Friday, July 19, 2013

The Role of Social Media in SEO

Social media has a direct impact on the search engine friendliness of your website, but whilst many people understand the importance of social media as a marketing channel, few understand the role it plays in determining the search engine friendliness of a website.
Social Media SEO Signals
For many years, ranking well in search engines was a relatively easy task and  depended on little more than creating keyword rich doorway pages stuffed full of robot pleasing text coupled with the generation of inbound links, typically, via reciprocal link farms. This methodology worked for a surprisingly long time. Ranking algorithms failed to find a way of distinguishing between content that human website visitors would find useful and significantly less valuable content created purely to rank in search.
The Impact of Google’s Penguin Algorithm Update
Whilst SEO has certainly evolved since then and content has become ever more widely recognised as playing a key role in SEO, it wasn’t until Google updated its Penguin algorithm in May 2013 that many of these antiquated SEO tactics were finally outlawed. In an ongoing effort to deliver the most relevant results when users enter a search query, the latest update affected hundreds of thousands of sites, in particular, those using black-hat techniques.
An estimated 2%-3% of websites were directly affected and saw immediate falls in their organic search rank for key phrases they had previously ranked well for. For those affected, the loss in visibility had the knock on effect of less traffic and as a direct result, less sales.  The effects have been so widely felt that, opportunistic service providers have aimed advertising directly at those who’ve had their bottom line affected by the update.
google penguin update screen grab
Authority, a Key Measure in Terms of SEO
An important aspect of SEO is the concept of ‘authority’, which refers to the strength of your website when ranked against comparable websites. If your website is stronger than your competitors website, you’ll appear higher up in organic search results, giving you better search visibility and making people more likely to visit your site when they use a search engine to find the types of goods or services you offer.
How Authority is Calculated
Knowing what factors are taken into account in order to calculate authority then, would seem fundamental in shaping SEO activities.  At the time of writing however, there is no definitive set of metrics that determines authority.  In it’s Webmaster Guidelines, Google alludes to the factors that play an important role, placing most emphasis on quality content that helps users and avoiding malicious or sneaky tactics like hidden text and doorway pages, but it in no way goes into specifics.
Relevancy and authority are the key factors that determine a websites rank in search results
The whole notion of SEO feels to me like a somewhat obsolete term, implying that websites should be optimised for search engines and not for people. Given the fact that content must first and foremost appeal to and drive human engagement in order to be seen as authoritative is completely missed and helps perpetuate misconceptions around the practice of SEO that still see’s many professional service providers focusing on short term, outdated methods that no longer work. The world of SEO has been shaken up to the point that a a paradigm shift is now taking place.
SEO activities must now be shaped and driven by high quality content designed for people, perhaps Content Optimisation or just plain Search Optimisation would be more fitting terms for us to now be using.
How Search Engines Identify High Quality Content
As well as looking at a wide number of on-site ranking signals, robots also look to social media for other signals link brand mentions and content sharing.  Whilst social media has played a role in SEO for some time, it is understood that far more emphasis is now placed upon it.
Social Media SEO Signals
  • Social media likes, shares and re-Tweets indicates new and interesting content. In theory, it is only good quality content that is talked about and shared – Googlebot likes content that is shared and both the frequency of these shares and the authority of those sharing, plays a significant role.
  • Social media mentions indicate to search engines that you are authoritative, authentic and that you have engaged followers that like your content.
Linked Content
  • Using tools such as rel=”author” lets Google track all of your linked content and attribute it to one original source.  In theory, this should stop websites that syndicate or scrape content benefiting by being wrongly accredited as the original source.
  • Even in the new Content Optimisation landscape, backlinks to a website matter. Forced black-hat techniques are no longer as effect as they once were, the emphasis now being placed firmly upon natural backlink building, the sort of backlinks that are generated as a result of content sharing on sites such as Pinterest or re-blogging for example.

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