How Google’s Social Search Impacts SEO
In January of 2012 Google introduced “Search Plus Your World,” an integration of Google’s Internet search engine and its Google+ social network. In one move, the entire social graph of over 90 million Google+ users was funneled into Google’s growing knowledge graph.¹ Industry experts are still trying to sort out the impact of Google’s new social search on SEO, specifically on page rankings. However, we know a few things for sure:
- Controlling roughly 2/3 of all Internet searches, Google is by far the largest search engine (Yahoo and Bing are both a distant second with approx. 15% of the search market, respectively).
- Google+ is growing rapidly, with over 90 Million users by the end of 2011. With every new Google+ user and “+1” share, Google is adding data to their social graph.
SHARE THE LOVE
Google’s +1 share button (think of Facebook’s “like” or Twitter’s “tweet” button) , is the mechanism for Google+ users to share content. According to Google’s webmaster, the +1 share button “helps people discover relevant content—a website, a Google search result, or an ad—from the people they already know and trust. Adding the +1 button to pages on your own site lets users recommend your content, knowing that their friends and contacts will see their recommendation when it’s most relevant—in the context of Google search results.”
It is clear that Google is trying to use social search to improve the relevance of user queries. But how exactly does this work?
The general supposition behind the +1 share button is that you will generally only include people in your Google+ user circles that you know and/or trust. As such, you will be more likely to click on a website, a Google search result, or an ad that has been +1’d by someone in your Google+ circles. This content would presumably enjoy a higher click-through-rate (CTR); there is also a greater potential the link will be shared, whether it be on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or any social network.
SEO industry insiders have been trying to understand the relationship between social sharing and SEO for some time now. In early 2011, Rand Fishkin, CEO and co-founder of SEOmoz, tested the relationship between Twitter and Facebook shares and search results in Google. He found a positive correlation between the number of retweets and shares a link received and its search ranking. He found that the more the link was passed around on Twitter and Facebook, the higher the search rank of the page.³
Back to Google. Regarding the question of +1 button affecting a website’s performance on search rankings, its webmaster has this to say:
“Content recommended by friends and acquaintances is often more relevant than content from strangers. For example, a movie review from an expert is useful, but a movie review from a friend who shares your tastes can be even better. Because of this, +1's from friends and contacts can be a useful signal to Google when determining the relevance of your page to a user’s query. This is just one of many signals Google may use to determine a page’s relevance and ranking, and we’re constantly tweaking and improving our algorithm to improve overall search quality.”
IS IT RELEVENT?
It is clear that Google is trying to use its social search mechanism, the +1 button, to make search listings more relevant to individual users. This is a worthy objective, to be sure. Unfortunately, in practice Google’s social search is oftentimes producing less relevant search results.
When users are logged in to their Google account (which many people are all of the time, whether or not they notice), their +1 personalized results are shown before public rankings on any Google searches. This can have a negative effect on search relevance for users, and SEO page rankings for companies. As 352 Media Group’s Erin Everhart pointed out in a recent blog on this topic, “When I search for “web design company,” one of our top keywords in Google, it’s pretty clear what I’m looking for: A web design company. Two out of three top results, traditionally coveted for clicks, are filled with social mentions. And social mentions that have nothing to do with a web design company.” Social mentions may build trust and authority to search results, but not necessarily relevance.
TIME TO BE SOCIAL
Nevertheless, the fact that Google is the only major social network with a search engine underscores the importance of having an active Google+ brand page. More than that, companies who want to take fully advantage of Google’s social search then have to get their Google+ brand page into as many influential people’s circles as possible- no easy feat. Furthermore, these people also have to be in many other circles if companies have hopes of reaching people outside of users’ immediate network. Companies should also integrate top keywords into Google+ posts to increase their relevance in important searches. Google’s social search is therefore compelling brands to use their Google+ page much like their own website.²
The full impact of Google’s social search on SEO is uncertain. While we try to sort out the effects of +1 on SEO, companies should not abandon traditional SEO practices wholesale. SEO methods such as link building and relevant keyword usage should still be practiced.
However, in this new era of social search, brands need to produce quality content that users find interesting and useful, and then actively promote it on social media, especially Google+. Companies need to pay close attention to how they are shaping their online message, not only on their website, but across all social media platforms. As social media and social search become more widespread phenomena, brands are going to have to spend more time and resources managing their growing online presence.
Questions remain, but one thing is certain: this brave new SEO 2.0 world presents numerous challenges, but also numerous opportunities, for business.
¹ Mashable, “Google Merges Search and Google+ into Social Media Juggernaut”
² Mashable, “How Google’s Social Search Shift will Impact Your Brand’s SEO”
³ SEO MOZ, “Facebook + Twitter’s Influence on Google’s Search Rankings”
Image Courtesy of Alvin Thong