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How Social Media Affects Search and Why You Should Care

// January 3, 2011 // Social Media // 10 Comments

Something big happened in the worlds of social media and search this month.  After much speculation about search engines factoring social media influence into website rankings, Danny Sullivan took it upon himself to interview Bing and Google to find out that indeed, social media IS affecting search rankings.  BIG STUFF!

What I mean is, if someone as influential as @bgindra shares a link to this blog post, it is that much more likely to show up in search results than it would if I just “SEO’d” the heck out of it…hint hint. So suddenly, in the world of search, people matter!

In case you think this is old news, we’re not talking about social search ranking, such as Google Social Search or Realtime Search. We’re talking about ordinary web search. Aside from their super secret algorithms, we already know that Google takes into consideration the PageRank of a webpage as well as the links pointing to that page and the HTML title tag.  But now, rather than just looking at the web page’s authority, these search engines are starting to look at human authority too and so far, Twitter is the biggest indicator.

Both Google and Bing have announced that authoritative people on Twitter lend their authority to pages they tweet. In the case of Bing, the search engine takes into consideration how often a link has been tweeted, as well as how influential the users are that share it. Google answered that it only uses the data in limited situations (as vague as their algorithm) but they ARE using it.

As for Facebook, Bing pays attention to links shared that people share on their profile if they are marked as “everyone” and links shared from company pages.  Google doesn’t factor in personal wall data at all and treats links shared on company pages the same way they treat tweeted links. It’s a bit harder for the search engines to determine the authority of a person on Facebook than it is on Twitter because of the lack of public information so really they’re just looking for trends to surface that will help them rank a webpage.

So how does this affect your marketing plan? Here are my three takeaways that you should keep in mind as social media and search blend and you plan for 2011:

1.    Get on board

Your business,  product or you need to have a presence on social media NOW.  If you’ve been avoiding it because you don’t care to fill that piece of your marketing plan just yet, now is the time (how many times have you heard that!?).  Everything is integrating together and will continue to be. If you build your presence now, you just may build the relationship with influencers that you’ll need when social media and search truly mesh. It is possible that one day we will see that you can’t have a good ranking without social media influence.

Furthermore, no matter what you think of company pages, they are currently the most available for search engines. So if you’re thinking of starting one, now is a good time. If you already have one, get in the practice of thinking about search when you’re busy being social. Use keywords that support your search goals when linking to your website or blog posts and start networking with other company pages to help share your content (more on that in number three).

2.   Make influence a priority

Influencers are more important than ever. You can find them by  looking at their Klout score or simply check out the size of their network and interactions. When you find people that are impressive, engage.  Target the influencers that truly fit your niche and share your interests.  Take the time to figure out what they love and then create a strategy around talking with them. If you build trust and respect with influential people, there’s a good chance they’ll share your links.

Also remember that being an influencer is just as important as having relationships with influencers. Luckily, there are steps you can take to make yourself more influential. For some insight on this, check out @CallanPaola’s blog post on how to raise your Klout score. As social media and search continue to merge, who you are and who you know is affecting far more than just your ego.

3.    Be social:

Being social is a BIG deal. I’m not talking about just being on social networks but interacting with people and sharing content. There’s a lot of talk about link baiting, but if you look at it as simply being social, you’ll have much more success. If I share your link, you are more likely to return the favor. If I put my content all over the web, people are more likely to find it (a little bit of strategy here helps of course). If I include your opinions in my blog post, you’ll may want to boast about it as I alluded to in number one. If I partner with other company pages on Facebook, we open doors for each other to share information with like-minded audiences.

How social media affects search Getting the hang of being social, being influential, and working with influencers is a big deal already. Now that it’s affecting search, it’s taken over even a bigger piece of your marketing pie.  Carpe diem!

A big thanks to Danny Sullivan for his informative interview with Google and Bing. If you’re interested in seeing their responses to all his questions, you can check it out here:

    author bio

    Reputation Supervisor. Big fan of the media relations biz. She likes the chase for the story and loves the catch. When she's not working the media or buried in a good read, you'll find her somewhere outside - running, hiking or just hanging out with her pup.


    1. Wow, this is big stuff. I have felt like they were taking social queues into account in their algorithm, but this is nice proof.

      To me, it seams like twitter is becoming even more of powerhouse for connecting to the right people, and getting content noticed, and this just adds to its arsenal. Great post, thanks.

    2. I think you highlight some important developments in our industry. I also agree that the convergence between Search and Social is underway. However, that is where my thoughts on this diverge.

