Here at Pronto we spend a lot of time discussing how a business’ website is the hub at which all aspects of their web properties converge. However, more and more of these discussions have started to focus on those outside Web properties - social media profiles, email newsletters, representation in search engines, business directories, etc.
It’s not enough for these properties to simply exist. They must all be well executed in a way that makes your business accessible to a wider audience. Pronto’s ultimate goal isn’t just to make beautiful websites; it’s to build a well-rounded and cohesive Internet Presence for your company.
This kind of cohesive branding across your online presence is important from a marketing perspective: creating more opportunities for spreading brand awareness. But as our research on business directories shows, it has also become essential for maintaining visibility within search results. In this article, we’ll discuss why search engines look at signals outside of your website, specifically from social media, and what that means for your business.
A Brief History of Relevance and Popularity
Back in the early 90s, search engines primarily used on-page content to determine the relevancy of results. This made it pretty easy to manipulate rankings, just repeatedly throw some important keywords on your homepage and you’d start ranking.
In 1998, two Stanford grad students turned the search engine industry on its head by using inbound links as the primary method for determining relevance and popularity. The idea being that it requires a human to build a link, thus making it much harder to manipulate rankings.
Just a little school project called Google.
With this change the quality of search results went through the roof. Of course, throughout the years, some devious webmasters have tried (and to a certain extent succeeded) to manipulate rankings through link building. But along the way search engines have started to include more and more factors that help improve the quality of search results. Google now boasts over 200 elements that go into their ranking algorithm.
Today, manipulative link building is nearly as prevalent as manipulating keywords was in the 90s. Search engines are now looking for the next big factor that will improve quality in the same way that inbound linking did when Google first arrived on the scene. The answer may lie in social media.
The Rise of Social Search
In the late 90s, it took a human to build a link. That’s not the case anymore, but for the most part it does take a human to “Like”, “Share”, “+1” or “retweet” something. This same information can be used to determine the authority of an individual user, so a share from Guy Kawasaki is way more valuable than a share from me. Looking at signals from social media provides that human touch required for high quality results.
The last round of search engine ranking research done by SEOmoz shows a very strong correlation between social factors and high rankings. Remember, correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation. These numbers don’t mean that getting a ton of Facebook shares will automatically shoot you to the top. It could just mean pages that rank well tend to get a lot of Facebook shares.
R.I.P. Google Buzz...
This research was completed waaaaay back in 2011 - a lifetime in search engine years. Back then, social signals’ impact was only implied in search results. Now it’s stated outright. Bing has a direct relationship with Facebook, and Google went as far as building their own social network.
Google went on to release an awkwardly branded program called “Search Plus Your World” (sometimes abbreviated to SPYW or Search+) which integrates data from Google+ with their search platform. With the addition of Search+, Google was hoping that they would become the one place you turned to for all the information in your life, from restaurant recommendations to family photos.
Personally, I think they took it a step too far. When I search for “Koopa”, I expect to find information on Super Mario Bros. - I don’t need Google to show me pictures of my pet turtle too.
Aww, he used to be so cute!
Despite my personal reservations, Search+ isn’t going anywhere and social signals in search engine ranking algorithms will only be getting stronger. The SEO community often talks about “future proofing” your SEO - planning ahead for potential algorithm changes from Google in the future. For now, a major part of future proofing means socializing your business.
A Social Solution
Luckily our discussions about Internet Presence strategy help us to keep Pronto’s services evolving. Later this week we’ll be releasing Facebook Comments for all blog posts. This will give readers the opportunity to comment on, share or like your articles on Facebook, directly from your blog.
Throw your newsletter into the mix, and you’ve got a nifty little loop to help drive your business forward.
Content from your site is distributed via your email newsletter, which drives traffic to your blog. Facebook Comments encourage social engagement, which improves the quality of signals sent to search engines, which in turn drives more traffic to your site!
It’s a fast paced and constantly evolving world out there. In the same way that your website design from 2002 wouldn’t cut it today, your Internet Presence strategy from 2010 won’t cut it today. Adding Facebook Comments isn’t going to solve all your traffic woes (please note, this sub-section is called “A Social Solution,” not “The Social Solution”), but it’s a step in the right direction.
As a small business owner, you should always be looking for the next thing that will drive traffic to your site. The agility that comes with a small business is the greatest advantage you have over well-established brands. Give Pinterest a whirl, dig for deeper connections on LinkedIn, contribute to an online community in your niche, or contribute to an online community in your local area.
On a granular level, social search is about gathering data from the major social networks to improve search results. But the ideas behind it are much larger. It’s not just about social - it’s about your entire digital footprint. What the search engines are really looking for is information about your company outside of your website. The only way to build that is to be active and engaging on social networks, online communities, forums, etc.
Be active, get found, get traffic and get leads.
SEO & Social Media Manager