Social Media Implications of 2013 SEO Ranking Factors Report
The 2013 Search Ranking Factors – Rank Correlation Report by SearchMetrics was released a few weeks ago, with some interesting findings for content, SEO and social media campaigns. What caught my attention, and has created some healthy debate here at Location3 and in the industry, is the high placement of social signals. According to the study, which was based on search results from a keyword set of 10,000 search terms from Google USA, seven of the top ten ranking factors are social, with Google +1s ranking the highest.
Throughout the report, SearchMetrics reiterated that correlation is not causation, and thus this data must be used as guidance and not as a revelation of the mysterious Google ranking algorithm. In no section was this truthful disclaimer repeated so often than in the social signals section. Maybe it’s because no one fully understands or wants to believe the value and longevity of social media for businesses. Still. It’s wise to be wary if it implies the derailing of SEO tactics, but this industry is based on the notion that we don’t really know Google’s ranking factors and they change numerous times each day, so being prescriptive and risk-adverse just isn’t possible.
So with that—my own disclaimer (or maybe more accurately diatribe)—the key finding on social signals on the broadest level is that all well-ranked URLs have many shares, likes, comments, +1s and tweets, and the number of social signals drops in line with SERP ranking. This correlation has grown since last year for Facebook and Twitter. Google (surprise!) and Pinterest, not factored into the 2012 report, are already showing strong correlations to high ranking. SearchMetrics also predicts that Google +1s will overtake Facebook shares in February of 2016, a predication that is difficult to swallow knowing the low user adoption by the general public, despite the supposedly high Google+ usage numbers (349 million monthly active users, according to GlobalWebIndex).
“Social signals” refers to: 1. the social actions that are possible on a website through social sharing buttons (e.g., Facebook Like, +1, Pin It, Tweet This, LinkedIn Share, etc.); 2. the links posted in social media messages and on branded social media profiles directing back to websites; and 3. audience numbers on branded social media profiles (e.g., Facebook Likes, Twitter Followers, Pinterest Followers), so long as the profile and the website are mutually linked, and thus “verified.”
Authorship, an extremely hot topic in the digital world right now, was also addressed in the report. Like several other studies I have read recently, this report stated that Authorship does not (yet) (their parenthetical statement, not mine) have an effect on ranking. To quickly define it, Google allows users to connect their website with a Google+ profile using the rel=author tag, with the intentions of clearly identifying and verifying authors of content, and allowing Google to draw conclusions about the authority and relevance of certain authors and content to specific search queries.
While Authorship, meaning the digital authority of any one person as valued by Google, was not found to have an impact on ranking, predictions suggest it will be factored into ranking in the future. The reasoning is that authorship is one of the most trusted factors of content verification for search engines and is very difficult to manipulate due to the level of human attention paid to it. Even though it does not directly impact ranking, there are, however, ancillary ranking benefits at this time. When authorship has been implemented, the author’s profile image displays in search results, making it more eye-catching, thus increasing click through rate and traffic volume, which are SEO ranking factors.
So what does this all mean for brands today? It means that social media efforts cannot be singular and siloed. It means that while we need to understand the implications of social signals, we can’t have Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or any other social channel be the main driver of our digital efforts. It means that we need to focus first on the audience, understanding what they want and need, and then determine how brands can provide that in the most accessible and useful way. That is Google’s mission, and to be more visible on Google, that is what brands need to focus on, too. Social media is unique in its symmetrical interactions, but it’s really no different than other mediums for dispelling information. The strategy and impact reside in the quality and usefulness of the content to the audience, not where that content lives. And creating this quality, practical content is what will get those coveted Likes, tweets, +1s and Pins that are so important to search engine visibility.
Download the full (70 page!) SEO Search Ranking Factors Report or take a look at the more easily digestible infographic. What are your thoughts on the SEO Ranking Factors report, and its focus on social signals?