Why Social Signals Influence Search Engine Rankings

11,111 Tweet | Desiree Scales | The Bella Buzz.com

Today we talked about influence on The Bella Buzz podcast.  We talked about the influence of a community and the influence of individuals within the community to have an impact on search results rankings.

11,111 Tweet | Desiree Scales | The Bella Buzz.com

But first we take a moment to recognize a momentous occasion for Desiree last night.  At 11:11 pm on January 11, 2011 (or viewed another way 1/11/11) .. Desiree made her 11,111th tweet!  How coincidental is that!?!

With help and great encouragement from her Twitter community, she recognized the potential of the situation and carefully played out the number of tweets per hour required to make the exact moment.

What fun!  Congratulations Desiree!

Our topic today is the result of a great post on the SEOMoz.org blog called The Social Media Marketers SEO Checklist.  The post is not only a great rundown of the crossover between SEO efforts and social media efforts, it reinforces the recent revelations from Google and Bing that there is a Twitter and Facebook influence on rankings.

Weekly Tip #2: Make sure all of your links open in a new window. Don’t make the mistake of links to your blog or social media channels opening up on top of your site. Make sure a new window opens up so people still have your site open below the new window.

This has been suspected for some time and it only makes sense in the big picture of directing searchers to the most relevant content, but this past December provided us a definitive answer.

As we have discussed, the search algorithm takes into account a variety of factors, or “signals“, to determine how to rank sites for a specific search.  The more signals in favor of a site such as quality inbound links with relevant anchor text, on page factors such as title tags, bounce rate of visitors quickly exiting, and most recently even the load time for a page, the higher the page lists in relation to competitive sites.

With the growth of social media, and the use of social networks to distribute content, the use of the nofollow link on Twitter and Facebook gave everybody the opinion that these links were not passing “link juice” or value to the target. This is a wise decision, otherwise these social networks would be filled with spammers setting up accounts to massively post links to their own content. Not that this hasn’t prevented some of that from happening, but these sites would probably be rendered useless and end up like the forgotten link farms.

But what about the fact that there are real people developing real communities on these social networks?  Shouldn’t Desiree be credited with the fact that she produces great content for her 16,000+ followers on Twitter?  It stands to reason that when she promotes a great blog post or podcast via Twitter and a large number of her followers in turn pass it along by re-tweeting it, the site posting that content should get ranking benefit from this action.

The value of the social media effort gets rewarded by higher search engine rankings. We have been touting the value of social media for building community; now it is clearly gaining value for ranking.

You could define this factor as influence if you want.  Desiree demonstrates a great deal of influence over her group of followers. Going a step further, if she is influential in the eyes of the search engines, then any sites that she herself promotes via Twitter and Facebook should also receive some benefit in the rankings.  This is where things can get interesting and where things get murky under the hood of these algorithms.  How does a quantitative analysis evaluate someones influence? On what scale is someone influential, are they a 10 or an 8?  This is undefined and open for many years of speculation.

But it only makes sense.  It still comes down to generating great content, and if that content is good enough that it gets passed around the social networks, as well as linked to by authoritative domains, then the web site should see a higher search ranking.  And that is good for business.

In an attempt to evaluate influencers and to assign some value to be measured, sites such as Klout.com have appeared that try to evaluate activity on social networks.   We don’t know what the criteria is for evaluation and ranking, but its sort of a fun exercise.

Finally, as a way to measure the effectiveness of these social strategies and to piggyback on our podcast from last week about evaluating your business with Google Analytics, here is a good rundown on how to segment social traffic in Google Analytics.

What do you think? Should web site gain rankings by the signals derived from social media?

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