In a prior post on how social-media today will impact SEO in the future, I discussed the reasons that personalization is becoming so important. In just one example, different websites appear in search results — based on my research at the time — for “news blogs” depending on one’s language and geographic location.
Now, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the amount of one’s social-media sharing will affect what one sees in Google. It is no longer just keywords — spammers took care of that a long time ago. It is no longer just backlinks — black-hat SEO artists did the same thing more recently. Social media is a way for search engines like Google to know what websites and blogs are truly being endorsed by actual, real people in an authoritative way.
Here are just two personal examples. I came across this SERP for a blog post I wrote on singles online over at my journalism website:
The fact that I had +1ed my article now shows in search results and likely made it rank higher as a result than it would for someone who had never viewed, much less shared, the article.
And there’s something else as well. When you searching in Google while logged into your Google account (Gmail, YouTube, etc.) in the same browser, the search engine will tell you what items you have shared — and, presumably, the articles will rank more highly as well. The same is true for items shared by your social-media friends.
So, does this mean that SEO — as far as items including on-site optimization and backlink building — should be scrapped in favor of a laser-like focus on social media? Not at all.
From what I can see, it is a matter of statistical variance in the context of search results — think of it as something like the margin of error in political polls. Say a poll with a margin of error of 5% shows Candidate A and Candidate B at 55% and 45% in a given race. The margin of error means that the poll, stated most accurately, reveals the following:
- Candidate A — somewhere between 50% and 60%
- Candidate B — somewhere between 40% and 50%
In actuality, Candidate A could be beating Candidate B by twenty points, or they could be tied at 50%. It’s impossible to know for sure. (Journalists, I admit, rarely discuss the meaning of the margin of error because it muddles the story and gives them fewer concrete things to say about a given race.)
The Social-Media Impact on SERP Variance
In an SEO context, here’s what I mean:
Personalization and social-media sharing seemingly creates a margin of “error” in SERPs — though it would be more accurate to say “variance within a possible range” (or a different term of choice). Now, I must admit that I am a marketer and writer, not a graphic designer. So I hope the chart above is clear — just read it from right to left (and top to bottom in the SERPs axis).
- SERP — the “baseline” of a given site’s ranking in non-personalized search for a given keyword
- SERP-A — the maximum improvement in the ranking if one’s social-media friends have shared that page
- SERP-B — the maximum “penalty” if one’s social-media friends have not shared that page
Here’s what I mean. In the chart, say that a website ranks tenth in non-personalized search for a keyword. Depending on the amount of social-media sharing involving the person who is doing the looking (and his friends), the site could actually rank between fifth and fifteenth.
Now, keep in mind that this is a hypothetical, quantitative estimation. Since I am not a data analyst, I have not seen any specific, complex research into this trend — if anyone knows of such data, please feel free to post in the comments or e-mail me. I have just created a chart with a basic variance of +/- five SERPs to illustrate the basic point.
What this means is that, no, SEO is not dead — it just needs to adapt. When one improves his site’s “baseline” rankings, he also needs to optimize a website for social-media sharing as well to see the full benefit.
Here is an excerpt from a LinkedIn Answer of mine on the issue:
What shows up in search results is now affected by your (and your friends’) social-media sharing history. A site might appear #5 simply because you and/or your friends once +1ed (or liked or tweeted or something else) a similar page on that site whereas the site may appear #153 for anyone else…
Optimize your site for the best, relevant keywords and then pursue efforts to rank more highly for them. Then, you need to place social-media buttons and outlets prominently on your site…
The SEO brings highly-relevant traffic to your website, and then social-media options let them recommend everything on your site to their friends (many of whom, we can assume, may also be interested in the topic). This way, both the search-engine traffic AND their social-media friends will be much more likely to see your website in their search results. Obviously, the effect will “snowball” from there.
For more information on how personalization will affect SEO, I recommend these posts by Danny Sullivan, Rand Fishkin, Bill Slawski, and Out of My Gord. Whether you are looking into social-media software or perusing SEO-software reviews, it is important to ensure that your program of choice combines both traditional SEO and social-media marketing.
Samuel J. Scott, a former journalist in Boston turned Internet marketer in Israel, is the founder and publisher of My SEO Software and Director of Digital Marketing and Communications and SEO Team Leader at The Cline Group. You can follow him at Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. His views here and elsewhere do not necessarily reflect those of his company and clients.