The impact of social media on SEO

Over the years SEO has changed dramatically, so much so in fact that some of the techniques we were using 5 years ago, are now frowned upon. Google and the other search engines have had to ensure they take advantage of new trends and technologies to help them return the best quality and the most relevant results for their users.

Over the last few years social media has grown incredibly quickly (not exactly breaking news I know), we now see more than 200 million Twitter users and 800 million Facebook users.

In the context of this article though, here is a more interesting stat: On Facebook, 1 million links are shared every 20 minutes.

With this much content being shared and essentially endorsed by users, it’s surely a great source for the search engines to find what’s relevant to its users. It should be no surprise then to learn that Google are increasing not only their presence in the social media sphere, but also the way that social media affects the search results.

Quality

Quality has always been Google’s favourite word. Let me take you back to earlier in 2011 (from February to be precise) when Google announced their biggest algorithm update for the year, known to the wider community as ‘Panda’. The panda update was described by Google like this:

“Our goal is simple: to give people the most relevant answers to their queries as quickly as possible”

“This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.”

Breaking the second paragraph down, we can see that Google are looking to provide users with content that is most relevant to them, based on having information that is useful and of high quality. Imagine then, what Google could do with the 1 million links from Facebook every 20 minutes. Not only does this provide Google with a constantly changing list of web pages that are being endorsed by real people (not being manipulated by traditional SEO and link building methods), but also is kept up to date to the second. Is there a better measure for what Google’s user will consider good quality? Probably not…

Social Signals

This is why social media now has to start playing a role in your search marketing. So how is social media going to affect Google’s ranking of your content?

•  It’s going to be indexing your content more quickly than ever before
Releasing new content to your social channels as soon as it’s pushed live will have it indexed by Google almost instantly too.

•  It’s going to be ranking content that’s relevant at certain times
For example, before 15th April 2010, users searching for “Iceland volcano” were likely to be doing geography homework. During the ‘ash cloud’ period, results for searches for the same term should be returning different results altogether, focusing on flight cancelations for example. Using traditional ranking methods, this change might take a number of hours (or even days) for these most relevant results to appear. Using social signals, Google would be able to update its results almost instantly.

•  It’s going to be ranking content that’s relevant to a large number of users more prominently
Pieces of content that are shared over and over by real people (or ‘go viral’) will be seen as more relevant, than those that have just a strong link profile. Being shared is a much better (and much more natural) measure of quality.

How is this going to change the way that SEO works? There are 2 main aspects to think about:

•  The practice of writing content for content’s sake isn’t going to be enough anymore. Content needs to have massive appeal with your target audience, and sharing of content needs to be highly encouraged across your site and any other marketing activity you do.

•  Manual link building that’s undertaken now as a standard part of SEO campaigns might start to die out in favour of better quality recommendations and links from real people on social platforms. This means that your content and the quality of that content, is going to need to be good enough for people to naturally link to.

Google Plus and more…

Google is very serious about social. Google Plus, Google’s own social network, has grown to 62 million members and forecasts suggest membership could be as high as 400 million by the end of 2012.

Google is also in the process of rolling out Google Search Plus Your World, which is giving users the chance to get results that are customised to them by pulling in data (like conversations, user photos, important people) from their Google Plus accounts in to the Google search results. See more in this video:

 

 

This week Google have announced changes to allow users to share content to Google Plus from the trusty grey bar at the top of Google‘s homepage and search results pages. This is yet another huge endorsement of Google Plus and even more reason to believe it will be integral to online marketing (search, social and more) in future.

These changes to Google’s algorithm and user interface are not half measures and mean that the coupling of social and SEO is here to stay.

So what should I do now?

If you’re not taking part in the social media phenomenon yet, then now’s the time. Start monitoring, create a strategy and roll out onto relevant platforms. If you find social media a bit mystifying, take a look at our free guide on the subject.

If you’re already running social platforms as part of your overall strategy, it’s time for a content strategy. Key things to consider are:

•  What content (text, video, images, tools for example) are you going to produce?

•  Which platforms can you share them on?

•  How will they appeal to your target audience and how can you encourage virality?

For more information on our content workshops and strategy planning sessions, contact us today.