorithm, there is simply seen to be a distinct correlation between social signals and the resulting ranking of a site by Google.

A prime example of this is when Smashing Magazine tweeted Moz’s Beginner’s Guide and suddenly it began to rank on Google, appearing on the first page when users searched for ‘beginner’s guide’.

A person’s stature on Twitter could help influence how a page ranks on a Google search. If a person seems to be an ‘authority’ i.e. a trusted figure on Twitter with many followers, this could have a direct impact on their brand and they will be more likely to feature highly within Google’s SERPs. Tweets that include your brand or a link to your website will also have a direct impact on organic search rankings.

Facebook could also create direct results with regards to Google’s algorithm. The number of people ‘liking’ your brand or website and the number of Facebook shares all impact organic search rankings. If you are a part of a large social network circle, this will only serve to promote your brand and help your website in terms of rank. Social shares are only useful if they are seen by the right people however, namely those who power the link graph. If they see your links and mentions and include you in their content then you’re on the money. It is useful to consider, however, that if a page has a lot of likes or a retweets, it is more likely that it is ranks highly on Google because Google recognised that it’s an awesome page and the likes are just showing people concur.

The direct influence of social signals is pretty obvious. It is worth considering indirect results also when trying to decipher just how powerful social signals can be. Perhaps the most powerful indirect impact of social media is the increased inbound links and citations, which is down to improved online visibility and brand awareness. If other sites can find you they can link to you and links are still seen to be the most valuable way of ranking websites and pages. Again this shows that Google is still relying on the links within pages; social media however is helping to increase the wealth of said links.

Social media is often used in today’s world as an extension of a company’s customer service department. Users can tweet to a company and the likelihood is they will get an answer, generally a helpful one. Similarly, customers can search for help or reviews of a new product on the company’s Facebook page, cutting out the hassle of dealing with irritating automated or outsourced customer service departments or trying to navigate through the endless phone menus.

Social media provides a refreshingly simple and more personal way to get in touch with companies. Consumers create a more organic connection with the brand; loyalty increases and trust between the two parties is established. A brand can define its image through social media and seem less distant and more ‘trendy’.

Sam McRoberts, CEO of Vudu Marketing, claims the number of reviews and the positivity of those reviews are two of the three biggest factors in local search rankings. It is a small stretch to assume that Google uses the same information in its national rankings.

Time spent on a website can be used as a metric for organic search marketing. By measuring the time taken for a user to return to the search page after they have clicked a result, along with analysing the new search query input by the user, Google is able to measure whether the visited site provided the user with the answer or information they were looking for. Google also tracks repeat visits to the same website; frequently visited websites are often shown highly in personalised search results.

Consumers that are familiar with a certain brand via social media interaction are more likely to become repeat visitors to a site and spend more time there. This means the average ‘time on site’ metric is increased while the bounce rate decreases. While there is no definitive answer, it’s more than likely Google uses these metrics for ranking, meaning this is another indirect impact of social signals on Google’s and its search engine algorithm.

In terms of overall importance within the world SEO and with regards to the ranking algorithm used by Google, companies would do well to get up to date with social signals and have a robust strategy that incorporates them.

Social signals are thought to be becoming the new ‘link’ by some within SEO. According to Jayson DeMers, Founder and CEO of AudienceBloom, LLC, a Seattle-based SEO and social media marketing agency, ‘the value of links as a ranking signal won’t completely disappear, [but] direct and indirect impacts of social signals will eventually surpass links as the most valuable ranking factor’. The reasons he gives for this are as follows:

  • the world is becoming more social. The younger generation are being brought up in a world of technology and social media and they are the future consumers. They communicate through Facebook and Twitter etc. and as they age and become consumers, they will spend more time on social media channels, resulting in an increase in social signals and their influence on Google’s search engine.
  • People tend to place more trust in a website recommended by a friend than by a random search on a search engine. Sites with a strong social presence make it easier to share and access and therefore easier to recommend. Google will become more reliant on these shares using them as recommendations, thus boosting the credibility and rankings of the website.
  • Websites with a strong social presence create more sales due to better conversion rates and brand loyalty. Word of mouth referrals are generated and brand awareness spreads, leading to positive reviews and more inbound links. In this case, social media is side stepping the need for Google altogether.

The idea of associating content with an author as opposed to the website it can be found on is on the up. Twitter or Facebook could potentially be used to determine more about the reputation of an author or creator. However, at one point Google may have access to an author’s page and then further down the line may be blocked or unable to access the same page.  Twitter implements nofollow on tweets, making them less accessible. Also, something on the page could change and Google would be left with outdated information. Facebook and Twitter are still of use as lots of people get lots of value from them. They are a great avenue to get visitors and let people know about news relating to a company but Google are not necessarily able to access a signal on them.

Cutts has said how social signals might change: ‘over ten years, we’re more likely to understand identity and to understand the social connections between people, but at least for the time being, we have to deal with the web as it is and what we are allowed to crawl and what we can easily extract from that and count on being able to access that in the future’.

Social signals, in terms of their impact on SEO and Google, have come a long way. Instead of asking if they play a role in organic search ranking, those in the world of SEO are trying to discover the exact correlation between each type of social signal. The true impact of social signals is indefinite, but it is clear to see that social signals are increasing in importance in relation to the ranking algorithm and, with the progression of media, will continue to do so. Brands that are embracing social media enjoy ranking benefits from the impact of social signals leading to increased conversion rates, brand loyalty and the power of word of mouth.

There is a simple path you can follow to see how important the social side of the web is to SEO and your site.

Social media leads people to your site →

they might convert and become a committed reader or loyal customer →

these may end up sharing so you’d gain followers or fans who are helping to distribute your content, both present and future →

more shares equals more views which means more chance of industry influencers noticing you →

more opportunities for gaining authoritative references (links)

On top of this you may get more traffic as consumers begin to associate your site with certain topics and visit as needed.  Social signals have a powerful impact on search rankings. What happens as a result of social activity – maximised opportunity to be spotted by a creator – increases the chance of obtaining links from the people who power the link graph.

For now, Google claims they are not using social signals from the likes of Facebook and Twitter within its ranking algorithm. However, there are many apparent correlations between ranking and social signals, as well as benefits to be gained; social media, if done well, helps with the progression of a brand and its overall impact and success on the internet.

For more information on social signals and how they could impact you, contact today.