Social Counts For Search: Should We Care?

by on December 6, 2010 | posted in SEO Theory

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010 was The Day The Internet Stood Still. The 2nd was the day Mr. Danny Sullivan announced that Google and Bing count social sites in the ranking algorithms. People stirred. The non-search community noticed. Many started shaking in their proverbial pants. Others, like me, took the moment to announce that they had been paying attention, and also, to toot the horn they so dutifully invested in.

Then, once the credits rolled on the event, I started to replay the significance of this announcement in my head. I took to my roadmap and pulled out my 26 plastic keys, ready to embark on a landscaping-changing modification of my strategy. Then, something came quickly to mind during said strategy assessment.

Should I even care about this algorithm adjustment?

Spoiler alert: The short answer is no. The long answer? Also no. The longer answer?

This blog post.

News, E-Commerce and the Unchanged Strategic Landscape

Google announced that they only count new social signals in instances where it makes sense to, such as with news or returning recent popular content people are searching for. Otherwise, they’re pretty clearly using this to determine where a query deserves freshness – and adjusting accordingly. Both have also stated that a similar “social rank”, where they judge how trustworthy a person is when they tweet out a link, is integral in determining how and when to appropriately judge a link that gets disseminated.

So, what does this mean? And more importantly, what the heck should we do about it?

SEO’s jobs, most frequently are to help specific pages rank higher. Generally, we get paid to get specific URLs with high volume and immense commercial potential to rank high in the SERPs. So, we build links that pass value and move us up. So, with this new update, does it make it likely that we can do this through social? Without fail, the answer is summarily no. These kinds of e-commerce landers don’t have the social viability to get spread, so the benefit of tweeting them out is minimal. And even then, it’s likely that Gooogle is very aware that tweeting out a lander for business insurance doesn’t mean that the page should be returned higher in the SERPs – after all, the query doesn’t deserve freshness.

For the majority of the SEO crowd, this algorithmic announcement, even if we’ve been ignoring it completely, has almost no impact, and for the rest, this almost changes nothing about your strategy.

So, you say – who’s the most, and who’s the rest? Well, the most are those SEOs that don’t delve in news, or any other kind of oblique, constant dissemination of newsworthy content. These jobs, for most SEOs, are few – and while extremely well paid and valuable where they do exist, take up the minority of positions where SEOs are employed. Most content jungles that aren’t farms just don’t invest much in SEO – and, for most sites, they have reason not to – because a nice site audit and some best practices is enough for an enterprise that isn’t pumping out thousands of news pieces a day.

In these socially unfriendly verticals – or even in the moderately socially friendly ones – the likelihood that you could push up a e-commerce based SERP due to something you did directly on these social sites (not counting long term branding, residual links etc) – is pretty damn low. Because you almost certainly could not get anyone of influence to tweet out those URLs, and even if you did, the likelihood of it making an impact is debatable – especially since Google has come out as saying that they use the data in “limited situations” – and not for all of general websearch.

For those SEOs employed in news – it seems possible that Google’s algorithmic shift would help you improve in the longtail, boosting up news pieces through their social popularity in miscellaneous web searches. The thing is, though – this changes nothing about your strategy. It will just happen, and if you weren’t already taking moves to maximize social spread of news related content, you suck at your job.

Chris Brogan, A Case Study

Who knows how much or if at all either search engine will twist up the importance knob of these signals, but for now, they still hardly matter on any SERP that isn’t featuring a prominent news story. Chris Brogan publicly noted that “according to Google, my recent best post is “How to Say No””. I have no clue how Brogan is coming to this conclusion, but the important thing is his influence + this tweet + this announcement + the hybridization of this post as content + existing in a SERP that is somewhat competitive + exisiting in a SERP not necessarily worthy of freshness – meant that I had to investigate exactly where this post was hanging out in the SERPs.

Data wise, this post was liked 125 times, and retweeted 525 times at the time of this writing. So, it was extremely popular socially. That would mean that, given this algorithm and the likelihood that other influencers tweeted this + the fact that Chris has a strong domain + the fact that Chris is almost as influential as the Pope – means that he should be ranking pretty damn well, right?

Well..

Chris Brogan sounds like the name of a workmanlike OG for a good NFL team.

Oprah is the only other blog post on that list, and it’s from 2008. So it probably has some sweet crusty linkness. Or maybe the post was mentioned on Oprah’s Book Club. But the fact remains, if these social signals matter that much – Brogan would be ranking better. But this query is one of those terms that really doesn’t deserve freshness – which means that it’s the kind of term, even in the long tail content kind of way, that SEOs want to rank for – so trying to leverage Twitter and Facebook to rank for it is a giant freaking waste of time.

Because, even if you did want to rank better using this – what would you do different? Given, of course, that you have a head on your shoulders and already leverage Twitter and Facebook as a social channel.  Maybe you’d make an extra effort to tweet it out one more time where you didn’t before. Or maybe you’d make a special effort to retweet it 20 days down the line to see if you could “push it up” the SERP. You could do that, but it’s pretty likely it would have little effect due to the date on the post – and Twitterers hate old content.

