The search engine world has been getting a fairly large shake-up recently. Some stalwart SEO tactics have begun to fall out of favor with search engines. And search engines are starting to measure other channels and use them to boost page rank. Through Google’s recent farmer update, many sites that were capitalizing on low-quality on-site content got the boot, and Google and Bing both announced that they are now taking into account social media streams from Facebook and Twitter in their efforts to judge the reliability and authority of a given website.
But these developments are representative of a wider shift in the SEO world from page content and site architecture to perceived authority on the web. Although SEO has traditionally meant getting the right keywords on your site and making sure your site architecture was clean and flat, the search engines are shifting away from this model. Perhaps, Google is finally taking action against something that everyone in the SEO world already knows: on-site content is too easy to fake. In other words, the nature of the internet allows anyone to create any type of webpage and game the system with their site content—shoving it full of keywords, getting the perfect meta-descriptions, and more. But what is harder to game is your standing in the community.
Your perceived authority flows from your trustworthiness as a website and as a resource as gauged by the online community as a whole. Now, since a Google algorithm can’t subjectively measure your authority on a subject, they turn to the rest of the internet for help. Google is now more heavily relying on outside forces, like backlinks, to determine your usefulness as a website. And, recognizing the power and ubiquity of social media on the internet, Google is now taking into account backlinks shared on social media and the authority of the person or organization that shared it.
The SEO Social Media Experiment
Marcus Tyler, at SEOptimise, recently did an experiment to find out exactly how much clout social media has in the new Google algorithm. First, he created a website from scratch surrounding a very specific topic: yoga mats. He filled the small site with some text relating to yoga mats and then placed a Facebook Like button at the top of the page. He then proceeded to ask all his friends to Like the page, and even paid a few people to go to the site and Like it. Then he tweeted the site and did the same from 3 other Twitter accounts. Finally, he shared a link to his yoga mat website on 4 different yoga-related Facebook pages. During this time, he did not place backlinks on any other sites and has no backlinks pointing to the site whatsoever.
Regardless of what you think about social media, the results were pretty astounding and surprising. Within one week, his yoga mat web site had worked its way to the ninth ranked result for the search term “yoga mat compare.”
Implications for a SEO Strategy
But what does this mean? If a guy who garners absolutely no backlinks from other websites and purely markets on the social media stage can move to #9 in a week, how much more can your website benefit from a presence on the social web as well as social interaction buttons on your website? A heck of a lot.
Granted, the test website was very specific, didn’t have a lot of competition, and still does not rank for the more important keyword “yoga mat.” But the results that sprung from a social-media-only strategy seemed to garner the attention of Google in a very short period of time and had a very large impact on the site’s SEO and page rank. This example shows us that Google may be relying more heavily on social media backlinks and other factors than we all thought.
What You Need to Do
The implications of this experiment should be clear to anyone who has any business being on the internet. Social media (i.e., Facebook marketing, Twitter marketing, and more) is an essential part of any business SEO and marketing strategy on the web. But where should you start?
Like Button—One of the key factors in getting the yoga mat site to climb up the Google ranks seemed to be the number of people who clicked the Like button on the website page. Keep in mind, the yoga may site doesn’t have a Facebook page of it’s own, only the Like button.
Tweet—The second factor that lead to the yoga mat’s SEO bump was the fact that it was Tweeted from multiple accounts. Naturally, you can’t just go out and open 20 Twitter accounts and just tweet your link. The accounts tweeted from already had followers and held some measure of clout in the community (i.e., the links were tweeted from accounts that had authority).
Connect with other Facebook pages—Lastly, Marcus shared his website with Facebook pages that seemed to relate to the subject of his site. Fortunately, the new Facebook pages features makes it easier for pages to connect with each other. And it seems that Google values your connection to Facebook pages that (1) already have a following, and (2) relate to the topic of the site they link to.
This, of course, does not mean that you should dump all your marketing and SEO dollars into social media campaigns—it’s good to diversify a bit—but it does mean that social media should start to become a focus of your marketing and SEO efforts—if it is not already. Now is the time to start.