With the popularity of social media activities, major search engines have integrated new features to integrate social media into search results. But while those features were be introduced they didn’t necessarily mean they play a role in search engine visibility. Until recently. That’s when both Bing and Google confirmed that tweeting stories with links or sharing a page through Facebook has some impact on how these pages appear on search results.
Tweeting or sharing through social media medium is basically a way to endorse a page social media users thought is important, relevant and therefore should be shared to contacts. It is similar to bloggers writing articles and occasionally dropping links to external web pages that are treated as reference source and validating elements to their blog entries. And just like hyperlinks, tweets and shares via social media are also not insulated from spam. Which is why nofollow directive was created to combat unscrupulous activity. This made us think that social media serves a purpose — brand recognition and traffic, but not improvement on search engine visibility.
All that perception changed when Danny Sullivan, an authority in many things related to search engines, asked the big players how they actually evaluate social media activities with respect to displaying search results.
Bing launched Bing Social Search (not available in Hong Kong at the moment) as a way to display social media status pages and shared links in Facebook fan pages. Google’s Real Time Search is a feature that allows users to search for real-time entries in Twitter, Yahoo! Answers, news articles and web pages. However, these two products are not typically used by conventional search engine users who wish to find relevant information regardless of whether they are fresh (real-time) or not. For Google, such feature is just part of its alternative ways to use the search engine.
With the new announcement made by Google and Bing, we can certainly relate social media shares of our pages as similar to links pointing to them. But just like links, how each Facebook share or Twitter tweet/retweet impacts search engine visibility remains under wraps. Mr. Sullivan’s interviews offer a glimpse though.
1. Bing looks at social authority of a user. This refers to number of people we follow and number of our followers although Bing admits these parameters carries little impact, just like over 100 other factors.
2. Google does not only look at social media impact as a signal on rankings, but also on how it positions news on Google News — which ones get the headline story and which one blends with web search results.
3. Bing does not only look at followers/followed parameters, but also the authority of the one sharing it (say Danny Sullivan, Aaron Wall or Matt Cutts on search topics). Google shares the same view. Both search engines admit on calculating whether the tweet or the person doing it carries more influence.
There are many guesses on how Bing and Google think they should evaluate social media mentions, and I don’t lack suggestions how they should be measured to make sure pages people love are given due recognition, while checking attempts to spam the web.
1. Quality over quantity of tweets
It seems no brainer for search engines to value links embedded on multiple tweets is a good basis. But it would even be better if these tweets belong to unique users and not repeated by a few.
2. Relevant content
Some social media mentions come only with header and link, but others also include personal thoughts. These personal thoughts may be considered as factors that complement the whole thought, hoping that they offer relevance to the topic. It can be the status message accompanying a Facebook share or a hashtag that goes with a tweet.
3. How engaging is each post
Relevance brings more compelling reason for your social peers to relate to it and this is measured in terms of number of clicks, retweets, comments, likes and other measurable metrics.
4. Quality of accounts
If the Twitter account represents as a bot that spews out tweets automatically once a blog post is published, it may not share the same level of importance as those accounts managed by humans whether they are power users or not.
5. Background of friends/contacts
Do you specialize in a certain topic or simply a casual user who shares just about anything? If it’s the former, what about your contacts? If you are in travel industry, do you follow more popular accounts like LonelyPlanet, JetBlue, Travelocity or Orbitz? Do you share exclusive topics like backpacking, business travel, hotel deals and tips?
I suspect these search engines have more complex ways of analyzing social media feeds as part of their search algorithm in their effort to provide timely, relevant search results. Now, the line that differentiates social media and search has become more blurred than ever.