For years we have had to explain to our SEO clients the idea of “nofollow links” not really passing on any SEO benefits for the anchor text of the link to search engines. We have had to explain that yes, while a website link shared on Facebook or Twitter can generate a lot of traffic to a website, those links don’t really pass on Page Rank that can boost a keyword ranking for the page shared. For the most part from the perspective of Page Rank this is still true.
But, even Google recognizes that the web is changing, in a recent Google Webmaster Central Forum, Googler John Mu stated:
Various parts of our algorithms can apply to sites at different times, depending on what our algorithms find. While we initially rolled out this change earlier this year, the web changes, sites change, and with that, our algorithms will continually adapt to the current state on the web, on those sites.
Their has been a shift in recent years with how people share content or link to content. I’m not declaring that blogs are dead by any means, but micro-blogging with Twitter and share links on Facebook are how people share links these days in big numbers. Google has to see this decline and needs to incorporate Twitter and Facebook links to stay competitive. Their real time search product is based on that idea.
Last year Rand Fishkin insightfully wrote:
Twitter is cannibalizing blogging. People who previously might have blogged about a site/news article/clever piece of linkbait are simply tweeting it, and save their blog posts for more comprehensive essays and broader subjects.
This last one is fascinating to me, and carries some interesting connotations. If the trend is real, and continues, it seems very likely to me that the search engines will need to start relying on Twitter’s tweet graph, particularly for “new” information and content?
This video outlining the same ideas just came out today:
If the Google Algorithm, or Algorithms, adapt to the way the web changes, it makes sense that they would try to incorporate the massive number of shared, but nofollowed links on Twitter and Facebook into parts of their algorithm, which is apparently composed of 200 or more ranking factors. Bruce Clay was recently quoted that he believes that their are likely thousands of Google ranking factors and that there are different algorithms for different search intents. It’s entirely possible that some of those algorithms might not be based on the traditional Page Rank that SEO’s have been optimizing to for years.
I’m not alone in believing that Social Graph metrics are starting to make their way into Search Engine Ranking Algorithms in increasing ways in the future. They are already part of Real Time Search and Social Search (again different search products for different search intents).
Shortened Twitter Links
Most of the links shared on Twitter are shortened to make them fit into the tight 140 character space limits of Twitter. With a shortened link, there really isn’t any anchor text for a search engine to associate the linked page with any keyword text (even if these links were followed and passed on Page Rank). But in September a change was noticed in how these shortened links were being treated in Google Real Time Search. Naturally, a Reputation Management Expert monitoring Real Time search results was the first to notice that Google was using the page Title Tags of shared shortened links into Anchor Text for Real Time Search:
By utilizing the Title Tag as the link’s Anchor Text Google has found some text to associate with the link, just like it would with “dofollow” anchor text that would pass on Page Rank. Title Tags have always been important for SEO from a Content Perspective, if shared shortened links from Twitter ever do count in an algorithm Title Tags become doubly important as both links and content.
Shared Links on Facebook
Along the same lines, if you have ever shared a link on Facebook you have probably noticed that Facebook also transforms the link you share into an anchor text link of the pages Title Tag. Again these Facebook links are nofollow links that aren’t supposed to pass on Page Rank into a ranking algorithm. Additionally, shared links on a Facebook user’s page that utilize Privacy Settings to keep their pages private are not indexed at all by search engines.
Both Google and Bing are utilizing non-private Facebook page content in their Real Time and Social Search product offerings. This includes unprotected individual pages and business and celebrity public profiles.
We have really been noticing Facebook links coming through our clients Link Data in Google Webmaster Tools from individuals non-private pages and from company pages in very large numbers of late. Strangely, the URLs that Google is finding these links on are ALL Facebook links from foreign countries. None of them are for a plain old “facebook.com” URL. We have seen Facebook-Cyprus, Facebook-Wales and Facebook-Korea. Why the end around to get to the data? I have no idea.
Are Title Tags Really the Key To It All?
The fact that Google expands shortened links in Tweets into a Title Tag Anchor Text in Real Time Search and that Facebook uses the Title Tag as the anchor text link for it’s shared links gives search engines at least a path to put some keyword anchor text with the page links.
What encourages me that the nofollow attribute isn’t mattering as much as it used to to Google is that I’m seeing my clients Title Tags show up in Google Webmaster Tools in the Anchor Text Section in fairly large numbers. Many of those Title Tags are very distinct phrases that no one would intentionally make anchor text, so we are pretty sure that they are coming from Facebook, Twitter and other social bookmarks.
If these links somehow now “count”, how can I take advantage of it?
Well, you obviously need to choose your title tags carefully and use your keywords in them. But other than that, I don’t think that intentionally trying to share all of your links on Twitter and Facebook is going to get you very far with improving your search engine rankings.
The last thing Search Engines want people doing is being Spammy with their shared links. To what degree and how Search Engines could be counting these links is pure speculation. But, don’t expect that volume of the amount of times a link is shared to be the biggest ranking factor.
To avoid problems with link spam I really expect that Influence of the people sharing the links and their Social Circles Influence will have more to do with a pages SERP results than the total times it is shared.
It’s All Speculation
I have no proof of any of this, and their really hasn’t been any official word as to what they are doing with Twitter and Facebook links in their ranking algorithms. Either way, write good keyword inclusive Title Tags, participate in social media and build a following, especially among very influential people in social media. Put a Tweet Meme button on all of your site pages or other Tweet Button and make it easy to get your content shared as much as possible by others.