As the web has evolved, so have search engines. Back in 1999 when I began my career in online marketing, search engines used page content and Meta tags to determine relevancy. Google changed all of that when they launched their PageRank algorithm, which determined popularity based on the number and quality of inbound links. For the past 14 years, Googles link-based algorithm has been the foundation of relevancy.
The introduction of social media and blogging has changed how popularity and relevancy can be measured. Everyone is a publisher. Everyone has a voice, and a vote, through social media channels like Facebook and Twitter. Social medias ease of use and popularity have literally changed how relevancy is measuredbacklinks only tell half the story. Theres enough data being produced by people to measure REAL popularity.
Googles Author Rank Patent helps measure popularity by associating content with content producers. For example, if a famous musician writes an article about music, that article will be considered more authoritative than if you or I write an article about music, regardless of where that article was published. Combine Author Rank with Google Plus and Google Analytics and you have a powerful way to measure social media engagement and real popularity.
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Google: Following, Mentioning, Sharing, Liking
Lets start with Google Analytics. From their Analytics platform, Google is able to measure social engagement from social media sites, traffic, and interaction. If you have Google Analytics installed on your site, Google can know how many visitors you receive from Facebook, how much time those visitors spend on your site, how many pages they view, and more. This data can then be used as part of the algorithm to create an engagement value.
As they dont have direct access to data from Twitter or Facebook, Google can measure engagement based on Analytics numbers. Basic engagement numbers like retweets and likes can be added to the ranking algorithm. The problem with these numbers is that they arent always accurate with numerous sites on Fiverr selling likes and followers.
By measuring analytics, social media engagement, blog comments, and time on site, etc., Google can measure user satisfaction and subsequently create a point system for the value of that site. To determine the type of data Google may be tracking, a dashboard like Cyfe can assist with benchmarking social media growth.
Google is investing heavily in Google Plus, as this is the one social media platform that they can track in full. In an effort to turn Google Plus into the site that ties all of their measurement and social analytics together, this week Google launched a complete redesign of the site.
If Google can get enough active users on Google Plus, they will have access to significant data about what people actually love, what they share, and general sentiment across brands. Currently, Facebook and Twitter, leaving Google with little to no access, own much of that data.
By measuring social media data from Google Plus, the disproportionate importance links are given can be corrected, and social media signals can take their place as an essential part of the ranking algorithm. For example, there may be a site with hundreds of thousands of links, but perhaps they were all purchased through an advertising campaign. If that site has no social media engagement – people arent talking about it on Facebook or Google Plus, there is no commenting, no Twitter mentions- is that site REALLY popular? Social media tracking gives Google a sense of what people are ACTUALLY talking about.
Why you can no longer separate SEO from Social Media
In the past, link building was a huge component of SEO. Now, content marketing and social engagement is becoming just as important as links. Having thousands of links without social votes may no longer be enough to rank highly. In a survey I conducted of over 2000 sites and over 100 keywords, we noticed a trend where sites with a low number of inbound links, but a high number of +1s, ranked above sites with higher inbound links.
When creating an online marketing strategy, equal attention has to be placed on content development, as content is the foundation of social engagement. That content will then generate both links and social shares, which will soon be the ultimate measure for popularity, and rankings.
About the Author:
Marcela De Vivo has been an SEO since 1999, focusing on content marketing and social media marketing in the last few years. She is the CEO of Gryffin Media, a boutique agency that has helped hundreds of clients large and small improve their online visibility. Marcela is a contributor for SearchEngineJournal and other popular online marketing sites.