How Facebook & Twitter Affect SEO

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While many discuss using Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets for marketing purposes, few understand the role these sites play when it comes to search engine optimization

Twitter and Facebook’s Influence on SEO

Google executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, has said that Google makes over 400 changes to their algorithms every year. But despite all those changes, search engine optimization has remained pretty much the same.

 

Keywords, inbound links, anchor text, HTML title tags, relevant/unique content, landing pages, loading times, quality scores—for a long time, these have been what optimizing Web sites/pages for search engines (i.e., SEO) was all about.

Then Came Facebook and Twitter

The date was July 1st, 2009.

Facebook at the time was still months away from acquiring its 300 millionth user and Twitter had just recorded 44.5 million unique visits worldwide during the previous month. Just so that you know, Facebook now ( April 2011) has more than 660 million users and Twitter is currently attracting 190 million visitors per month and generating over 65 million tweets daily.

The Bing team made a blog post announcing that they were going to start showing tweets (twitter messages) of “some of the more prominent and prolific Twitterers from a variety of spheres” alongside Bing’s search results.

The post named Danny Sullivan, Kara Swisher, Al Gore, and Ryan Seacrest as examples of those “prolific Twitterers”.

Quoting from the blog post:

There has been much discussion of real-time search and the premium on immediacy of data that has been created primarily by Twitter. We’ve been watching this phenomenon with great interest, and listening carefully to what consumers really want in this space.

Starting later today, when you search for these folks names in association with Twitter, you’ll see their latest Tweets come up in real time on Bing’s search results.

The announcement, however, was generally met with little excitement as some people thought that all Bing was doing was showing tweets from well-known people which only appear when a user searches for that person’s name and the word “Twitter” in the same query (e.g., “Kara Swisher Twitter”, “Kara Swisher Tweets”, and “@karaswisher”). In addition, Bing was doing it using Twitter’s API which makes it seem to be just another widget that shows someone’s most recent tweets. (Image courtesy of Bing.)

 

A little over a month later (October 21st, 2009), at the Web 2.0 Summit, Qi Lu (president of Microsoft’s online services division) announced that Microsoft had integrated Twitter tweets and Facebook status updates into its Bing search results.

Microsoft’s VP of Microsoft’s online audience business group, Yusuf Mehdi, took over after the announcement to “demonstrate” the answer in what he called Bing “Wave 2″, saying: “We are going to get access to all the public Twitter information in real time…” and “The other deal we have done will come with all the publically available data on Facebook, and services from that will come at a later date.

One of the features Mehdi introduced was the tag cloud that is displayed on the top portion of Bing’s Twitter search page which reflects/shows the “hottest topics” currently being discussed on Twitter.

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On the same day of the announcement, Microsoft released a beta version of Bing’s Twitter search, making it available to everyone to play with.

This was how it looked like at the time:

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Note: Bing’s Twitter search have since been modified and is now known as Bing Social (http://www.bing.com/social)

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Just a few moments after Bing’s announcement, Google’s Vice President of Search Products and User Experience, Marissa Mayer, took to the stage and made a very brief announcement of her own, saying that they have (also) reached an agreement with Twitter to include Tweets (Twitter messages) on their search results.

As it turned out, Mayer’s announcement was just an introduction to what Google really had in store.

According to Mayer, they were working on a new Google Labs project called “Social Search”. What it does, basically, is that based on what the user searches for, Google will look for and retrieve related information from the user’s social networks (which he/she has specified in his/her profile) along with its web search, provided that the user’s contacts have also included their social networks in their Google Profiles.

Some examples of social networks that Mayer gave during the demo are MySpace, Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, and YouTube.

The project has since graduated from Google Labs and is now among Google’s search options/filters.

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After the announcements, nobody had any solid idea on how the partnerships will affect the companies involved or, with regards to Bing and Google, how it will affect the search engines, and where it will eventually lead to.

