Social media marketing has grown up. Those still labeling social networking as nothing more than a fad just need to take a look around (The Social Network won three Oscars and has been called the movie that defines Gen X). Any marketing professional who has yet to incorporate some aspect of social media marketing into their business model might want to consider a new profession.
While it’s still tricky to measure monetary ROI, social media is here to stay. It has already severely impacted how consumers and companies interact, how people connect and communicate with each other and can make or break a brand online. It was just a matter of time before social media starting impacting SEO.
Back in December 2010, Google’s Matt Cutts released a video confirming that Google looks at social sites like Twitter and Facebook to help determine ranking positions. Matt Cutts went on to say that not only was Google incorporating social networking sites into their ranking algorithm, but that Google was also figuring out how to take into account the credibility and authority of the author behind a Tweet or Facebook post.
In Danny Sullivan’s Search Engine Land article, he reported that “who you are as a person on Twitter can impact how well a page does in regular web search. Authoritative people on Twitter lend their authority to pages they tweet.” He posted his email conversation with Google, who wrote that a link carried more weight based on the author, “…especially in the “Top links” section [of Google Realtime Search].” The more a link is reTweeted, Liked or reposted, the stronger the social signal is behind it. This indicates to the search engines that the link is useful and relevant to users, so it is more likely to rank.
So what does all this mean for SEO?
The use of social signals means that companies that have social networking sites but haven’t been actively using them need to pump up their online activity. Since Google recently moved their social search results from the bottom of the page to the main body of search results, having an active social media campaign is more important than ever.
All SEO and other marketing professionals need to have a robust social media marketing program as it makes sense for their clients/company. They need to be producing quality content that followers/Fans are going to want to share and republish. It’s not enough to remind people of the company’s existence, social media marketing has to give users a reason to connect and engage. The better a brand reaches our across its social networking profiles, the more links are going to be generated, the better authority it is going to build for itself and the more likely the brand is to rank well.
It’s important to remember that social media and social signals are not the magic bullet to boosting a site’s rank. It’s only one more piece of the ever-expanding puzzle that determines a site’s importance and relevancy. That’s why companies can’t sacrifice their offline and other online marketing techniques in favor of social networking. Marketing campaigns need to be diversified so that is one section takes a hit, the others can pick up the slack (The recent Google update that took on content farms, for example). A well-defined and blended approach helps a company from all angles, steadily increasing its perceived value.
And it’s inevitable that because Google declared social signals to be a contributing factor of their algorithm, the spammers and black hat SEO practitioners are going to try to find a way to game the system. Just like content farms cluttered Google’s search results, it shouldn’t be surprising to see social search spam trying to take over. It’s already evident when companies create generic profiles to follow themselves in an effort to boost their follower/Fan numbers. That’s why Google is trying to incorporate author authority into the mix, to weed out those fake online personalities that exist just to endorse a brand/company. Companies should focus on attracting real, human followers to help promote and spread their messaging. Connecting with industry authorities lend credibility, both in the eyes of the search engines and consumers.
The Bottom Line – Social signals and SEO
SEO is an on-going process. Building meaningful relationships with consumers takes time and effort. A company is not going to build up their social signal overnight without raising an eyebrow or two from the search engines. It’s all about establishing significant connections with real people, so useful links are given the credit they deserve. Some level of social media marketing should be incorporated into every company’s marketing campaign, as it best fits.
Nick Stamoulis | Search Engine Optimization Journal | @NickStamoulis