The history of Social Signals
A groundbreaking article on the influence of social signals toward a site’s rankings in search engines was written by Danny Sullivan in late 2010. Ahead of its time the article went into great depth as to how these so-called signals could affect a site’s reputation. Bearing in mind that link methods that could be ramped up were the norm for good SEO at that time many of the key players of the web didn’t acknowledge the benefits of going social. Sullivan’s conclusions at that time show that his belief was that Facebook remained a non competitor when it came to getting Google rankings ,but he was one of the first to point out the power of tweets and retweets by respected figures as a means of getting ranked more highly in search results. The legendary Matt Cutts seemed to confirm this with a webmaster video highlighting the role of social signals in good SEO. Well we’ve moved on from that time, or have we…
So have social signals got stronger or…
Naturally, as it has always done, Google plays its cards close to its chest so any study or research that claims to have definitive answers, simply doesn’t. However all the little clues are present that show a gradual rise in importance of social signals. But questions that still remain unanswered are, will they affect future SEO, how do they facilitate a rise in rankings and more importantly what can a webmaster do immediately to improve the way his site ranks? Throughout this article we’ll try to explore these issues and hopefully give you a heads up on using our knowledge to boost your audience and of course your cash flow.
The ins and outs of social signals
Of course looking for a standardized answer is trying to herd cats, what we have established though is that they can either have a very direct influence on your rankings and also some more lateral influences.
The Direct Impact
- Facebook and its assortment of social signals, including fans, likes and followers
- The Twitter connection-followers, tweets about you-preferably with links, and retweets
- And the new kid on the block-Google+ are gaining your attraction too.
The less obvious impact
- You can expect more visitors to come back to your website again and again , and also increase the time they spend on your site (in other words better bounce rates)
- As social reach grows so will your positive PR and hopefully this will be reflected in more positive reviews
- Generally your reach will have grown and this should result in more people visiting your site both through links and recommendations.
Let’s look at these in more depth. As awareness of your brand and the fact that more people are noticing you online increases so will the amount of links that your site has. Links are the one factor that has stood the test of time with Google, and the fact that indirectly social reach improves linkage is a very powerful factor indeed. Matt Cutts pretty much confirmed this in a Danny Sullivan interview suggesting that in the very long term social will grow in importance but links are still very much alive today.
Indirectly you’ll get more positive reviews
In days of yore if a customer had a problem they’d have to pick up the telephone or shockingly write a letter, even for mundane queries. With the online sphere being ever connected some companies even respond to Tweets and treat this as an extension of their customer service. If a company doesn’t support their new products with a strong presence on their Facebook page they’ll soon lose the favour of their customers. This type of personal service brings a very personal face to big business and makes the customer a lot more loyal and trusting of their products. It’s this type of organic interaction that will make a happy customer likely to leave positive reviews on sites like Yelp and Google Local. It really is a way of trendsetting and bringing ‘cool’ to a company’s image. PR departments really love the way that they are able to define a brands personality with a strong online campaign.
Sam Roberts as the Central Executive Officer of Vudu Marketing understands the ins and out of a strong social network, he is firmly of the belief that a large amount of positive reviews can help in local search rankings, more than likely this will also apply to rankings on a larger scale too.
If a site or brand is ‘cool’ then the fact that people will connect with it and associate with that brand means that in a way they will become analogous to distant Facebook friends. Just as people will be likely to check in on a distant Facebook friend every once in a while, so will these fans be likely to check in on the brands website or social pages to see what they are up to. This lowers bounce rates and increases visitors time on site. Again these factors debatably affect search. With bounce rate being a rough metric of whether visitors are getting their desired quality input from a site and time on site showing Google that visitors are genuinely interacting with a sites’s content. For personalised search results it is a fact that Google will tailor searches depending on whether a visitor frequents a particular site on a regular basis. Again the search engine giant remains close-lipped but there is certainly a strong case for this indirect influence really swaying more traffic your way.