      Out of character for your blog, I think there’s a lot of “Kool Aid” in this particular post. What I mean by that is this; your blog by nature teaches us to be skeptical. “Don’t Drink the Kool Aid” implies that we challenge industry ‘group think’ and scrutinize the common wisdom.

      Coming from very ROI focused organizations, I find this assertion lacking much of what I would need to shift resources to Social Media channels. This is a “Big Deal,” but not one that affects my pocket book as a media buyer because I cannot measure the impact of Social on SEO directly and in a manner that most marketers can put a budget around.

      Does SEO and Social help from a holistic standpoint? Yes. And should the rising tide help all other channels? Yes, theoretically.

      But at the end of the day, unfortunately this development isn’t going to help anyone in a *measureable* way. We will still be left wondering how to attach an ROI to Social. Moreover, SEO might even get more credit for the search results that Social is actually influencing. I’ve seen some sophisticated analytics in my time, but nothing that can measure something that esoteric.

      In the end, this movement could actually give Search and SEO more credit than it’s due, assuming traditional unilateral measurement tools are applied.

      I think Social measurement and accounting of search influence is something that needs to come a long way for direct marketers to spend against these findings. When “big changes” and convergence happens, it becomes very difficult to prove to your CFO which channel deserves the investment.

      As a huge champion for the use social media in the enterprise and in small business, I want to make sure we are being incredulous about the developments that affect our pocket books and be clear about the results and ROI to be gained from it.

      I feel like the convergence of SEO and Social is more Kool Aid than Kool Beans at this juncture.

    3. Christopher -
      Thank you for your comment and support.

      Matt -
      I’m glad to hear you truly understand the purpose of our blog and I appreciate your comments. Of course, I must object to calling this entire post “kool aid.” Danny Sullivan’s interview, which I based this post on, is fact. Google and Bing did in fact say that they are taking social queues into consideration with their search algorithms. The question I believe you were raising, is whether or not this fact means that marketers should give social media a bigger part of the marketing budget. I think this is up in the air for many (due to ROI). My intention with this post was not to recommend that people move SEO budgets to Social media. If that was not clear, my apologies. Rather, I see this news as just one more of the many reasons that businesses should have a presence on social media. Soon, people will be utilizing social media to affect their search rankings in addition to what they’re already doing. I really think that’s kool beans.

    4. Personally, I just don’t believe Danny’s hype. “Google answered that it only uses [Twitter] data in limited situations” / and it can’t interpret Facebook data doesn’t seem like enough for me to regard this as “BIG NEWS” or a BIG deal. I think it’s just social media group think and doesn’t imply we should invest deeper in social. I firmly believe that ‘we’ should invest in social for many other reasons; ones that have a clearer path towards ROI.

      Search and social can be a thought provoking theory, but not a lot of actual strategy changes because of it. That’s all I am saying.

      Love your blog, love your posts Lizzie. Keep up the good writing. I only choose to challenge your thinking here because I respect your platform as a place for intellectual discussion.

    5. I respect that. Only time will tell how it will all pan out! Thanks for the challenge.

    6. Lizzie,
      Good post. Most marketers have yet to realize that social media is a network of tribes. Within each of them, there is typically a very deep set of influencers so there’re plethora of the right people to choose from based on who is the most relevant to your strategy. To have them as Twitter followers and/or Facebook friends, to reference their posting in ones posts, to have them as a social connections is an asset that can pay-off in many ways, including search optimization. Of course you have to be in it for the long haul because, in order to cut through the noise and appear ‘real’, a handful of people who frequently share brand updates with the communities they belong to is much more valuable than a mass of people that mention a brand/product once in a blue moon.

    7. Thatnks for the post. I just had this very conversation with a colleague today and he was positive that social media had absolutely no impact on search engines. Rather than gloat, I may just not say anything and let him find out the hard way…

    8. Twitter and even facebook is very good if one know how to do proper use of this 2 sites , and developers or designers or seo guys who feel like there is no need for social media marketing will be left behind.

    9. Hi there, You have done a fantastic job. I will certainly digg it and personally suggest to my friends. I am sure they will be benefited from this web site.

    10. Wow! It’s interesting to see the different comments from this post early in the year. I expect Christopher would have a different opinion now after Panda and the introduction of Google’s +1.

      In either case, social media expenses are measurable in increased traffic/SERPs, and then connected to the bottom line in increased sales. I know the connection is not direct, but there is still a connection.