It’s coming up on a year since Matt Cutts announced that social signals are absolutely used as ranking factors for your content, but that’s not what I’m going to talk about here.
I’m going to talk about other ways that social can drive organic traffic to your site outside of links being retweeted or publicly shared by influencers.
If you perform a search on Google for SEO, you’ll see something similar to the image below (I stripped out the paid ads). Note the position of the various results, especially the third result with is for a completely different definition of SEO.
Now what if I’m logged into Google? What will I see? Well, for me, it looked like this (again with the paid ads removed).
It looks a bit different. Suddenly there are people that I’m connected to with my Google account showing up under results they’ve indicated that they like, through some form of sharing.
The first two results are the same, but Aaron Wall’s site SEOBook.com, which was sitting in fifth when I wasn’t logged in, is now third for me. In fourth I now see the SEOmoz.org home page. When I wasn’t logged in, there were articles from SEOmoz in 9th and 14th, but their home page wasn’t showing until 21st position, way down the SERPs. Thanks to Keri there’s a much higher chance that I would click on it with it being 17 places higher than it normally ranks.
Everything else not shared by my network remains in the same order, although pushed down one or two spots based on their original position. So here social sharing within my group of contacts has changed my view of the SERPs and potentially my click behavior.
The same is also true of Bing. I did the below search for “NFL Picks” which shows the results from the third text link down.
Then I logged into Facebook and did the same search, and you can see the results aren’t too different, apart from the “Liked by your Facebook Friends” section, which suddenly surfaces a new video, a video that, when logged out, I don’t see surfacing in the top 100 results. Once again, my social network has personalized my version of the SERPs to give some content a greater chance of being clicked on that it generally has.
Even where the search results haven’t changes, I’m seeing the smiling faces of my Facebook friends sitting next to results that they’ve ‘liked’. If these people in my social circle are people that I trust, then the likelihood that I’ll click on that content rather than on the ‘unliked’ content ranking above them increase.
Real Time Results
When Google had their Twitter deal (prior to discontinuing it in July of this year) they would show a scrolling list of results in the SERPs. If users saw something they liked, they could click on a link within a particular tweet and open up a new page.
While Google doesn’t have real time search in their results, they have said that it will be returning at some point soon, with Google Plus as an integral part.
Bing currently displays their social results on a their social page but it would be hard to say that they’re “real time.”
That said, around the time of the Emmys, I saw Bing conducting a test of a Twitter widget. This widget showed up on the right side of the SERPs, with a list of results scrolling upwards.
This widget was good because it was less obtrusive than breaking the SERPs up with a scrolling list in the middle, and that it also displayed the domain of the shortened links. So no worrying about where the t.co was going to take you. All in all, I found it to be a good solution for displaying real time Twitter results, and therefore a good potential source of clicks on a SERP where your content may not be ranking organically.
Now, I’ve not seen this widget again since that weekend, and I don’t know whether it’s something they’re still testing, but it shows that both major search engines are trying to come to terms with the best ways to show social results in search results.