However, I’m here to show you why it matters. Specifically, why it matters if you’re in the business of search engine optimization.
It’s time to stop thinking of SEO and social media as being separate things; search and social media are being rapidly integrated into the evolving web. Search engines are adapting to social networking at an impressive rate; social affects search rankings almost as quickly as they appear on the scene. Social media signals and their effects on search results is very much in its infancy, so many of these benefits are only lightly tested (your mileage may vary).
Helps Content Get Indexed Faster
Social media gets your content indexed faster. If you’re in a news-related field, this is crucial; the faster you get into Google’s index for your keyword terms, the quicker you show up at the top of the results.
A study by SEOmoz way back in 2010 showed that tweets brought Googlebot to a post within 90 seconds almost every time, regardless of the number of retweets, while simply linking to a new post brought Googlebot to it within a matter of hours.
While the first touch was significantly reduced, the indexation time was still quite a bit longer than allowing content to be indexed by simply linking to it internally. But, when tweets, retweets and internal linking were combined, the indexation time was cut nearly in half, from an average of 8 hours (when linking internally only) to 4-5 hours.
(Images courtesy of SEOmoz)
Submitting a sitemap, tweeting the article and linking to it internally? Near-instantaneous indexation.
Can Temporarily Increase Rankings for Terms in the Share (QDF)
Here we have another SEOmoz case study on Twitter and its effects on search rankings. It treats both Google+ and Twitter’s effects on rankings, before and after Google had direct access to Twitter’s data. Their partnership ran out in July of 2011, but even without direct access to the data, this study showed that Google used tweets and retweets to influence their rankings.
This triggers the freshness portion of Google’s algorithm–often called QDF or Query Deserves Freshness–which occasionally places content that Google deems more relevant and timely to a searcher’s particular query.
In their study, a new URL was tweeted and retweeted close to 300 times. Within a few hours, the URL ranked #2 for its main term: Assist a Mom. By the end of the day, it had reached the #1 position. As of this writing, the targeted URL remains the #1 result for the term “assist a mom.”
Similar effects were shown when Google+ was used in place of Twitter.
Raises Your Site’s Ranking for those in your network
If you think rising from a #25 result to a #3 result just by adding someone as a friend on Facebook isn’t the greatest thing ever, you need to re-evaluate your marketing.
Nothing is outside of Google’s vision. They don’t have direct access to Facebook or Twitter’s data, but they manage to use them both to influence the results you see.
Image courtesy of DesignTaxi
Google even uses shares on networks YOU DON’T PARTICIPATE IN via people you ARE connected to via other networks.
Google +1/Google Plus increases rankings for webpages, ads and images
One of the primary reasons Google is strongarming users into adopting Google+ is because it gives them information and usage statistics about their audience that they don’t already have. And, as we can see, they flaunt that data anywhere they can manage it.
Adding +1’s does more than increase the visual appeal of the search results. They’re a lot like links in that they act like votes for page, ad or image.
The more votes you get, the higher you rank! Google wants to leverage your social networks to influence rankings in your search results. You can even see these metrics in your Google Webmaster’s Tools account.
Image courtesy of SEO.com
Alright, so this is all great in theory, but how much does it actually affect search rankings? The first image is a search for “Utah SEO Services” with the personalization off.
Position #50, roughly
Position #6, yeah, how about THAT increase?
Going from position #50 to #6 by just adding someone to your circles on Google Plus and +1’ing a page? That’s pretty much the best thing to happen to online marketing since the link graph.
Improves CTR for Results via Rich Snippet Integration
Google+’s integration with organic search results has opened up a great deal of potential for CTR-increasing rich-snippet goodness. The rel=”author” tag, brand page direct links, +1’s, facepiles, and share annotations.
Try a search for “+A” with auto-complete on and you’ll see a variety of suggested results like those shown in the image below.
Branded SERP Takeover (Reputation Management)
If you’ve been working on a brand for a while, you’ll know that wherever there’s a brand, there are detractors. One of the most important things in online reputation management is owning the SERP for your brand. The last thing you want someone to see when running a search on your brand name is “www.yourbrandsucks.com” at the #2 position.
Adding branded social profiles allows you to completely take over the SERP for your brand, as demonstrated exceptionally by Bruce Clay.
Well, almost exceptionally (that one Fail image in there, pity).
Social networking profiles have an exceptional amount of authority, so it makes it extremely easy to take over a search engine result page. Toss on a Twitter account, a Flickr Profile, a Facebook Fan Page, a Google Plus page, a YouTube channel, and suddenly you’ve got the top seven positions for your brand.
Author Authority, tracked via Google Profile and rel=”author”
There are rumors that Google gives more weight to authors with established track records. So when you slap a rel=”author” tag on an article you’ve written, it could be boosting your search rankings.
If Google can track your authorship across the web, they can see how your content has been received over the years, and they can potentially apply some additional weight to your articles, regardless of what website it lives on.
Even if it doesn’t add authority to your posts, check out that “More by [Author]” link. You better believe that’s linking to pretty much everything you’ve ever written. Here’s a glimpse at what that link points to (for Yoast/Joost de Valk)
Social profile followed links
And finally, social profiles are a wealth of free, high-authority, followed links. Google+ may be the most notable. You can fill your profile with followed links to your site from your sidebar and in your bio. You can do this from your personal profile page and/or your business page. While this is less of an effect directly related to social media than some of the others here, it’s still a consideration to be made.
I will keep this post up-to-date with the latest info of how social media affects search. Did I miss something? Let me know in the comments or drop me an email at mmonsen(at)whitefireseo(dot)com.