The evolution in Social Media Signals: What’s in it for everyone?

Only a few weeks ago we were discussing the evolution of social signals and implications from a SEO perspective on our blog.

During the past weeks, the discussion around the influence of Social signals on search has been extremely hot, and some of the top search experts have shared their knowledge and experience on the topic.

The SEO Ranking Factors that were recently released by SEOMoz confirmed the strong correlation between social media and search engine rankings.

According the research, the most significant factors are (ordered by importance) Facebook shares, comments, likes, followed by tweets.

In this post I will be investigating the implications of the “social signal evolution” from the perspective of all parties involved:

  1. Google
  2. Web marketers
  3. Users

Let’s start with Google, who only few hours after the official launch of the +1 button has made another strategic move in the direction of social, announcing the acquisition of PostRank, an analytics company whose mission it is to track how users engage with content on social networking platforms such as Facebook, Twitter as well as many others.

These 2 events (+1 and PostRank) are strategic for Google, whose objective is to obtain the largest number of “social signals” possible, to assist their mission of constantly improving the quality of search engine results.

If you are interested, the following video provides an intro to PostRank:

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Social signals can also be used as a useful metric for web marketers and publishers.

It is likely that many webmasters have yet to realize the importance of social factors for top search engine results. Writing content that is optimised not only for SEO but also for the social audience will have a flow on effect. This ties nicely in with Panda, as copy that is unique, engaging and sticky ranks better overall.

Taking the traditional SEO factors (on-page and off-page) out of the picture, content which users interact with through the use of likes, retweets and / or +1s, is surely a stronger indication of what Google has traditionally referred to as “high quality content” than a piece of content that receives “only” links.

Google has many times mentioned that content is one of the key factors in assessing the overall quality of a website. However, it can be quite a challenge to objectively assess the quality of the content, right? But if a strong correlation exists between pages that get shared on Facebook and pages that rank well on Google (in spite of Matt Cutts later saying that this is not actually a ranking signal), then, as Danny Sullivan points out in his excellent article “it could be that shares work as a very good proxy for figuring out what Google considers quality”.

And finally, what are the implications of social signals for the end user?

We all know that when performing a query it can be hard to identify the best result. Seeing that a friend (or family member/colleague/person you follow on Twitter) has recommended (shared) a particular resource can make this task a bit easier and safer.

See this example for the query ‘Hotel in Sydney”:

Instead of spending hours reading reviews on TripAdvisor, I might just decide to trust my friend Hannah (who is known as a seasoned traveler) and book my stay at the Cambridge Hotel.

Too easy. Thanks Google.

But there’s also a (big?) downside: what about the serendipity made possible by search? What about the exposure to new ideas, content, products or even travel experiences that are outside the scope of our networks?

What if the answer we want is a point of difference?

The risk of each of us becoming a slave of a “too-perfect”, highly customised, tiny, predictable web now exists; this means that, paradoxically speaking, we could be going back to an “old-school” word-of-mouth model where our closest nodes are the only people providing answers to us.

What are your thoughts about the topic? How do you see the evolution of social signals?


Sara Borghi is a Search Marketing Analyst at Bruce Clay Australia, where she’s been helping clients and developed her SEO skills for the past 2 years. She has a strong passion for travel and she loves to go back to Italy – her home country – to enjoy the amazing food and culture whenever she can. She enjoys sports, reading, live music and – of course – Sydney, Australia. To connect, find her on Google+.

See Sara's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (2)
Filed under: Social Media Marketing
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2 Replies to “The evolution in Social Media Signals: What’s in it for everyone?”

Very interesting, thank you.
Other than the obvious ‘have good content’ answer, how can webmasters increase the number of social media references to a page to help with this?
As an end user, it is good to have better search results (irrelevan tpages ranking wll is annoying) and the inclusion of social media input could be effective (but raises privacy issues). Yet I see your point about our searches therefore becoming narrower as the newer sites our network hasn’t found may also be difficult for us to find. That limits our experiences and makes it harder again for webmasters.


Hello and thank you for your comment :)

Apart of having great content (which is actually quite challenging..) there are a few tactics that you can leverage in order to increase the social references to a page: one would be to allow your visitors to share every piece of content across the major social media websites (make the Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and more recently Google buttons visible on the page). Another tip would be to package content in the form of a guide, report, white-paper and create an ad-hoc landing page for it; you can then decide to give it in exchange for a social currency (e.g. “get it for a tweet” or “download it for a share”). Also, if you sell products/services, providing testimonials (in the form of copy or entertaining videos) can motivate the visitors to share your content as well. Finally, make sure that users are able to “preview” their tweets/shares before actually posting them (it’s very likely that they’ll get disappointed if they click on the tweet button on your page, but then the tweet goes live before they’re able to review its content).

I hope this helps :)



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