The Straight Dope on Facebook, Twitter, and SEO

Ever wonder if all those links that result from people retweeting and sharing content on Twitter give you a boost with SEO?

For a long time no one was sure, because the dreaded nofollow is in use on big social sites to keep those links from being counted as a “vote” for search engine purposes. No matter what, social networking links are still highly useful from a traffic perspective, because they have the power to get new readers to your content.

But in December, Google confirmed that the playing field had changed a little. Here’s what that means for you and your content.

In May, 2010, Google’s Matt Cutts announced that Google was not using social media links as a signal. And then in December, 2010, he announced equally firmly that they had changed their mind:

We do use Twitter and Facebook links in ranking, as we always have in our web search rankings, but in addition we’re also trying to figure out a little bit about the reputation of an author or a creator on twitter or Facebook. […]

This is something that is used relatively lightly for now, and we’ll see how much we use it over time, depending on how useful it is and how robust it ends up being. The one thing I would caution people about is, don’t necessarily say to yourself, “Aha, now I’m going to go out and get reciprocal follows and I’m gonna get a ton of followers,” just like people used to get a ton of links.

In the same way that PageRank depends on not just the number of links but the quality of those links, you have to think about what are the followers that mean quality, who are the people who are actually not just bots, or some software program or things like that.

What that means is that Google has decided that social media sharing is a smart way to weed the creeps from the good guys.

Right now the effect is still probably small, while the Google teams figure out if social media sharing patterns are a reliable way to uncover the best sites and pages — and leave spam at the bottom of page 10.

Signals

Google uses about 200 “signals” to suggest if a given page is useful or junk.

Right now, links from Twitter or Facebook are still a weak signal. That means that more weight will be given to the usual suspects — how many traditional links you have, the authority of the pages that link to you, what kind of anchor text they use, and your on-page keywords and related copy.

But those links from social sharing are now a signal that search engines using — and if it proves a reliable way to get better pages to the top of the SERPs, they’ll turn up the volume on it.

Authority matters

Google and Bing have confirmed that they do take into account the authority of users who tweet links to your site.

If someone who looks, acts, and smells like a real user with actual authority tweets a link to your site, that counts for more than if a newbie (or a bot) does it. Which makes sense — just like if an authoritative site links to you, that counts for more than if a small, new site does.

Does that mean you should suck up to people with lots of Facebook friends and Twitter followers? Not exactly.

It does mean that you’ll want to create content that stands out in the crowd. Because of the nature of social sharing, the best stuff tends to find its way to the top. You may not have 100,000 followers, but someone in your 100 followers knows a bigger fish, and so on and so on.

But your content can only capture the attention of the biggest fish if it’s exceptional. So create the best work you can, always.

What should you do differently?

Probably the worst thing you could do would be to start gaming social networking sites to try and manufacture bigger follower/friend numbers.

Forget lame tricks that you think will make you look bigger than you are. Put that time and energy into creating better content — either by becoming a better writer or by partnering with a fantastic writer who needs what you bring to the equation.

(Your side of the bargain might be a paycheck, or it might be business expertise, or a great sense of graphic design, or killer chocolate-cream-cheese cupcakes. You’ve got to figure that part out on your own.)

If you’ve put off social media because you rely exclusively on SEO to get traffic, you might want to reconsider that.

Not only because social sharing will probably become a stronger signal, but because of the many other benefits that get the right visitors to your site.

That’s why Scribe SEO added Twitter to its link-building tools late last year. (And we’ll include more social media link-building tools in upcoming releases.) As SEO evolves, Scribe evolves.

Social media and SEO were never actually as separate as people think — but they’re becoming more entwined every day, and there’s every reason to think that will continue.

What if Google changes their minds tomorrow?

This is always a good question to keep foremost in your mind when you’re planning your SEO strategy.

Using Twitter or Facebook purely to generate links for SEO is a short-term play that probably isn’t worth your time.

But using Twitter and Facebook to:

  • yes, generate links and also
  • get content in front of readers and
  • develop relationships with other content marketers that will earn you high-quality organic links (the old-fashioned kind) and
  • let prospective customers come to know, like and trust you and
  • translate online connections into real-world relationships and
  • do market research by listening for customer problems you might be able to solve …

… well, that’s a smart long-term play that will build your business.

via The Straight Dope on Facebook, Twitter, and SEO | Copyblogger.