Tweets, Facebook Likes and Google+ 1s are the major social signals now being used by Bing and Google to index search results. Basically, both search engine giants have updated their search algorithms to give more credit to content that users share on these sites. The question you might be asking is:
Just how much weight do social signals carry in search results?
Well currently that depends… Before analysing the impact of these social signals within the SERPs (search results pages), it’s important to first understand how they work. When you search a term on Google while logged in to your Google account, the search results you get are influenced by your friends activities on the major social networks. E.g., if a friend shared an article titled ‘Pink Fluffy Slippers’ on Twitter, this post will show up on your search results page with some information below telling you about the friend who shared it.
Linking other social networks to your Google profile
Social signals are now a big part of the new social search (see yesterdays post) feature rolled out by both Bing and Google. With Google, you have to be signed in to your Google account and have linked the same account with your other social profiles to see results that include your social circle’s participation. For Bing, which unlike Google plus, gets real time data from Facebook, you should link it with your Facebook account to get content that has been ‘liked’ by your friends.
Initially, Bing gave greater importance to posts that had a significant number of likes from your friends, but later altered the algorithm to just display the normal results with fewer of the liked content, relegating the feature to only when you use their social search. Google’s search results include public Google Plus posts and Tweets from your social graphs. And since they have a rather limited access to Facebook profile data, any links you share on your Facebook walls or pages will have to be public to be indexed.
Google’s +1s are the equivalent of Tweets and Facebook likes and Google themselves admit that these signals do affect a page’s visibility to some extent. On its support site, Google points out that:
“+1’s from friends and contacts can be a useful signal to Google when determining the relevance of your page to a user’s query… For +1′s, as with any new ranking signal, we’ll be starting carefully and learning how those signals affect search quality.”
“+1 helps people discover relevant content—a website, a Google search result, or an ad—from the people they already know and trust. Adding the +1 button to your pages lets users recommend your content, knowing that their friends and contacts will see their recommendation when it’s most relevant—in the context of Google search results.” [Google Blog]
For instance, product reviews from friends may be considered much more trustworthy and relevant to you than reviews done by experts whom you have no social connections with.
As it stands now, Google is still tweaking the algorithm for improved results but still reveals that having more people +1 your content may boost your search engine visibility. And they’ve moved a step further, integrating the +1 button within search results and ads to give users the ability to recommend this to their friends. This means that they are likely to rank your website higher if it is shared not only from your site, but also from the search results and ads.
Social signals are clearly changing how the search world operates. While Google used to heavily rely on PageRank as an indexing factor, it looks like the focus is shifting here. But that is not to say that PageRank has really declined in importance, well, it has ceded some ground to social votes in the name of likes, +1s and Tweets but still is an important ranking factor. The thing is that Google realised how much an entire link-building industry evolved to manipulate search results, giving only sites with more links the upper hand. Social search on the other hand is meant to deliver search results with a more human touch and authority.
Build a strong online social presence
With that in mind, if you are looking to improve your online visibility, then the larger part of your SEO efforts should be on building a strong online presence on Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus, while not forgetting Flickr and the social bookmarking sites. Keep in mind that your social presence has to be quite big to be seen as an authority by Bing and Google.
Data from your Facebook profiles and pages is important to Bing in the same way as your Google+1s are important to Google (who claim to treat links in Tweets in the same way those in public Facebook posts). And though giving many social signals to search engines will likely improve your rankings, the key to even greater online visibility is to build a bigger social presence and getting/convincing errr bribing (!) the big connections like popular Tweeters or +1ers to recommend your content.