We knew it was inevitable that the worlds of search engine optimization and social marketing would collide one day. But, it seems like we might be closer to that day than many in the online marketing community might have thought.
In early December, Danny Sullivan wrote the article What Social Signals Do Google & Bing Really Count. You should read it now to understand the context of Matt Cutts response in the video and this blog entry.
So I’ll let Matt Cutts speak for himself:
The Full Transcript of the Video Is Below.
Matt Cutts: Alright we’re back for another round of Webmaster questions. A lot of questions today, we got almost 500, so we won’t get to all of those, but there were a lot of really interesting ones. Let’s start off with the most popular one, which came from WebSEOAnalytics, they asked, “Hello Matt, a recent article of Danny Sullivan suggests that Google uses Twitter and Facebook links as a ranking signal. Can you confirm this? Can you elaborate a little bit more on this?”
Yes I can confirm it. We do use Twitter and Facebook links in ranking as we always have in our web search rankings, but in addition we’re also trying to figure out a little bit about the reputation of an author or a creator on Twitter or Facebook. And let me just give you a little background on that, I filmed a video back in May 2010, where I said that we didn’t use that as a signal and at the time we did not use that as a signal, but now we’re taping this in December 2010 and we are using that as a signal. So the exhaustive place if you really want comprehensive information is to go look up Danny Sullivan’s article and we can leave that as a link in the description of the video.
But essentially, to give you a little more background, a little bit more color, the web search quality team has a lot of different groups and a lot of different offices so people, including the original blog search team, people who worked on real time search, have been working on using these sorts of things as a signal. So primarily it has been used a little bit more in the real time sort of search, where you might see individual tweets or other links showing up and streaming up on the page. We’re studying how much sense it makes to use it a little more widely within our web search rankings.
Now there’s a few things to remember, number one is if we can’t crawl a page, if we can’t see a page, then we can’t really assign page rank to it and it doesn’t really count. So if we are able to obtain the data then we can use it, but if for some reason a page is forbidden for us to crawl or we’re not able to obtain it somehow, then we wouldn’t be able to use that within our rankings. This is something that is used relatively lightly for now and we’ll see how much we use it over time depending on how useful it is and how robust it ends up being.
The one thing I would caution people about is don’t necessarily say to yourself, “Ah Ha! Now I’m going to go out and get reciprocal follows and I’m going to get a ton of followers,” just like people used to get a ton of links. In the same way that page rank depends on not just the number of links but the quality of those links, you have to think about what are the followers who mean quality? Who are the people who are actually, are not just bots, or some software programmer, things like that.
So it is a signal that we’re starting to use a little bit more, you’ll see it most within our sort of real time search as it’s streaming through but we’re looking at it more broadly within web search as well.
The New Search Engine Optimization Is Coming
In actually, it makes sense for Google to add social signals into the mix of ranking factors that it already uses. It gives Google an additional set of information that can help it to return more accurate results in response to a user query. I envision something like this: say, I tweet a link, Google will evaluate the reputation of my Twitter account; conduct some sort of sentiment analysis to understand how I feel about the content; and weight my overall social network influence. From there Google, will aggregate my individual report with that of other individuals who have also tweeted the link in other to calculate an overall ‘social set score’. The social set score is then combined with traditional SEO factors to compute a ranking for the page. Of course, this is my own speculation.
Needless to say, this new plot twist presents a challenge to search engine optimization as we know it. The future (or more correctly ‘modern’) SEO must be able to understand and influence social signals to affect search engine rankings. It adds an entirely new dimension to our craft.
I leave with this question to website optimizers who may be reading this article. Are you ready for such a radical change in how you practice SEO?