People were generally clueless back then and some SEO practitioners/experts made remarks that now seem to be quite prophetic.

Like this one from Rand Fishkin, CEO of seoMOZ:

If you want your content to prosper in search engines, ignoring social media and Twitter in particular (as well as all the services that feed into and leverage it) is no longer an option. Twitter and SEO are now fundamentally tied together like never before.

And this one from Erick Schonfeld of TechCrunch:

Now that Google and Bing are getting the firehose, it could have a big impact on search results.

SEO Speculations

Even before the partnerships were forged among the search engine and social networking giants, some people have speculated that social networks will eventually have an impact on SEO.

One of these were Jeremy Dearringer who, on August 3, 2007, wrote an article entitled “Why Google ranks based upon results from Social Media”.

According to Dearringer, although he hasn’t tested his theory yet and despite the fact that he had no way of proving it, he believes that Social Media can dramatically increase organic ranking aside from link popularity.

Quoting Dearringer:

It’s my belief that Google will rank your website more favorably over time if you have more returning visitors and direct ‘type in the url’ traffic. One of the most powerfully optimized and successful sites I’ve ever created has a ratio of new visitors to returning visitors of 50/50. This site completely dominates an entire competitive market on Google. I do understand that one possibly special cause in variation cannot prove or suggest much of anything. Social Media, an interactive and updated website, valuable content, and traditional marketing can improve these statistics.

Interestingly enough, he ends his article with a quote that says:

The minute you think you’re over-thinking what Google may potentially do, or be capable of doing, you’ve lost the game.

Another is SEOmoz’s Rand Fishkin who, on April 2, 2009, wrote a blog post about the decline of linking among blogs.

Rand Fishkin theorized that one of the reasons for the decline is that Twitter is cannibalizing blogging. According to Fishkin, people who used to blog about a site/news article/clever piece of linkbait are now simply tweeting it.

Fishkin went on to speculate that, if his theory is correct, “the search engines will need to start relying on Twitter’s tweet graph, particularly for ‘new’ information and content.”

And like adding fuel to the fire, Google co-founder Larry Page had been quoted as saying:

I have always thought we needed to index the web every second to allow real time search. At first, my team laughed and did not believe me. Now they know they have to do it. Not everybody needs sub-second indexing but people are getting pretty excited about realtime.

On June 22, 2010, Rand Fishkin wrote another article that mentions the “rebirth” of editorial citation in the social Web after succumbing to PageRank and self-interested endorsements.

According to Rand Fishkin:

[…] the social web rises with the popularity of sites like StumbleUpon, Digg, Reddit, Facebook, Twitter & LinkedIn. These communities often contain a much higher percentage of editorial citations, particularly those that contain smaller communities inside them (LinkedIn groups, pockets of Twitter users and Facebook friends)

Fishkin says that people from Bing, Google, and the SEO community are aware of this “ecosystem” and are already thinking of how they can leverage it to improve search.

The biggest hurdle they saw was how to weed out the links that exist specifically to influence some sites’ rankings (which Rand Fishkin believes to comprise as much as 20% of all the links found on those sites).

In the article, Rand Fishkin opined that “social” links were still a very small factor in the engines’ ranking algorithms in relation to the overall link graph. However, he said that he thinks Bing and Google were both already racing towards innovation on this front as fast as they can.

Google Highlights ‘Top Links’ in Status Updates

Sometime in April 2010, people noticed something different in Google’s real-time search tools, which primarily gathers Twitter, Friendfeed and public Facebook status updates.

Then you search for a keyword and refine your search results to either “recent” or “updates,” the search engine will also extract the most cited links for that particular keyword.

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And when you click the “all mentions” link under a particular link, Google will pull up all the status updates that are pointing to that particular URL.

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As you can see, social media sites like Facebook & Twitter (among others) really do play an active role in organic search engine results and that trend is on the rise. No one can predict the future, but it seems likely that the major search engines will continue to move in this direction.

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