Social media marketing is becoming more of an accepted part of the online marketing mix because of its ability to drive website traffic and inbound links to sites. Techniques like link baiting, Digg-baiting, and submitting sites to bookmarking or social voting services like Del.icio.us, Digg, StumbleUpon and Reddit have been known to achieve both short and long term value to the sites targeted by such campaigns.
Sometimes however, the short term effects can outweigh the long term effects, and if a social media campaign does not end up with a lot of external links which help with search engine rankings, the end result can be criticism. Complaints about social media marketing such as “none of the links point to the homepage”, “the traffic is worthless”, or “it’s just the flavor of the month” are tremendously overshadowed and cast aside by some new developments in the major search engines.
Social media marketing has a direct effect on search engine rankings and engines are using social voting systems and bookmarking trends to determine quality sites.
In an effort to open the eyes of the search and online marketing community to the importance of social media in the online marketing mix, I am going to discuss :
- Current trends with Google and Yahoo giving higher ranking to sites or content based upon social media voting.
- Ways search engines can use Bookmarking and Social News service to better their results.Patents the two search engines have filed which support the expansion of these trends.
- Steps you can take for basic social media marketing which will help with your current & future search rankings.
Social Media Reviews & Stats Driving Top Search Results
Google Ranking Videos in First Page Results
Social media voting and user views are currently taking a direct effect on Google’s page one search engine results. Google Universal Search melds the Google Web, Image, Video, News, Blog and other vertical search results into one page of relevant information.
At Search Engine Strategies San Jose, Sherwood Stranieri of Catalyst Online looked at the Google results for Criss Angel, the popular illusionist. When currently performing a search on Google for Criss Angel, 4 of the top 10 search results are video results which are housed at YouTube and MetaCafe.
If you compare the traditional SEO stats for the videos, you’ll see that the pages with the highest PageRank or incoming links are not ranked first:
- YouTube Criss Angel Video : PageRank 3, 120 inbound links
- YouTube Criss Angel Video 2 : PageRank 3, 246 inbound links
- Metacafe Criss Angel Video : PageRank 5, 340 inbound links
- Metacafe Criss Angel Video 2 : PageRank 4, 214 inbound links
However, if you look at the social video variables of views and comments, those rankings make much more sense:
- YouTube Criss Angel Video : 5.4million views, 10k comments
- YouTube Criss Angel Video 2 : 2.3 million views, 4k comments
- Metacafe Criss Angel Video : 17 million views, 416 comments
- Metacafe Criss Angel Video 2 : 3 million views, 478 comments
Comments are playing a very important factor in the ranking of these videos, as are views. User generated comments, essentially reviews of the media, have a direct impact on Google first page rankings. If your business uses successful viral web video for its marketing, then comments will naturally come. In addition, this can also work against a brand’s image; just do a search on Google for ‘mentos’.
Note : Even if your business does not use video uploads to YouTube or other media outlets to market your brand or services, keep in mind that the use of comments as a ranking algorithm may not always be limited to video. More and more sites are implementing user comments as a form of feedback, communication and community building. Google could easily determine that quality comments on news sites or blogs can make a difference in search engine results; which is even more reason to get your readers to contribute.
Yahoo Ranking Restaurants & Hotels By Reviews
For a more concrete example of how social media comments, reviews and rankings are currently influencing search engine results, let’s take a look at local business searches on Yahoo Search and its use of Restaurant & Hotel Shortcuts.
Yahoo Local prides itself on search relevancy based upon social media participation, and the Restaurants Shortcut on Yahoo Search is reflective of this.
As an example, when a search is performed on Yahoo for ‘Tampa Restaurants‘ a Shortcut is served with links to restaurant categories, neighborhoods and restaurants ranked by the number of user ratings & reviews.
As you can see, Bern’s Steak House is ranked #1 on this Yahoo Search because it has the most user ratings. Essentially, if their competition wanted to overtake the top position, they could easily do so via social media marketing : incentivizing or motivating their customer base to rate and write reviews about their restaurant and services in their Yahoo Local profile. For example, Charley’s Steak House needs only 22 ratings to top Bern’s in the Tampa results. If I were their marketing manager, I would take full initiative to do so and rank #1 on not only Yahoo, but also Google which aggregates business reviews from different local social sites including CitySearch, AOL and TripAdvisor.
Social Bookmarks and Voting’s Influence on Search Rankings
What Social Media Can Bring to Search
The examples of Yahoo user reviewed restaurant searches or the ranking of videos in Google search are current uses of social media’s measurrestaurantsable variables of reviews, ratings, comments and/or video plays being a critical part of these searches, but social media goes far beyond restaurants and videos.
- Indexing Sites Faster : Humans bookmark sites launched by their friends or colleagues before a search engine bot can find them.
- Deeper Indexing : Many pages bookmarked are deep into sites and sometimes not as easily linked to by others, found via bad or nonexistent site navigation or linked to from external pages.
- Defining Quality : If someone takes the time to bookmark a site, it usually has some quality to it.
- Measuring Quality : Essentially if more users bookmark a page, the more quality and relevance that site has. A site with multiple bookmarks across multiple bookmarking services by multiple users is much more of an authority than a site with only several bookmarks by the same user.
- External Meta Data : Users who bookmark sites tag them with keywords and descriptions which add an honest and unbiased definition which is created by the public and not the owner of the site.
- Co Citation : Social bookmarking sites tend to categorize sites and pages based upon the tags used by humans to describe the site; therefore search algortihms can classify these sites with their peers.
In addition, by indexing the social measurement variables such as commenting and votes at Digg, Reddit, Netscape and various niche oriented (all of those Pligg powered hubs), search engine algorithms can also benefit from social news sharing sites by:
- Number of Votes : Similar to the number of bookmarks, the more votes a page receives on Digg or Reddit, the more useful that information usually is. If the same page receives multiple votes across multiple social news voting sites, the higher quality the site.
- Categorization : Like Co Citation, categorization can help define the subject of a site, therefore better helping the engine address searcher intent.
- Commenting : The number of comments can be compared to the number of votes, the higher the comment to voting ratio, the more relevant the news story or site was to the user; therefore, more relevant to the searcher.
- Relevant Sites : Techmeme and Netscape (and hopefully soon Digg) suggest relevant pages and sites to the stories which make their ‘popular’ categorical pages via intra-linking or blog index monitoring. Engines can learn from these projects to help users find alternative or relevant selections in their search results.