Two subjects have been prominent in search engine optimization (SEO) over the last month or so: the quality of sites appearing in Google's results, and the impact of social media links on ranking.
We noticed a couple of fairly major changes on Sunday in rankings for a couple of verticals where the volume of contextual links and number of linking domains were favored.
This is different than the trend we saw in November/December when on-site content, social media visibility, and especially link profile diversity were favored.
Although this is a heavily generalized summary of what we saw, it strongly indicates that while social media links have been increasingly making their presence felt in the SERPs, the engines (in particular Google) may be responding to an increase in "manipulative social activity."
Perhaps Google has changed how it treats these links since the announcement that social media activity is indeed a ranking factor, (although it's still unclear how big a portion of the algorithm they occupy).
While a lot of testing and theorizing is occurring in the SEO community regarding the what, why, and how of social media as a ranking factor, there are certain fundamentals of using social media as part of your campaign that aren't likely to change -- some simple dos and don'ts.
There are many factors to take into account when looking at individual social sites; the points below are meant to act as a general guide.
- Forge real social relationships in your verticals. Having a large number of followers/friends is nice, but it's the people you have a one-to-one connection with who are more likely retweet, share, and Like your content.
- Pay attention to the numbers you can't see. With social media it's easy to get caught up with simple metrics like number of tweets, followers, and friends when assessing the value of an individual's social profile. You'd be better served examining the entire "profile web" associated with that person. Are their followers also authoritative (who follows the followers)? Are they semantically relevant? How widely are their contributions shared (and by who)?
- Expect a ranking spike every time. But monitor the different conditions under which they occur and note correlations.
- Rely on the big numbers. Again, certain metrics and be misleading. You wouldn't just look at visible PageRank when prospecting for links.
- Spam! This should go without saying, but doing things like firing out post after post of nothing but promotional material, paying bots for retweets, etc., won't do much other than alienate both users and search engines alike.
As with regular backlinks, it's quality and not necessarily quantity that will win the day with social SEO.
It's also important to note that the more traditional, contextual, anchor text focused link is by no means dead and buried. The mantra for the "future proof" natural search campaign should remain: "create valuable content, share appropriately, and target a wide range of channels."
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