Is Social Media the New SEO?

“SEO is Dead” – was the the trending topic in one of my LinkedIn groups last month. This discussion was in response to a Forbes article, “The Death Of SEO: The Rise of Social, PR, And Real Content.”

The author, Ken Krogue, makes the case for social media being the new seo:

“Google used to think if you linked to someone on the Internet they must have valuable content. Now Google seems to believe that if you promote content with social media it is more indicative of relevant content and less likely to be faked. It is hardly about the links anymore, it’s about the metrics of engagement on your site.”

Does this argument hold true? Has social media so changed the seo landscape that social shares are most important and do other seo strategies even count?

To understand the rising importance of social media on search, let’s backtrack to two interesting developments to Search:

  1. The launch of Social Search (Content that is shared within your social networks is given priority) and

  2. The general inclusion of social signals in rankings (The amount of likes, shares, reddits etc. that an article receives has a direct impact on its rankings).

Google launched Social Search in 2009, as a feature that combines regular search results with publicly available data created by your friends’ social media activities. To use Google Social Search, simply do a search while logged in.

In Dec 2010, Danny Sullivan’s famous article, What Social Signals Do Google & Bing Really Count? caused a buzz in the SEO industry. He wrote about social signals and their importance in ranking an article. Social signals are signals that search engines look for from popular social media sites. They look at metrics such as how many people share a piece of content, how many tweets, likes, redditts etc. did a given piece of content get.

That same month, Matt Cutts confirmed that Google has incorporated social signals in ranking articles but is also considering the author who is posting the content. In other words, they give more weight to an influencer posting your content.
Here’s the video:

According to this video, we know that:

  • Google uses Twitter and Facebook links as signals in rankings. Social media likes, shares, tweets, reddits, and 1+’s (Googles obvious favorite) are regarded as votes for your site and your content.
  • The reputation of the author who is sharing the content is very important.
  • It’s currently (in Dec, 2010) used more in real-time search, but Google is looking to include it more broadly in web search as well
  • It only includes data that can be crawled and indexed. In other words private Facebook wall posts that cannot be crawled will not be indexed as opposed to Facebook fan pages that can be crawled.
  • Google ranks articles based on the quality of followers sharing your content. In other words they want to make sure that these are not just software bots but real people sharing your content.

Based on our own experience as authors and publishers of content, we know that social media plays a role in influencing search engine results by giving preference based on the authority of the author and the number of times a piece of content is shared on social networking sites. Social search is also more prevalent and no more just a part of real-time search with the new updates this year.

In early 2012, Social Search was given a major update. Google launched “Search, plus your World,” where it combined Google+ pages that were made public by its users with its regular search engine. You get personal results including photos uploaded by you or your connections, Google+ content, Google+ profiles and people and brands related to your search. Google +1′s are most easily indexed by Google and always show up prominently in search results.

The graphic below highlights a perfect example of Social Search in action. I follow Darren Rowse of Problogger and Ileane Smith of Basic Blog Tips. I typed in a search for “blogging” and their results showed up at the top of my search page:

Social Search
Social Search where people in my social network are given a priority in search results

Fast forward to June, 2012 and Matt Cutts conversation with Danny Sullivan in which he elaborated that even though social signals are important, backlinks are still important and count as a vote for your website.

Here is the video:

Danny Sullivan and Matt Cutts discuss SEO at SMX Advanced, June 2012
Here are the highlights of the conversation:

  • The web is comparable to space in it’s vastness and is currently the largest source of data in the world. For example, YouTube gets 72 hours of video uploaded every minute.
  • There is a perception in people’s minds that everything will go social which at this point is a premature assumption.
  • In Matt Cutts own words, “In 10 years things will be more social but I wouldn’t write the epitaph for links quite yet.”

Backlinks still very much count as a vote for your site. But as Cutts reiterated it’s not just any backlinks but backlinks from authority sites that count the most.

Google currently uses over 200 signals to rank a page including:

  • Page Rank
  • High quality and original content
  • Number of backlinks
  • Anchor text
  • Keywords
  • HTML title tags

No sooner did Google announce the importance of social shares, than spammers started flooding the internet with offers for facebook likes, twitter followers, etc. and now for the price of a few dollars, you can buy fake Facebook likes, twitter followers etc. Plus 1′s are a little harder as Google requires you to verify your account before you open. Just as black-hat seo’s in the past used various spammy backlinking techniques, these social media spammers have muddied the waters of social media popularity. As long as spammers and people trying to game the system exist, Google will not be able to use only one method for rankings.

Although social media is rapidly increasing as a way to understand relevance and context, we’ve heard from the horse’s mouth that it’s not the only way. The bottom line is that every seo strategy needs to account for a good social media policy while also keeping all the other strategies in mind such as gaining quality backlinks (through posting the best content, guest posting and commenting on other blogs), sound keyword research and optimizing your HTML tags and metadata.

Do you agree or disagree? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Comments

  1. says

    Insightful post, Gazalla. I concur that social media is the new SEO, and I do believe it’s the move Google has made with its Google+ platform. They keep saying it’s not “another social media” and they’re right: G+ seems to be the spine to a whole new approach, where search is no longer just about links but rather intertwined with user engagement, which is measured by likes, comments, shares or +1′s.

    Brands now evolve in a complex online ecosystem, and it’s no longer just about buying AdWords and creating a quality web site and/or blog rich with keywords. Social interaction is now cornerstone to achieving optimal results, thus playing a key role in the new SEO strategies…

    • says

      Thanks, Frederic. It certainly looks like social media is going to be the game changer to SEO and is all the more reason for building an active and strong social community.

  2. says

    I think this is an inevitable direction for Google to take. Talk of ‘semantic’ search has been around for an awfully long time, and there have long been desires to have more user feedback on the SERPS rather than just webmaster feedback. Inserting social signals into things does seem to provide that.

    I would be amazed if Google gave them more weight than the traditional Page Rank though because then it places a lot of influence over the SERPS outside of Google’s control. That’s a major reason why they’ve been pushing G+ so much, because they want the social impact, but don’t want to rely on Facebook and Twitter to provide it.
    Adi Gaskell recently posted..The role of gamification in community buildingMy Profile

    • says

      That’s a good point. Relying only on social signals would certainly push matters outside of Google’s control. But, as you rightfully mentioned it’s the inevitable direction for Google to take. Thanks for stopping by and for the feedback.

  3. says

    Google will never significantly incorporate social signals into their algorithm because they’re much easier to manipulate. Social signals will always fall behind links. As easy as everyone thinks links are to get, it requires a lot of work to acquire or manufacture authoritative links, and these will always rule.
    Sid recently posted..SEO is Dead? Really?My Profile

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