Search and social media are joined at the hip – or are they? As search engine rankings get more complex, and the dust has settled on search engine updates from the last 18 month, marketers are left wondering what’s next.
Although social media and search engine optimization used to be in two different camps of online marketing, they seem to be increasingly linked together. In 2010, Google implemented a more social friendly search algorithm that took author reputation, bookmarking, commenting and other social “signals” (likes, retweets, shares and more) into account when presenting their search engine results. In addition, they began to implement the “Search Plus Your World” option for searchers who were logged into their Google accounts while searching. Other search engines quickly followed suit, and SEOs everywhere began to emphasize social media for optimization.
But what kind of social media and how many social media signals are a factor in search engine results?
According to with Rand Fishkin, CEO of SEOMoz, there are two basic types of social media signals being used for rankings (as of a year ago):
- Direct Signals – Both Twitter and Facebook were (at the time of Rand’s video) selling data to both Google and Bing. However, since the time of Rand’s interview, Twitter has stopped sharing its data with Google, and Google+ authority has replaced some of the functionality that Twitter was providing. The direct signals help calculate content authority and author authority, which could lead to higher search engine results for sites that were popular and well connected on social media.
- Latent Signals – These signals are a result of being connected to other people who have influence in your industry. If your company’s Twitter profile is connected to other influencers in your industry you’re likely to develop more social signals and authority – which may lead to higher search engine results for your pages.
This was the general understanding of the relationship between search and social for the last year or so. However, at a more recent SMX Advanced event Matt Cutts, Google’s search spam authority, downplayed the importance of social signals and warned SEOs to not abandon link building just yet.
Cutts did confirm that there are direct links between social media activity and search engine results, but he also pointed out that SEOs shouldn’t forget about link building. Adopting an “all social, all the time” attitude and creating social media spam isn’t the way to build search engine authority. He also noted that in 10 years, social media may be the best way to go for link building, but that’s not the case at the moment.
Bottom line: Social media will expose your brand to a wider audience – an audience that could eventually link to you, post about you and throw some PageRank your way. The more people that see your content, the more likely you’ll be linked to. But, don’t pursue social media for SEO purposes alone. Do it for its marketing, traffic and conversion capabilities, and look at search engine optimization as a side benefit. This will help you stay valuable, relevant and interesting for your target audience and build eventual search engine authority.