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The social side of search – ranking factors and tactics

September 2, 2011

It’s becoming apparent that getting a web page to rank highly in search engines also requires focusing on optimizing social media to support SEO efforts. In SEOmoz’s 2011 search ranking factors biennial survey of 132 SEO experts social metrics made up over 7% of all factors analyzed, amounting to an increase of over 2% since the last survey in 2009. Even though some may argue these findings saying that social site data plays more of a factor or even less the observation we can make is that it does play a role.

In December of 2010 Danny Sullivan wrote an interesting post for Search Engine Land titled “What Social Signals Do Google & Bing Really Count?  In his article both Bing and Google admit that Twitter references play a part in their algorithms.

Question: If an article is retweeted or referenced much in Twitter, do you count that as a signal outside of finding any non-nofollowed links that may naturally result from it?

Bing: We do look at the social authority of a user. We look at how many people you follow, how many follow you, and this can add a little weight to a listing in regular search results. It carries much more weight in Bing Social Search, where tweets from more authoritative people will flow to the top when best match relevancy is used.

Google: Yes, we do use it as a signal. It is used as a signal in our organic and news rankings. We also use it to enhance our news universal by marking how many people shared an article.

As we can see from Danny’s article Google already uses data from social media sites like Twitter as factors that influence its ranking results. Taking this a step further we can assume that Google will also use the number of +1s a page receives and Google Plus shares as additional social ranking factors. Link building and on-page optimization have long been the tactics used by marketers to improve ranking in Google and its competitors. Now, however, we need to take into account social factors as well. Social media will also increase the buzz factor for a particular site or page, which will help it rank. Social media and SEO now work hand in hand.  While links will always be the currency of SEO that ensures top rankings social networking is becoming the relationship side of SEO that seems to be the future of the web.  Social connections are highly valued now, especially by Google.

I’ve summarized below Gareth Owen’s Top 13 Social Media Ranking Factors.

1. Number of Followers (Twitter) – The more followers you have, the more authoritative your Twitter persona and the more value will be associated with your URL.

2. Quality of Followers (Twitter) – The more high value people who follow you, and retweet your stuff, the better.

3. Relevance of Followers (Twitter) – It’s important to get retweets from accounts that are specific to your industry.

4. Number of Retweets (Twitter) – The more your content is reproduced by others the more authoritative it is.

5. Number of Fans (Facebook) – if you decide to engage with customers and potential customers on Facebook, the total number of likes your page receives will add value to your URL.

6. Number of Comments (Facebook) – Successful Facebook pages include a lot of content written by other people.

7. Number of Views (YouTube) – Any content you upload to YouTube should link to your site in the description, and the more times it is viewed, the more value will be attributed to your video.

8. User Comments (YouTube) – The more you comment, the more link juice is passed back to your profile.

9. References From Independent Profiles (YouTube) – If your link from your video passes some value, imagine how much more value would be passed if you could get other people to parody your work and include links to you from their profiles.

10. Title of Video (YouTube) – Any references to your target keywords in the title of the video will help ensure that any authority passed will be relevant to a specific theme.

11. Percent of Likes vs. Dislikes (YouTube) – The more liked your content is, the more authoritative it is.

12. Positive vs. Negative Brand Mentions (All Social Media) – Google has already made investment in this area in 2011, so it’s well worth monitoring.

13. Number of Social Mentions (All Potential Media) – Total visibility across all social media shows that your content is important to all people and not just a result of a large special offer for Facebook/Twitter users.

It’s important that we leverage social media by implementing the following tactics and enable the crowd to improve your websites visibility in search:

1. Create a social media strategy focusing on as many relevant social venues as possible. Know the audience you are targeting, write the content to please them and spread it socially to that audience. Choose the right social media sites for your audience and market. Start following your customers, subject matter experts and brand advocates and share their content when appropriate. They will likely reciprocate. Remember to use all the functionality available in the networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook groups and Facebook pages to share your content. Twitter lists and Google+ Circles are also other great ways to attract  interest and share content with a relevant, segmented audience.

2. Create links to your business website from all of your social media presences. This will drive more qualified traffic to your site and provide the serendipitous benefit of causing your content to go viral, potentially garnering more backlinks, shares, likes and retweets etc.

3. Link from your business website to your social media presences. This will inform customers where you are active and provide the opportunity for a more engaging, informal experience. Participate actively in these networks sharing relevant helpful content and forming relationships. By creating relationships you will likely acquire more influential, qualified visitors providing an opportunity to create advocates who will share and recommend your content within their own networks.

4. Your content should also be fresh with the capability to be easily shared on other social media sites. It’s paramount that you implement social sharing buttons and components like the tweet, like and Google +1 buttons etc.

5. We know that search engines also index social elements such as tweets and LinkedIn profiles so don’t forget to do your keyword research and include those words in your profiles and posts.

6. Remember to promote different types of content such as videos, blog posts, podcasts, images etc. in social venues and link back from these assets to your main website or a relevant landing page.

7. Use social bookmarking sites like Delicious to share your content and tag it with keywords.

Not only can optimized social media presences and posts help with webpage ranking they can also improve a brand’s search engine shelf space ownership. The definition of search engine shelf space ownership is how much of the search engine results (SERP) first page your brand’s content objects occupy. Social profiles and posts, like a webpage, are considered content objects and many are indexed by search engines. Therefore, they provide an additional opportunity for brand visibility and content promotion.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 2, 2011 6:57 pm

    Interesting and informative points! I’m interested in learning more about how Google tries to assess brand mention sentiment as positive or negative. It’s my understanding that once a certain viewer count is surpassed on YouTube, that they’ll approach the owner with the offer to monetize the video as well as attributing a better authority ranking on it.

    So, will this blog UI support Google +1s soon?🙂 Happy Labor Day (weekend)!

  2. September 2, 2011 7:23 pm

    Hi Mayo, Gareth Owen doesn’t cite his sources but if you do a search on “Google and sentiment analysis” you will find some pertinent returns. You might find Mike Moran’s post “How is Google feeling about sentiment analysis?” @ interesting. With regards to the
    +1, I wish would implement it on our blogs😦.

  3. September 4, 2011 7:20 pm

    Good job Frank. See also my Inform IT article that cites the same SEOMoz study: –James Mathewson

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