Too much has been made of the impact of "social signals" from Twitter and Facebook on organic search results. Even if recent articles are true and both Bing and Google factor social media in to their algorithms, the influence is trivial to the final rank in the SERPs.
If you look at any competitive niche, the search results haven't changed in any major way for sites that have embraced social media.
Where they have developed an edge is in the inclusion of the listings for "Results from people in your social circle for [insert search query here”." These results aren't always present. When they are, these results are pulled from people you're linked to and are based on their ranking for those terms.
It's here that I can see the impact of an algorithm and a rating of the users based both on their ranking in the regular SERPs and the PageRank of their social profiles.
Google and Bing's Social Signals
On Google, I searched for [search results”. Social signals had no influence in the organic results -- and given some of the results, there could have been an influence. But as the pic below shows, I was served "social circle" results from Matt Cutts and David Snyder -- two well ranked people in my social network and highly ranked for those terms in organic results.
In the case of Bing, they have a similar area but it serves results based on my Facebook friends who Liked pages about [search results”. This tells me that one of my friends Liked a particular page. This is more of an add-on rather than the Facebook data having any influence on Bing's algorithm picking the results.
Keeping track of these spaces now included in the search results may be a way to get on to the front page of the SERPs. However, it's a waste of time to think that you can gain some type of impact in the actual listings.
Both instances listed above show you have to have content that is topic appropriate and linked to of its own accord. In addition, you then need to be connected to the people who are seeing and who happen to share the story on social media sites.
Because of personalized search, my results for those searches are different than what you would see if you searched for [search results” in Google or Bing right now. You would need to be linked to the people and then have the good content. I saw most of those articles because of my connections.
How does social tie to search? You develop people who you follow because you have interest in their opinions -- mostly as they provide it to you directly.
Is There a Way to Game This?
After all, the interest in this is motivated by ways to improve your rankings in the search results of Google and Bing. So the answer is yes, this can be gamed. But remember, the results are personalized and the effort could be much better spent building connections in Twitter and Facebook for their own right.
Also remember that Facebook maxes out at 5,000 connections, which includes things you like, and groups and fan pages you're a member of.
Twitter, on the other hand is limitless. But as the results in Google show, you need to be ranked for the terms and have a well-ranked Twitter account to impact what the people who follow you see.
You're also competing with the other connections your followers have. So concentrate on each site for their own value and smile when you get the extra traffic.
How to Use Twitter, Facebook
Learn how to use Twitter to create followers for specific messages -- build tweets that people in that space find useful. You can have multiple account there, each dedicated to specific interests. Go the extra yard and create a blog on the topic, even if it's a weekly review of content published in the space.
Add your Twitter follow button and build a readership at both places. Do Twitter searches for the terms of the space and follow people -- if you've been tweeting relevant content, they will see that when they check out your account.
Facebook can be done somewhat similarly, but you'll have to create different names if you want more than 5,000 people in your reach. You can start with variations of your own name, but working through contributions to groups on the topic may be the better approach. There are some similarities with the Twitter method.
As far as the content goes, work like you normally do to improve any page in the organic search results. By adding Tweet and Like buttons, you get the content passed around the social networks, which can generate separate traffic. Thinking your site will rise in the organic results with a little social magic is just wrong.
Sure, your tweet might appear in Google's Real Time scroll, but to butcher a classic philosophical question, "if a Tweet appeared in Google and no one was around to read it, did it really exist?"
Absolutely, you should build followers and you may get re-tweeted. The value is really in them seeing it directly in Twitter, though.
For Facebook's impact on search results, honestly it gets way too confusing and is a real waste of your time. For a searcher to find your article, they have to be friends with somebody who followed you and Liked the page on the topic that they happen to be searching for.
It's about as easy as getting the planets in perfect alignment.
Forget Trying to Find Some Magic Bullet
Your best bet: concentrate on what you would normally do to improve your content in the SERPs and develop social media for their own sake. Don't drink the Kool-Aid of distraction.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!