Google and Social Signals: How Social Marketing Impacts Your Google Rank

Written by James GunterMarch 17, 2011

What’s interesting about the growth of social media is that it has grown largely independent of search engines. That is, social networks have been fairly closed off places for the majority of their existence. That means that all the information and links shared through social networks wasn’t directly boosting your SEO. It was helping boost your brand name recognition and perhaps helping customers find ways to engage with you brand, but it wasn’t helping your Google rank.

Recently, Facebook and Twitter have made strides to make more of their networks available publicly—to both the approval and chagrin of users. And part of that effort has been making their data streams available to search engines like Google and Bing. In fact, just a few months ago, Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land posted an interview he had with executives at Google and Bing where they revealed that links shared through social networks were starting to have an impact on search engine ranking. But the big question for small businesses and brands is, how are social networks directly affecting my SEO and my bottom line, and what can we do about it?

The Social Effect

Although both Google and Bing admit that publicly-shared links on Twitter and Facebook have an effect on search engine rank, they are hesitant to say exactly what that effect is. And I suppose there are hundreds of SEO geeks out there right now testing and running simulations to find out exactly how that effect is created, but Jennifer Lopez at SEOmoz recently published a blog post that lays out a preliminary case study for the new Twitter effect.

She was surprised to find that after an influential media presence tweeted a link to their website, suddenly their website ranked for the keyword “user guide” and continued to rank for some time following the initial tweet. This could have to do with the fact that a lot of people visited that particular link, boosting their site traffic and thus the SEO for that particular page, but it also seemed that the Tweet itself held some weight—boosting their rank beyond what simple site traffic would have normally done.

Although Google and Bing don’t draw any direct correlation between Retweets, Facebook Shares, and site rank, Search Engine Land says that Twitter may be a powerful new tool for link building.

How Does it Help?

Beyond boosting your SEO, getting traction within social networking sites can impact your search engine rank in other ways. For example, last month, Google stared rolling out some new social features that would give users personalized search results based on information taken form their social networks. In order for this to work, you have to connect your Google profile with your social networks—which most people probably haven’t done. However, if you have done it, you may see a little profile picture underneath a result telling you that one of your friends shared a link to that page on Twitter.

According to marketing psychology, if you see that one of your friends is interested in something, as opposed to all the other links on the page that have no social connection to you, you are more likely to click on it. And this is another way that social integration of search engines and social networks can help you boost your online image. When your followers share your content, they could be giving an implicit endorsement of your website to search engines and to all their friends through social search engine features. And all this increases the likelihood that users will click your link and come to your website—boosting your SEO and your page rank.

Beyond the Features

But beyond the technicalities of how these social technologies work and how they are implemented across the Internet, effective social media marketing efforts will always have an impact on your search engine rank. Social media marketing is about user engagement. If you can engage users on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites, users will be more likely to go to your website and find out more about you and your brand—boosting your site traffic and your page rank. But it’s also good to know that all those links being shared on social networks are finally being put to good use by the search engines.

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