Oh, Twitterers hate old content? Maybe we should only use their opinion for QDFs.

Word.

If you were wondering about Bing, the search engine that didn’t explicitly say that the ranking didn’t factor in every single SERP – well, the post doesn’t even show up on the first page for “How to Say No”. In fact, I couldn’t even find it on the first four. Yes, I stopped looking after that – I have a life.

New blog post idea: “How to Say No to Whether You’ll Care About This Algo Update”.

If This Changes Anything for You, You Were Probably Doing Things Wrong Already

Honestly, I had a whole paragraph about how businesses with great blogs should make a minor change. But I decided otherwise – if they weren’t already socially promoting the heck out of that thing in a way that created inbound leads, they, too, were doing things wrong as well. It’s possible that certain websites, like SEOmoz, that has tons of social promotion opportunities that comes with a superb marketing funnel – could imagine a new, slightly higher ROI focusing on say, optimal social strategy over an extra 20 minutes on conference promotion – but for most businesses (see: almost 100% of them), this reality doesn’t exist. So, they shouldn’t give any extra thought to this. They should nod, say it matters, and carry on their merry way.

Sure, it was somewhat cool hearing something new about the Google algorithm from the horse’s mouth. But it’s like hearing about your sister being a vegetarian – you’ll never forget it, but you’ll also never do anything about in your lifetime.

Besides, maybe, that .0005% time you were going to go a steakhouse.

And I, for one, don’t eat steak.

  • http://www.canuckseo.com Jim Rudnick

    absolutely great piece here Ross….especially as your own take on same is just about how I reckoned Danny’s piece with the state of the SEO world for us and our clients….

    oh. one small point tho? steak is good! ‘specially with a nice Bernaise sauce and a glass of Napa cab, eh!

    :-)

    Jim

    • Ross Hudgens

      Hey Jim,

      Yeah, I need to give it another chance. i never liked the idea of trying too hard to eat. It shouldn’t be a surprise that I don’t cook. I just haven’t had a juicy steak, I guess!

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Social Counts For Search: Should We Care? -- Topsy.com

  • http://www.searchbrat.com Kieran Flanagan

    Exactly, I don’t really see this having a massive impact as it stands. SEO’s working in markets which are extremely social, should already be recommending practices that help to promote content. Common sense really.
    For non social friendly markets, it’s business as usual (well, as usual as you can be in today’s SERPs).

    I really feel it’s hard to distinguish between social & seo when it comes to off page promotion. I really think how they are distinguished is dependent on the market you operate. I rolled out a link building strategy for a site in a social space that involved setting up lots of alerts to track product questions, reviews etc and have people providing good answers. Also looking at creating interesting link worthy on the site, guest blog posting etc. Most of the core parts of that strategy could be deemed “social” but “social” is just another way of reaching users to improve visibility of a site. The old days it was sending emails, forums, blog commenting etc, social is just providing SEO with more tools to do their job.

    • Ross Hudgens

      Agreed. SEO is going to stay largely the same – although the funnels we do it through will change.

  • http://www.chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan…

    So, I know pretty much nothing about SEO. I mean, I can tell you a few things I’ve learned not to do, and I know a few things that make Matt Cutts angry, and I know who Matt Cutts *is*, but that’s about it, right?

    I learned more in your post about my blather than I have in several posts on several websites. You just got yourself a new subscriber.

    Now, as you asked me how I figured out about my post being useful, it was just in Google Analytics as one of the most recently popular posts. I shrunk up the time of my sample and then peeked around. Make sense?

    I don’t even know what half of the terms in this post mean, so I had to go look them up (I’m not kidding). And I honestly don’t care about ranking for “how to say no.” I tend to rank reasonably well (but not first) for a bunch of weird things. See also “you’re doing it wrong” and “grow bigger ears.”

    To your point about social not REALLY tipping the needle as such, I think you’re right and yet I think there’s something going on there. How crappily would my post have ranked without all that attention? The thing is, links via Twitter aren’t nearly the same as links via a blog or website, so ultimately, good old fashioned link building is still part of the game, isn’t it?

    Anyhow, thanks for a great post and for making me think.

    • Ross Hudgens

      Thanks for the comment, Chris. It’s a good question about how your site would rank w/o it – unfortunately we don’t have controls. Other things that influence it are your pages getting auto-linked/scraped in many places right when they go live (Yahoo! Site Explorer says your post has 707 links to it already) – these links have to help ranking, too. Also, how would your post have ranked if it was a non-existent blog with no domain strength and still got all those social likes? Hard to say.

      But my main inference is that by looking at that results page, there is no indicator that social boosts “pushed” it any real distance above any other results that I would have not thought it to before, and because of that, it generates the main idea of this post – we shouldn’t really be doing anything w/ this in hopes of ranking better for our sites.

      Glad to have you on board. Trust Agents started me on the Twitter chain and probably indirectly influenced me into creating this blog. :)

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