Social as a search signal has been very focused on the tweets/pluses/shares of a particular page and how that impacts rankings. Search as a social signal is actually broader and likely has a bigger impact than operating as only an on page ranking factor. The largest challenge of Pluses or Likes is they lack context and semantic information. Tweets area bit better as the tweet provides some descriptive text. So how can we make social a better search signal?
Impact to the Popular Vote
The basic concept of page rank and what provided the biggest shift in search accuracy was the interpretation of links and the text present in links as a vote on importance as well as the topicaliness of a page.
Links were expected to provide context about what they were linking to. For example a link on the word “cars” should result in a link to a page further about cars or the automotive industry or something very closely related. As search engines become more sophisticated and search optimizers interpreted these signals there was a need to look at more signals, for example what is the topicalness of the whole page compared to other documents it links to? What is the topic of other pages that link to the page linking out? Linking patterns and neighborhoods became a much bigger player to optimization. The challenge was that only websites could participate in the relevancy of each site.
Now we have the introduction of social and the very first test have been to the impact of social as another type of vote. For example if you have 2 pages and both pages have a similar amount of inbound links, but one has more shares through social channels will the page with more shares rank higher? Indicators appear that yes social does impact results to some degree.
The Impact to the Link Graph
If we look at the evolution of links as a signal I think we can assume that social signals will also likely evolve. For example we know that there are shops that you can buy “social love” from. They will create accounts or pay for shares to promote content. Which quickly means simple social shares fall apart because of these spam tactics.
However what if shares on a page did not directly benefit the page that was shared but the pages that page linked to? I strongly suspect that at some point we will find that links from a page with a high social authority may actually pass on some of that authority it links to. This passing on of social strength may look at several things, recency of shares, inbound links to page, and type of shares (pluses vs. tweets vs. shares.).
For example assume a couple different scenarios for each page and the outcomes:
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|Description of Page Ranking Factors||This page has a great number of social sharesThis page has few to no linksThis page links to other sites not associated to it||This page has a great number of social sharesThis pages a many inbound linksThis page links to other sites not associated to it||This page has no social sharesThis page has many inbound linksPage linking to this page also have many Social Shares|
|Expected Results||Low ranking to mid ranking||Higher Ranking than pages with only inbound links (based on the text in inbound links)||Higher ranking than pages with only inbound links, Potentially higher than pages with inbound links and social shares|
Why do I think page C should rank higher? Just because a page has not embedded social buttons to make it easy to share a page does not mean it should be punished. The fact that pages that have great social reputation and many inbound links means that there is a double validation of the authority of this page. First, inbound links from multiple sources means or should mean it’s less likely this page is spam. Secondly, the validation of the pages linking to page C have also been re-validated by the social sphere as authoritative genuine content.
I think at some point we will see that social will impact not the page it lives on but the actual link graph itself. Social will provide a weight signal for inbound links, and likely we will see this as a double validation of the link and not the page it resides on. I think this will happen to reduce spam, but more importantly the social signal amplifies an already trusted signal source.