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Social Media Today, Google +1, and SEM


June 10th, 2011

social media todayMy colleague Daniel Goldstein wrote an insightful post, “Google +1, Social Media, and the Future of SEO,” on how using social media today will increasingly help organic search-engine rankings tomorrow. Here, I wanted to add to his perceptive thoughts with a few of my own. I recommend reading his article as an introduction to this post.

SEOmoz has released its newest analysis of search-ranking factors, and a comparison of the most-important elements have changed in recent years highlights how SEO professionals — and their clients and customers — need to change their strategies with or without using search-optimization software. SEMmoz’s old analyses are no longer available on the company’s website, but a few summaries have been preserved. Here I will present them in chronological order and then explain the importance of the differences as far as link-building and social-media marketing (SMM).

From SEOmoz:

Top 10 Ranking Factors in 2005:

  1. Title Tag
  2. Anchor Text of Links
  3. Keyword Use in Document Text
  4. Accessibility of Document
  5. Links to Document from Site-Internal Pages
  6. Primary Subject Matter of Site
  7. External Links to Linking Pages
  8. Link Popularity of Site in Topical Community
  9. Global Link Popularity of Site
  10. Keyword Spamming

Top 10 Ranking Factors in 2007:

  1. Keyword Use in Title Tag
  2. Global Link Popularity of Site
  3. Anchor Text of Inbound Link
  4. Link Popularity within the Site’s Internal Link Structure
  5. Age of Site
  6. Topical Relevance of Inbound Links to Site
  7. Link Popularity of Site in Topical Community
  8. Keyword Use in Body Text
  9. Global Link Popularity of Linking Site
  10. Topical Relationship of Linking Page

From Kent Ong:

Top 10 Ranking Factors in 2009:

  1. Keyword Use in Title Tag
  2. Global Link Popularity of Site
  3. Anchor Text of Inbound Link
  4. Link Popularity within the Site’s Internal Link Structure
  5. Age of Site
  6. Topical Relevance of Inbound Links to Site
  7. Link Popularity of Site in Topical Community
  8. Keyword Use in Body Text
  9. Global Link Popularity of Linking Site
  10. Topical Relationship of Linking Page

From an excerpt of SEOmoz’s latest report specifically on the future of Google search:

Top Changes to Ranking Factors in 2011 and Beyond

  1. Analysis of perceived value to users
  2. Social Signals [from social-networking websites]
  3. Usage data (CTR, bounce rate back to search results, etc.)
  4. Content Readability/Usability/Design
  5. Presence + Prominence of Advertising and Content
  6. On-Page Topic Modeling
  7. Quantity of Paid Results on SERPs
  8. Anchor Text in External Links
  9. The Effectiveness of Paid Links
  10. Exact Keyword-Match Domains

(Important note: Re-read my phrasing of the last list — it is not the top-ten ranking factors now per se; it is reportedly the top factors that will increase and decrease in influence). According to a majority of the SEM professionals interviewed by SEOmoz, the influence of items one through five in the last list will greatly increase as far their affects search-result rankings. In descending order, the influence of last five will either remain the same or decrease.

The Effect of Social-Media Today on SEO

I highlighted many of the items with the following colors: traditional optimization-tactics like keywords and title tags are in red, items involving incoming backlinks are in green, and items pertaining to social media and content are in purple. Glance at the list again. As the distribution of colors reveals, Google’s algorithm has gone through three general periods over the past decade or so:

  • Keywords. Google search-results were ranked based primarily on items like keyword-optimized meta titles and website text until 2005 or so.
  • Links. SERPs were increasingly ranked based on the quality, quantity, and anchor text of backlinks from 2005 to today.
  • Social content. From now into the indefinite future, Google will begin prioritizing rankings based on social-media sharing and the quality of the content on a website.

The reason should be clear to anyone who has worked in Internet marketing: Google has had to stay one step ahead of spammers and people who use black-hat SEO software. After people began stuffing keywords into pages, Google switched to preferring links as a sign of authoritativeness. After people began to obtain junk backlinks through tactics including directories and blog spamming, Google had to look elsewhere — and that will likely be quality content and social-media sharing.

As Danny Sullivan writes at Search Engine Land: “This would be a way for them to know how much authority that people — rather than pages representing people — have on social networks, and to let those people have a signal that influences rankings.” Rand Fishkin also has a must-read post at SEOmoz.

The takeaway: It is obvious that websites will still need to be optimized for chosen keywords and that select links will still need to be sought (like through business partners or media coverage that mentions your business but does not provide a link) — but the overall emphasis will increasingly need to be on publishing quality content on a quality, optimized website that provides easy methods for social-media sharing. This practice itself will generate more natural backlinks — the ones that Google will likely still prefer — through social media and other sites that mention a site’s content. And without the site’s owner or marketer needing to do anything else.

Google reportedly has more than 200 ranking factors, and keywords, title tags, and backlinks will likely always remain among them in some significant capacity. But now it is crucial to add social-media sharing — like Google “+1″ now — towards the top of that list.

For more information, I recommend my prior posts on article-marketing automation, lost blogs, famous blogs, blogger search-engine optimization, and turning your website into a center for social media.

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.