Kelvin Newman

4 Ways Social Media is Already Influencing Search Results

8 June 2012, Kelvin Newman

It’s the worst kept secret in digital marketing that the search engines are planning to migrate towards using social signals was a way to determine who ranks where on search results pages.

Perhaps the most obvious example of this is in the US where Google has rolled out what is known as Search Plus Your World which explicitly pulls in search results based upon who you are connected to in the social networks that Google have access to.

This dramatic change in how search results are ranked hasn’t rolled out yet in the UK or Europe, but social signals are already influencing what appears when you make a search and therefore strengthens the case that your SEO and social campaigns need to be working in harmony.

1. Social Shares Lead to Links

Have you produced a great piece of content that’s getting shared widely on Twitter? This will be creating links to your site which could be influencing search results. Google isn’t that effective at indexing the whole of Twitter, but it does a pretty good job of keeping track of the sites which syndicate popular tweets.

There are a number of sites which aggregate how popular certain pieces of content are on Twitter – TweetMeme and Topsy being two of the most high-profile.

Each time they create a page tracking a piece of popular content on Twitter, they create a link back to the original source. This is a link which Google can follow.

Now, in the scheme of things these aren’t the highest quality links. In many cases, they’re also no-followed which potentially reduces or limits their value in the eyes of search engines. Having said all this, these links will be influencing the search results to some extent and could make the difference between you ranking or not.

2. Quicker Indexing

A surprisingly huge proportion of the search terms entered into Google are brand new queries that have never been searched for before. In some cases this is just people using ever more esoteric phrases to track down exactly the piece of content they want to find, but it’s also related to products, ideas, events etc which simply didn’t exist yesterday.

For these new search terms, Google is striving to find new content to match the new demand. In these circumstances, the speed at which your site gets indexed becomes important.

If your site is indexed quickly while others aren’t, you have a window of opportunity to rank with less competition. Socially shared URLs are one of the ways in which Google finds new content.

The biggest news sites are crawled every few minutes, but in many sectors a URL being shared socially can make the difference between being crawled in minutes rather than hours or days.

On many of the search terms you enter, the content is going to have been discovered sooner due to social indexing.

3. Author Snippets

One of the more visible changes that Google has made recently is their highlighting of authors within the search results pages. You may have begun to see the faces of the person responsible for the content next to the link and snippet of the page when you search.

This is all built around the rel=author attribute, which helps publishers verify the identity of the author of the content with Google. They do this by verifying the ownership of a Google+ page: a social profile which dictates if the picture appears at all and what picture appears.

Author snippets are likely to increase click through rates from search results as they are more conspicuous than standard snippets.

4. Social Content Ranks In Its Own Right

For many long tail search queries, discussions which have taken place on social networks, rank very highly. I’m talking less here about the big three, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, but some of the other social sites.

For example, I’ve seen more and more Quora threads ranking. This is pretty significant. One way to potentially build a presence in search results is by building content for authoritative sites and providing a strong call to action through to a site where you can convert the traffic.

Kelvin Newman is Strategy Director of SEO agency SiteVisibility. He also leads Emarketeers’ Social Search training course.