The Role of Social Influence on SEO Ranking Signals

By Tad Miller | Dec 29, 2010
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A lot has happened since my last blog post in November, “Twitter and Facebook Links Worthless for SEO? I Wouldn’t Be Too Sure About That“.  Danny Sullivan confirmed my belief with verification from the Search Engines that social signals are being utilized in Search Engine ranking algorithms for more than Real Time and Social Search.  See: “What Social Signals Do Google & Bing Really Count“.  This video from Matt Cutts also validated that this is happening with Google:

In the video Matt says that Google is trying the figure out the “reputation of an author or creator on Twitter or Facebook” Matt goes on to say “Don’t think that you have to get a bunch of followers, the way people used to go out a get a lot of links.  You have to think about”what are the followers who mean quality.  Who are the people that are not just bots, or some software program or things like that.”

Google said in its interview with Danny Sullivan that it uses Author Authority in its Real Time Search “Top Links” section and hinted that this could be rolled out a little more broadly to regular SERPs.

Google Real Time Top LinksAt about the same time Google started showing the top links section in Real Time search it also started showing a “Most Shared” section on Google News pages.  This appears to be measuring just pure volume of times a “news” link has been shared on social sites outside of Google.

Google News Most Shared

The Social Circle

Ever since Google rolled out “Social Search” it has given users the ability to tie together content from your “Social Circle” of followers with search results, provided you establish a Google Buzz Profile that gives Google the ability to make those kind of connections.  Even if you don’t have a Google Profile, Google has access to the Twitter “fire hose” of data and can see any site relationships you list on your Twitter profile.

Google Social Circle

A+B=Author Authority?

The combination of a Search Engine’s ability to see your Social Graph of followers, combined with volume metrics like number of times shared or retweeted obviously gives them the ability to determine something like Author Authority.  But, these are algorithmic equations we are talking about to factor Influence into search engine result pages.  It’s more complicated than that.  I really think Rand Fishkin is on the right track as to the factors that may be determining Author Authority.  To paraphrase:

  • The Quality of Your Followers and Friends – you don’t get credit for being followed by a lot of bots
  • Importance of Friends and Followers – You have to have Authority Followers to be an Authority Author
  • Analysis of Friend Follower Ratios – Is there actual engagement between you and your followers or is it simply a matter of I follow you/you follow me and not much more than that
  • Topic Focus and Relevance – are all your tweets about a single subject like engineering? Then that one tweet about Celebrity Gossip likely isn’t going to be an “authority” tweet with much “juice”.
  • Association Bias – You likely don’t get any credit with the algorithm from an authority standpoint for sharing your own content from your own site.  They will figure out which content you own – especially if you have a Google Profile that tells them what your content is or put your website URL on your Twitter profile.
  • Diversity of Shares – having 50 tweets of a link from one account, like having 50 links from one site, is not nearly as valuable as 50 tweets from 50 unique accounts.

Big Results come from Your Authority Followers sharing Your Content

You need to do your job promoting your content to your followers, but it’s what your network does (and what their network does) and who your network is that likely matters from the SEO side of things.  You can insert all of the Social Media buzzwords here on how to accomplish that “the right way” right here – But the reality is all of the heavy lifting has to be done by others and not you.  You have to become an authority to have authority followers boost your contents rankings.

Use Tools to Measure Influence and “Think” like a Search Engine

There are several free tools that “measure” social media influence, and it’s likely that search engines like Google and Bing will look at Authority almost the same way that the tools do.

Klout is by far the most common known online influence tool.  It measures things like reach, amplification of message, unique retweets, follower ratio and Network quality.  I like it and I’m of the opinion that it is a great place to find influential people to follow.

PeerIndex is also an interesting tool to find influential people within certain topics.  PeerIndex measures Authority, Activity and Audience and it’s likely that Search Engines are doing the same to determine Author Authority.

I highly recommend checking out these tools and others on JD Lasica’s “14 Free Tools to Measure Your Social Influence“.

What Should You Do?

  • Court Influence – use tools like Klout to find Influential people and dazzle them – or at the very least engage with them nicely.  Share, Retweet and engage.
  • Give Google the road map to your Social Graphestablish a Google Profile with links to all of your Social Network Profiles.  You need it for Social Search anyway.  It is the equivalent of an XML sitemap for your Social Graph.
  • Be cool – don’t push your network to share your content.  Promote and be noticed for doing a good job, don’t stalk and pursue.
  • Make it easy to share your content – use a “Tweet This” button on your pages and a “Share” on whatever social network button on your pages.  Get a “share” from everyone, not just the highly influential.
  • Blog – the way to build authority on a topic is to write great content about it.  It is a lot of work and I’m not in any position to lecture on doing it, because I really need to do it more.
  • The Golden Rule – just because someone isn’t an authority now, doesn’t mean that is always going to be the case.  Share the content of others and they will share your content.
  • Take Time – If you are as busy as I am, getting time to engage, follow and promote on social networks is difficult.  I admittedly leave people hanging that reach out to me.  I can’t do that and you shouldn’t do it either.  If you haven’t started down the social path do it and if you are already down it like I am, don’t neglect it.

How Much Does This Stuff Really Matter Right Now?

If you watch the Matt Cutts video, it sounds like Google is really just getting started with using social links as a ranking factor on regular Search Engine rankings.  He hints that it could become something Google expands the use of in the future, but never definitively says what the plan is for the future.

I am of the belief that social sharing on Twitter and other social sites is destroying the link graph and that search engines will have to embrace it even more in the future to ensure relevant and timely Search Engine results pages.  Look for social links to really start mattering in 2011.

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