Posted to Ben Finklea's blog on December 6th, 2010

Social Media Gains More "Authority", Officially Influences SEO

What has long been suspected has now been officially confirmed: Social media influences SEO. Last week in an interview with Danny Sullivan, both Google and Bing confirmed that links shared through Facebook and Twitter have a direct impact on search engine rankings. The interview was conducted via email with Google and via phone call with Bing and published in an article on website last week.

This is EPIC news for Web marketing! While it has long been suspected that social media was making ripples in the SERPs, the verification by two of the major players in search–Google and Bing–is nothing short of a social search revolution. And time around there were no virtual sit-ins,

Let’s take a look at a few of the questions in the interview and analyze what this could mean for your SEO campaign.

Google & Bing Uses Social Media as a Search Engine Signal

Before we look at the first question, it is good to have a quick refresher. Google uses more than 200 different signals to determine how they rank a certain page or website in search results. Here are three main signals:

PageRank - which determines the authority of the page

Anchor Text - which points at a page

HTML title tag - and whether the words people searched for appear in it

Like I said, there are more than 200 different signals for Google, and Bing also has a complex mix of signals to determine rankings. Here is the actual question and answer:

Social Authority for Online Authors

Are you a master tweeter? A Facebook maven? That may just get your tweets in search engine rankings! But it isn’t as easy as it sounds. While Bing seems to stick to favoring big brands and public figures, Google just wants to know you’re of “quality”. Here is the question and answer:

Google and Bing evaluates link sharing activities on social media–aka Facebook & Twitter–based upon the popularity of the person or brand who is sharing them and determines a signal score. Google calls it “Author Authority” and Bing calls it “Social Authority”.

SEO for Social Signals

In light of this rather exciting news, what can we apply from our experience with SEO to social media optimization? It seems to me that Google and Bing are beginning to treat tweets and Facebook links the same as web pages, news stories, etc. Let’s compare how link authority for web pages and stories, and predict a few ingredients in the social authority cocktail:

Engagement Level - how many retweets, likes, comments, clicks, etc. a social media content node receives will impact how much weight is assigned to said node for the search engine rankings

Source Diversity - Having a link tweeted 50 times is like having 50 links to a web page, while 50 tweets of 50 unique links will certainly be more valuable.

Lasting Value - While sharing a link that has just been published online is certainly a boost to the score, tweets and shares of older stories that have collected a little digital dust says something about the lasting value of that piece of content.

Surrounding Content - the surrounding content of the tweet or Facebook link gives search engines information about the relevance and topic. Use keywords here and it will help fill in the gap that is left by the lack of anchor text.

More Assumptions on Social/Author Authority

There are many other things Google and Bing evaluate when ranking a website or web page for a given set of keywords and terms. Here are a few ways I can see that translating to your Social/Author Authority when sharing or tweeting a source:

Friend/Follower Popularity - Just like links for web pages, the more friends or followers you have, the better for your authority. But don’t overdo this. You don’t want to befriend the wrong people, spam bots, or sex offenders. They need to be “legitimate”.

Quality of Friends/Followers - Remember all that jazz about surrounding yourself with successful people and you, too, will be successful? Having followers and friends that also have authority will help your authority as well. It’s cyclical.

Friends/Followers Ratio - How many people do you follow on Twitter in relation with who you follow? The ratio between what you tweet about and the engagement you have with people in the twitter-verse.

Relevance - Your links and posts should be relevance for the authority you want to gain. Be considerate about the topics of which you share, patterns in the sources of shared/tweeted links, and using SEO in your tweets. If you are a prominent PR person, your tweet will have less authority if the subject matter is about a celebrity rather than a prominent PR link or story.

Please note: these are just “guestimations”, rather than confirmed evaluation posts. Based upon my professional experience with SEO and personal experience with social media, it will do you more good for your social media optimization than evil by following these assumptions.

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