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May 18, 2011

Why Social Media will be bigger than Ben-Hur.

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Why your business needs social media and SEO.

You know a blog post is going to be big when it mentions Ben-Hur. Just like Ben-Hur is to the movie industry and SEO is to online marketing, social media will play a pivotal role in the future and things are only going to get bigger. Over the past 5 years social networking has become a huge part of people’s lives and for SEO purposes social media plays an important role in distributing content, engaging with customers and generating links and the utilisation of these social networks will become more and more crucial in the future.

The word out on the web

Since Danny Sullivan’s interview article with Bing and Google and Matt Cutt’s webmaster video announcing “social signals” are now used for real time search results and both search engines are currently analysing author authority it has had the online marketing industry buzzing. How much of these social signals are used to influence organic rankings, if any at all? Matt Cutts did mention in Danny’s Sullivan’s article that the use of “social signals” is currently quite limited. But just how limited are they? We know “social signals” are definitely incorporated in real time and news search engine results but lately industry experts have noticed a correlation with the amount of social media citations and links pointing to a website and the impact that this has caused in organic search engine results.

Social media experiments gone wild

One industry expert leading the way in this research is Rand Fishkin and the team at SEOmoz. They conducted a social experiment back in December 2010 to analyse the influence of traditional links and social media citations and how these two ranking factors affect organic rankings in search engines. The test was to promote two nearly identical pages, on the same domain, targeting the same key phrase for each page but using only traditional linking to promote one page and only tweets to promote the other page. The last update posted about the test on the 10th of December reported that the tweeted link was ranking number #1 for the keyword, beating the traditional linked URL. The tweeted link is still number #1 as of this post going live.

Since this test many people have discussed the possibility that search engines can determine the authority of a tweet by analysing the author’s bio, tweet trend and content of past tweets. Other discussions have centred around that if a page lacks traditional ranking factors then search engines will use “social signals” when serving content to provide the best experience for their users .

Here at Bruce Clay we have observed the influence of “social signals” and “web signals” for some time now. Recently we have seen the direct influence of social media citations on for example our own blog posts. One example of this was a recent blog post we wrote about titled the impact of cloud computing on SEO.

Within hours of the post going live it ranked in Google at position #5 or the key phrase “cloud computing and SEO”. The day after the post went live it ranked in position #3 and two days later it was ranking in position #2, where it still ranks today. We did not conduct an official test however we only pushed the post “socially” via social networks to see the effects and found the results interesting.

The evolution of links

Another point to consider is that traditional links in the future may not carry the voting power they once did and this is why emphasis has been placed on social media links and citations. Social media is perceived to be less spammy as “friends don’t spam friends” right? Is it much harder to manipulate social media links than traditional links? Thinking out loud – Search engines could possibly use social media data more and more to help “clean the web”. As wouldn’t it be easier to use new data to rank sites then try to create ways to clean up the old spammy links and content of days gone by which is still prevalent on the internet? I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

There’s no questioning Facebook’s dominance in the social networking scene at the moment but what has come under scrutiny lately is the impact of Facebook “shares compared to Facebook “likes” for organic rankings. Recent industry discussions suggest Facebook “shares” and “likes” are very different in nature and “shares” carry more weight and potentially influence organic search results more than Facebook “likes”. Facebook rewards “shares” by feeding them into our “top news” notifications on our walls unlike “likes”. Even though Facebook links are nofollowed this should not deter anyone from focusing their efforts in this or any social network as potentially some value could be passed through these links and sites should have a natural volume of nofollowed links.

Variety is the spice of life

No matter what linking strategy you implement ensuring your site has a variety of traffic sources is vital and social media provides one of the best ways to help generate these quality links and targeted traffic. The recent Google Farmer/Panda update is a good example of how many site owners are vulnerable when algorithm changes occur. Although this update affected websites that were deemed poor or “thin” in quality of content, who’s to say the next update could target a particular linking strategy. This is why your SEO offsite strategy should not have a narrow approach to acquiring traffic but instead be based on an ethical and innovative long term plan.

In regards to social media the key is to pay attention to where social mentions are happening, how can this content and potential links be utilised and where could these mentions be occurring in the future? There are far too many social media monitoring tools to list here, but also think about the content particular networking sites generate. An example is Quora, by reviewing the questions posted you could uncover content ideas, for example find your next topic to write about to help address some common need your customers face. Be creative and try to predict future trends or needs your target market or customers may require in the future. Don’t leave your SEO offsite strategy to chance. Incorporating a diverse linking strategy consisting of quality content using traditional and social media links, while thinking outside of the box will help you achieve the best results not only for search engine rankings but even provide a better experience for your users.

If you’re not leveraging social networks for links, branding and content you will have a big hole in your internet marketing optimisation (IMO) strategy.

Do you think you’re using social media to its full potential for your business or brand?

Let us know by leaving a comment, we would love your feedback.





10 responses to “Why Social Media will be bigger than Ben-Hur.”

  1. Tristan Jones writes:

    Great informative post Lauren!

  2. David writes:

    Lauren, that’s a great post and yes social media is going to be the great big stick that gives smaller players an opportunity to run rings around the bigger slowly players.

    You should look at some more formal testing as you will find some wonderful insights, ie growing traffic 10 fold in a few weeks ;)

  3. seriocomic writes:

    The link to your “test” post is broken :)

    Also, I’d question the “test” itself if it was written on this blog (using WordPress) as WordPress normally pings SEs when new posts are published.

    Lastly, i’d LOVE a post on why this site uses Flash for navigation. Thanks.

  4. Chris writes:

    Thank you for the post. Not long but very informative. Never knew about the difference between likes and shares and I will need to do more research on the subject. This is very important for people engauged in search engine marketing

  5. James Norquay writes:

    Good post, but in my opinion social has been a key element in SEO campaigns in specific niches for years already, I mean I can remember in 2007 when webmasters were using link wheels with a high element of social media. It has just really hit the main stream market and Google is pushing it harder along with a host of other websites.

    Sure enough most of the general public does not even know what +1 is at this stage and via some large scale tests in the AU market I have already been running the results are even lower here.

    I think SEO moz has some questions to answer as the tests they usually run involve Rands accounts and his networks so his users are going to be 100% savvy SEO’s. Test all social SEO on normal users and the influence will be lower.

    But yes this all be said you really need to hit social hard along with all the other tactics, yet you also need to integrate your own tactics into media campaigns =)

    Regards,

    James Norquay.

  6. Lauren Benedetti writes:

    Thanks for the positive feedback :)

  7. Lauren Benedetti writes:

    Thanks David,

    We have been running social media for a number of years here, but your right! Formal testing is in order.

    Thanks again for the comment.

  8. Lauren Benedetti writes:

    Thanks for your comments,

    Perhaps maybe one day soon we will discuss our own site’s structure, which is made up of many, many things…

  9. Lauren Benedetti writes:

    Thanks for your commets James, Great Feedback!

  10. SEO Surrey writes:

    Really interesting post. I’ve bookmarked your site!



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