Social Media’s Direct Influence on Search Engine Ranking

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:

  1. YouTube Criss Angel Video : PageRank 3, 120 inbound links
  2. YouTube Criss Angel Video 2 : PageRank 3, 246 inbound links
  3. Metacafe Criss Angel Video : PageRank 5, 340 inbound links
  4. 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:

  1. YouTube Criss Angel Video : 5.4million views, 10k comments
  2. YouTube Criss Angel Video 2 : 2.3 million views, 4k comments
  3. Metacafe Criss Angel Video : 17 million views, 416 comments
  4. 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.

Yahoo Tampa Restaurants

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.

Google Tampa Restaurants

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.

Monitoring social bookmarking services like Del.icio.us, StumbleUpon and Ma.gnolia can help search engines in multiple ways by:

  • 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.
Loren Baker
Loren Baker is the Founder of SEJ, an Advisor at Alpha Brand Media and runs Foundation Digital, a digital marketing strategy & development agency.
Loren Baker

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54 thoughts on “Social Media’s Direct Influence on Search Engine Ranking

  1. You have provided me with two very relevant posts today, this one and the Pligg post, thanks again. Your timeliness couldn’t be better for me.

  2. So, comments aren’t just a way of spamming blogs and videos for backlinks, but a vital part of the universal and social media search rankings… interesting. :)

  3. The problem with social media influencing rankings is it’s a lot easier to manipulate. Links, on the other hand, are a lot harder to come by.

  4. Adam, I disagree. Are links that difficult to come by?

    Social media may be easy to manipulate in the short term, but social outlets are taking steps to address these initial problems.

    Over the long haul, organic grassroots social media citations will have a lasting effect and differentiate themselves from social media spam.

    In the same fashion as linking, organic social media will have a more beneficial effect than manipulated or automated programs.

  5. I have to agree with Loren. Links are easy to manipulate (especially with paid links) and social media is helping to even the field by introducing even more variables. How many SEOs have time to spam all possible areas? :)

  6. A fantastic article. I was at that session and didn’t think to write this, and for that I feel silly. Loren, congratulations you made me feel silly once again.

    😛

    Seriously though, thanks for the good article. Dugg, Spunn, Stumbled, Delicioused, Reddited…

  7. Very nicely done, Loren.

    I think that you’ve made the point pretty well that the major search engines aren’t ignoring the social graph, but are instead looking to it to flavor and influence how they work on many different levels.

    And, by broadening the use of signals to social activity on the Web, in addition to linking behavior and content development, the ability for any to manipulate search results becomes much more difficult.

  8. I’m excited by the amount of optimizing techniques that are now available, and the ‘craft’ that is involved in utilizing these techniques.

    If SEO was relegated to only being onpage optimizing and link building, we would all be out of work sooner, rather than later. Rand Fishkin made a comment about how one day, Kinkos will be offering SEO services, this made me both cringe and smile.

    That being said, with the advent of social media marketing, creativity beyond just process is now required.

    I can only hope that this type of evolution continues, one that requires individuals like ourselves to understand abstracts and pull them together into understanding, something that the photocopier attendant at Kinkos will hopefully never be able to evolve to.

  9. I’ve seen sites like Digg outrank the source article it links to in many cases.

    If the submission was worthless and ends up ranking directly above the source… The person conducting the search may visit Digg and read the negative comments.

  10. I tend to agree with Adam, quality, relative links are harder to come by these days. Especially if you’ve worked hard on your content, garnered good SERP’s, and have a high PR (5 or above). Your back link may prove valuable to others but you now are forced to find reciprocal quality links from a much smaller pool.

  11. Great Post Loren! I provided an “italian summary” of it in my Italian blog and dugg it in SEOTribu (the italian version of Sphinns).

    But I have a question for you: When you talk about Comment as a stuff Social Media can bring to Search, what do you mean with the “comment to voting ratio”?

  12. there is no question about good ranking is good for business. this is an insiteful post . i put it on my favorites.

  13. Hi Loren, well done on a very comprehensive post, one I’m going to be passing around.

    However, I still don’t think the recent Google Universal update amounts to anything meaningful for the vast majority of businesses out there.

    Most of which have zero interest in Social Media, video clips, Podcasts et cetera.

    What I see is a devicive update that panders more to the music labels and movie studios than anyone else.

    All of which looks just like a vague attempt to wash out search listings for illegal media.

    “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.”

    All of which seems to make the assumption that the comments are all positive.

    What if the article in question is a wash-out and all 11k comments are flames?

    How does that search result serve me in terms of relevance?

    Nice idea, but just not thought through properly…

  14. ARGGGGGHHH

    ‘Sorry, it seems you didn’t pass math!!’

    Man, can you remember the text in session? Or put back button with no re validate (or whatever is the php option). All I wrote is lost now :(

  15. What I wrote was this (shorter this time):

    You write: ‘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.’

    I disagree that this is the case because: almost every single big site uses ‘nofollow’ on every single external link, including these ‘quality’ links as voted by the users who made those sites big at the first place. As a consequence, empty Stumbleupon page pointing to content full (and new, not much linked to from other sources) page will often be above that quality page in search results.

    http://seolutions.net/blog/nofollow-monstrosity

  16. Thsi article is great. Made me realize how importaing social bookmark websites can be.
    As I’m running a social community website this info will help me a lot for my web development.
    Everybody who reads this should make notes and than come to action.
    Thank you Loren

  17. Not only so called “SEO specialists” need to pay attention to the search engine marketing but also all people connected to Internet publishing have to publish significant, interesting and useful information at all times.

  18. This is a good article.

    Gave me more good insights about how important social marketing is and how we can all benefit form it.

    Keep it coming.

    Thanks for sharing.

  19. The problem with social media influencing rankings is it’s a lot easier to manipulate. Links, on the other hand, are a lot harder to come by.

  20. After reading this it almost is worth it to provide the customer some incentive (coupons or cash back) to go online and give my business a review. Thanks for a very informative post.

  21. I was at first against Social Networking because I personally thought it wasn’t a viable option. Recently however I had friend who was telling me about the traffic he has been receiving a lot of (good traffic) and after reading this article (kind long for a newbie like me) I think I am convinced. Great job on the article, I give it two thumbs up!

  22. Social media Marketing is wrongly seen as very easy, a play, that has no influence on sales, ROI, traffic, ranking….Finally a post that actually brings argument to show how important and effective social media can be when used properly!

  23. Link building is a pretty general term used to describe anything you do to build links to a website. This is important to keep in mind. There are some links that are good for traffic, there are some good for SEO, and there are some good for both. Links that provide both traffic and a rankings boost in the search engines are obviously great, but it is important to realize that just because a link gets good traffic, it doesnt mean that it is good for SEO.

  24. Very detailed article packed with a lot of great information that still stands out today. Social media has been around for a long time but it hasn't been used to it's fullest yet. I hope more small businesses see the potential and start using different tactics to engage with their customers.

  25. Social media really shouldn’t be ignored. It has a lot to offer, provides a good linking system and the chance to really get an idea from a customer’s perspective.

    From recent experiments with different social media sites, our company has come to find that pages get indexed quicker through some social networking sites than others. It’s well worth doing your research.

  26. is it ok if I link to this article. I find it very helpful specifically for the local search. in local its the more reviews get the highest rank.

  27. Thanks for the informative post guys, it's really great information, appreciate it tons!

  28. Social media not only from the perspective of a resource to bring more traffic to websites creating brand awareness or buzz in the audience. It also applies keyword optimization in their messages and content. So expand your audience to other social media pages and apply optimized keywords and content in your posts.