SEOs and Social Marketers speculate on the impact that Social Media marketing has on how well their websites perform in search results. There has been much conjecture with many people interpreting an array of correlations as causation.
Both Google’s Matt Cutts and Bing’s Duane Forrester have come out (on more than one occasion) to emphatically state that Facebook Likes, Tweets, Google +1s, Pinterest Pins and other similar social indicators are not part of their algorithms.
At the recent SMX London on May 13, 2014, John Mueller of Google and Duane Forrester of Bing took the stage to talk about the latest state of affairs regarding their respective search engines. Both clearly stated (again) that social indicators are not part of their ranking algorithms.
They did, however, both reveal a little more information about how their search engines treat social references. We can now see causation beyond correlation.
The first item they both highlighted was exactly how Google and Bing are using Social Indicators. When they see a webpage getting a lot of social shares, +1 (Google Only), Facebook Likes (Bing only), Pins, etc., they know something is happening, that there is something warm there drawing people in.
The result is their bots will zero in on this. Depending on what they find, there is a strong likelihood that page will be index much quicker than if there were no social indicators pointing them at the page. Heat indicates fire.
Faced with further audience questions about the impact of social links, a nugget of information was dropped. While neither search engine officially uses social links in their algorithm, all those social indicators are still valuable. How exactly the search engines are using them was not revealed 100%, but enough was said to offer the following explanation:
The search engines know that a natural outcome of a high volume of social indicators is that a certain percentage of people will also place permanent links to that content on their blogs, websites and other online properties. These people go beyond sharing content. They repurpose the link itself.
In light of Google’s Penguin update, (devaluing poor quality links and even penalizing sites with unnatural links), both Google and Bing are now using the quantity and quality of the social indicators to determine if links to the content are natural and consistent not only with the number of social indicators but the nature of the content being referenced.
In simple terms, if a new piece of content gets 100 links in its first day but only 5 social shares, something seems off. On the other hand, something that gets 100 links and 10,000 social shares makes more sense. The search engines also noted that not all content is created equal and that they are using conceptual evaluations (what the content is about) to determine the validity of the number of social shares and subsequent links to it.
The goal, as always for the search engines, is to provide the best quality search results, including recently published content. One of the several ways they do this is through the monitoring of social indicators to discover and rank new content for not only inclusion in their respective indexes but where this new content will rank in search results.
The net result, while social indicators are not officially part of the complex mathematics of the search engine algorithm, they do have influence and may impact search results. It’s through social indicators, that search engines determine how quickly content is index and the validly of the permanent links pointing to it.