Looking to the Future
The way webmasters conduct their SEO must evolve along with rapid changes in the way Google drives searches. Links are of course still very powerful as an easy means of seeing a site’s popularity, but as social sites grow exponentially so does their influence and this must form part of any webmaster’s strategy. Social networks are becoming the norm of online interaction. Facebook, Twitter etc. are not the new innovations they were a few years ago, they are very much the norm with many people growing up with them. With hundreds of millions on Facebook online it is foolish to think that brand awareness is not very much driven by this.
Old values still hold sway though, if word of mouth says that a certain brand has credibility than it will start to gain traction. The difference being that this word of mouth can reach others through social channels too! With your content being shared it is thus much more likely for search engines to use the fact that your site has great “share-ability” to increase your rankings.
And once again we’ve got to remind you of how having a strong social presence will lead to more sales and increased brand awareness, further increasing your credibility through more positive reviews.
Some other trends to watch out for is the fact that Google is starting to associate content not just with sites themselves but even down to their authors. Again evidence can be seen in a Cutt’s video: “Does Google use data from social sites in ranking?” where the concept of AuthorRank starts to be explored. The powerful tool in the presence of Google’s “Google Authorship” is a whole new means of credibility with individual authors able to be tracked from website to website. It’s a brand new way of giving authority to content and even has an associated effect bypassing on great link juice to the domains upon which the author publishes. Things to watch out for in the future are Google + authorship tools which could potentially allow AuthorRank to play a more significant part in driving organic social traffic.
Immediate Social Signals Improvement
Now that you’ve seen the benefits of social media you need to start efficiently planning your site and online campaigns to boost your rankings.
Better ways to plan your website
- Make it easy to share your content. Social buttons can give your readers quick and easy ways to let Facebook, Twitter etc. know about your great content.
- A step beyond sharing with connect buttons. Instead of just allowing them to share content give them quick buttons to Like or Follow you on social sites
- One of the best ways to generate great content time after time is by having a blog
Beyond your own site
There are some big names out there in the field of social media that you really need to know about, the big players like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube need no introduction. But what about the rest, the up and comers and the new trends: include amongst them LinkedIn, Pinterest, and whatever other social platforms you can find. Let’s also not forget the power of guest blog posting.
- If you didn’t know about the social media sites before you certainly do now, so make sure that you, at the very least, go across and set up a full profile on them.
- As content still remains absolutely crucial it remains the best way to get word of your brand out via a company blog. Stick to a regular blogging schedule, at the best you should aim for once away, but if that can’t be managed at least try to keep to a regular schedule such as weekly.
- Generate content. With well managed and good articles dripping with keyword goodness you’ll do we’ll to generate a way to create site content. Even freelance writers can be used to add content, and if it is written well it will trend up your search engine rankings dramatically. The equation is simple-more content means note chances for your site to have keywords which search engines will pick up on and thereby increase your links.
- Now that you’ve got great content being drip fed on to your website you need to do the same thing for your social sites. Your social presence can be managed by yourself if you’ve got the time, or one of the newest sexiest people on the net: a content manager. A content manager needs to be familiar and comfortable with the use of social media to bring your online presence up in strength in this area.
- Why keep your website and social presence separate? Add means and ways for your site content to be shared on social media sites. Remember those buttons for liking you and sharing your content? Now’s the time to go off and add them to your site. Remember some media play better to certain social platforms strengths-videos are likely to be shared on YouTube and a pretty picture in every blogpost makes it possible to share on Pinterest.
Social search whole still not able to be pinned down as the be all and end all of generating web traffic is certainly growing rapidly in importance. It’s driven by interaction with real people which potentially makes it even more powerful than Google search. Just look at the example of music stars like Psy (Gangnam Style) and Justin Bieber who have shot to fame because of the power of social media platforms.
About the Author: Kausik Baisya is a Digital Marketing Professional and an enthusiastic writer, holding an editorial position in Prepgenie, a test prep provider that offers exam preparation courses for GAMSAT, PCAT, HPAT, LNAT, UMAT and UKCAT.