How Social Media Drives Search Results

If you need yet another reason to invest in social media, here’s one: search engines are evolving to favour social media.

Furthermore, social media sites are changing on-site search to account for member recommendations. The goal of search engines has always been to deliver the most helpful and relevant information to users. Google’s success came from taking an approach that was radical in those early days: to curate for content quality by measuring the number of links to a page. The assumption was that if other web sites linked to yours, it counted as a “vote” of confidence.  The more often other pages linked to yours, the higher your search ranking. Google and its emphasis on links changed the search landscape. Website owners paid more attention to content, creating useful, quality content that was formatted in compliance to Google’s standards. Social media is the new game changer and businesses who want to rank high in search results need to pay attention to their social presence.

How Does Social Play into Search?

In a previous blog post titled Conversion Optimization: Testimonials are Dead: Long Live User Reviews, we wrote about the way user generated content (UGC) sold products more effectively than anything else. UGC matters more and more in search, and not just for product reviews. If you think about it, social media is all about user-generated content. Search engines now are trying to incorporate people’s opinions rather than rely exclusively on mathematical algorithms. Search results can be affected by the number of tweets, retweets, Facebook likes, and +1 votes – all with the goal of delivering more personalized results to the user. Both Google and Bing have stated publicly that pages whose URLs are shared on Twitter and Facebook will rank higher. Microsoft Bing has a partnership with Twitter and is a major investor in Facebook, giving the search engine provider ready access to real-time data from both social network sites. Bing factors in Facebook “like” data. So pages that a  user’s friends have liked will rank higher, and you are able to see who has voted for something you’re searching on, such as a product or a hotel. Bing also mines Facebook data so that pages with high popularity overall in Facebook show more prominently. They call this leveraging the “Collective IQ”. As for Twitter, Bing has been experimenting with a “Social” category that pulls up the latest tweets and news on a topic, similar to what social monitoring tools provide. Google incorporates publicly available reviews from sites such as Expedia, Tripadvisor, and other sites with rich UGC into search results and into Google’s Hotel Finder and Shopper features. Unfortunately for the alpha dog of search, it never reached a deal with Facebook; and ever since the company’s deal with Twitter expired in July 2011, it had to take down Google Real-Time Search. Google has been using a “scraper” to collect and process publically available social media information. This takes longer than direct feeds from Twitter and Facebook, but Google has launched Google+, its own social networking service. A social network’s value lies in its user population and it will take some time before Google+ users reach the same levels as Facebook or Twitter.

So What Can You Do?

Social media does not replace good SEO practices – it does enhance what you are doing to drive up your search rankings. The direction search engines are taking is nothing but good news for companies who want to improve their rankings organically, because it means that taking care of your social media program also benefits your SEO efforts. You still need to:

  1. Build great content

    This is the cornerstone of good SEO. A good website that’s easy to navigate and which provides information that is useful and well-written will make it easier to convince visitors to “like” or tweet your URL. Research keywords: when you write your content, use keywords that are meaningful to your target audience. Make sure you also use keywords in your page titles, image alt attributes, and URLs. Build links: where appropriate, reference other pages within your own site and use links. For external link building, here are some common tactics:

    • Create pages with useful information that other sites will want to reference
    • Submit articles and press releases to online news sites that are relevant to your industry
    • Submit your site to reputable online directories
    • Review related products or articles on other sites – often people who read the reviews will also come to your site
    • Maintain a blog and link to other blogs that you feel are good resources for your audience; often the other blog will return the favour

    Why have all those ingredients in place before making use of social media? Because the Internet is instant. If your site contains high quality, useful content, the visitor who tweets about it informs his social network in real time. If your visitor gets a bad user experience or thinks he’s been misled, well, one bad tweet that gets re-tweeted can ruin your whole day.

  2. Build a professional Facebook page

    Think of your business Facebook page as a mini-site, one where you can invite your audience to share and comment. Post useful information daily. It can be as easy as posting a link to an interesting article that’s relevant to your audience. Monitor posts from your Facebook friends and “like” or write comments on their posts. Build up trust with your audience and you’ll get the “likes” and comments you need to bump up your social cred.

  3. Tweet useful stuff

    The goal is to generate conversation around your brand, so tweet a couple of times a day about industry news and events, not just your own products and services. Respond and engage with individuals that want to talk to you; and announce contests or special deals (deals get re-tweeted a lot). Most important of all – remember that the primary goal of your social media program is to be helpful to your target audience, not to bump up your search results. If you do a good job of providing useful information, you’ll get the “likes” and re-tweets you need to increase your search ranking. If you tweet and post trivia too often, you’ll just annoy your audience.