July 13, 2011

The synergy between social media and search

‘The more retweets a link receives, the better it performs in search results’

http://www.crunchbase.com/assets/images/resized/0000/0952/952v3-max-250x250.jpgChris AbrahamI am very grateful to of SEOmoz for doing the work that explains a little better how social media, online social networks, and the real-time Web heavily influence the results that Google proffers when we search in the form of Experiments on Google+ and Twitter Influencing Search Rankings — a lot more clearly than my recent How to become a super-node rant.

Abraham Harrison has this synergy in its DNA but I have been doing this since 2003 for various agencies sort of by feel. But here’s a compilation of the results of Mr. Shepard’s experiments: First, the real-time search you had been seeing from Google was highly reliant on a direct firehose from Twitter, which has been mysteriously cut:

The mystery began on July 3rd when Google Realtime Search went dark. The next day we learned that the underlying cause was Google losing access to its special Twitter data feed. The source of the disagreement is unclear, but the effects have been immediate. Realtime Search disappeared–all of it, not just the part that relied on Twitter. This included Realtime results from Google News, Blog Search links, Facebook fan page updates and more.

The direct result is that launching Google+, whether it was ready or not, was mandatory. Real time search of the real time Web is essential in order to be competitive with Facebook and especially Twitter — the epitome of the real-time Web — and so Google Plus is not an option, it is a requirement:

For the past two years Google used Twitter not only to power Realtime results, but also for faster indexation of content and, we believe, to calculate Author Authority for use in their ranking algorithm. Google says they plan on reinstating Realtime with the power of Google+. But the network will have to grow significantly before this works.

With real-time results, a highly influential tweet, widely retweeted, could end up as the #2 result on Google within a couple hours. For reals. Not the old answer of, “I think we can get you onto the front page of Google within six months, no guarantee,” the natural SEO shop response of the past.

My analysis is that “Google abhors a vacuum” and so in the absence of a reliable real-time feed, Google will turn its algorithmic knobs and change the weighting to prioritize other sources such as the humble blog and other sources, such as possibly Tumblr and Posterous — the closest thing to Twitter without being too bloggy, as well as location-based services that could possibly prioritize swarming behavior, location-aware live video, live photography and life-streaming.

Anyway, back to the facts from Mr. Shepard, who has made a point of answering a lot of the questions I posited above with the following evidence:

After Google announced that they no longer used direct Twitter data, Rand created a previously unindexed webpage and tweeted it to his followers. Within 10 minutes, Google picked up a tweet scraper, but not the original post. After an hour we realized a mistake. We had inadvertently included a meta NOINDEX tag in the head of the webpage. Doh! After quick removal of the tag, it took Bing a full 6 hours to index the original URL, but still no Google. Not until 8 hours after the original tweet did Google index our URL. Eventually it ranked #1 for its targeted keyword phrase.

Google is indexing for effect, it seems, requiring triangulation from secondary references and auto-cross-posts from Twitter to sites like LinkedIn, Plaxo — even Topsy — and the other secondary outlets, which can make a real mess of permalinks, an especially maddening thing when you’re developing a social media strategy that must result in a directly traceable set of metrics.

The SEO trace route needs always be as direct and and quick as possible and cannot and should not be bounced all over the bloody earth. The good news, according to Shepard, is:

Even without the Twitter firehose, it seems the Twitter effect still finds ways of maneuvering into Google’s search results.

But, much less directly but only because Twitter is the source, it is the spring, the fount, from which many other indexing platforms, such as Topsy and Tweetmeme, get the grist for their mills. In other words, Google is working ever harder to pan as close to the gold vein as possible but really cannot get there any more but pans just downstream.

The secret here is now each and every tweet needs to break through a barrier into the “recommended tweets” and “top tweets” — effectively needing to make it as close to being a trending topic as possible, so that the secondary consumers (the Topsies of the world) take notice of your work. In other words, we’ll need retweets now more than ever before:

The more retweets a link receives, the better it seems to perform in search results and the more visibility it obtains with the social media aggregators referenced above. With Topsy, for example, a URL that makes it into their top 100 list achieves much more visibility than a single tweet.

A caveat, however, is that all of this is some more 3D chess: even if you start getting loads of retweets–for example, setting it up so that everyone in your multinational, global, company retweets everything you post to Twitter–that’s only the first part.

The next, more important, part is that you’ll also need to add Klout, Twitter Ranking, Social Mention, Twitter Counter, TweetStats, etc. In other words, you need to be both popular and important.

Popularity without importance suggests fraud and gaming unless there is a secondary and tertiary rash of retweets, suggesting that maybe this low-caste, low-importance tweet contains news that is highly important, timely, rare, and powerful in much the same way that the influence and importance–where in the A-list you are listed–is conferred to you.

Well, search is a continuity of tactics and strategies. All of the tools that worked a decade ago are still being considered as part of the algorithm. Information architecture and proper SEO strategy is essential still, no matter how influential social media, online social networks, and personal and brand prestige have become, it is still only a portion of what really put you, solidly, reliably, on page one of Google.

While social can get you there for a couple hours, a proper organic search engine optimization strategy will help nail you to the first page. Cyrus Shepard of SEOmoz says it best in his last line of his article:

Tweets or Google shares alone don’t yet equate to long term ranking nirvana. Employing a synergistic combination of social media and technical SEO savvy provides the best recipe for success.

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Chris Abraham is a partner in Socialmedia.biz. Contact Chris via email, follow him on Twitter and Google Plus or leave a comment below.

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One thought on “The synergy between social media and search

  1. I think an seo strategy with the broadest profile will ultimately help you. You have to get creative in your thinking but it's also worth adding the social media icons to your pages to help create a buzz effect.