Social Signals May Not Be The Game-Changer, But Social Search Is

As a former link builder, I feel I’m okay to proclaim that traditional link building strategies are an aged tactic within SEO that no longer commands the power it once held. But why is this?

Again, we come back to the two words that have haunted my dreams since 2006… social media. But more specifically, the ‘social’ aspect – and how this now applies to conventional search methods.

Now, before we start, I’m not saying that link building is dead (because I abhor that kind of declaration) or that everything is social nowadays… more that it’s the synergy of the two that will inevitably lead the way in SEO. As Head of Social Search, I kinda have to believe this, but even from a neutral standpoint it’s hard to refute.

But how did this happen?

There was a brief period where people believed that +1’s really mattered and could propel your site to the top spot – and whilst I would never deny that their influence can help increase visibility within Google circles, are they really that much of a ranking factor?

Flashback to August 2011 where Google announced that, “+1′s from friends and contacts can be a useful signal to Google when determining the relevance of your page to a user’s query. This is just one of many signals Google may use to determine a page’s relevance and ranking, and we’re constantly tweaking and improving our algorithm to improve overall search quality.” (link to source)

I was never convinced, because you only have to stumble onto sites like fiverr.com to see that +1’s are available in the thousands, for just a few quid. Black hat social building (is that a term?) could essentially alter the rankings and produce a bevy of artificial results – but thankfully, they didn’t.

Y’see, +1’s, Likes, Tweets, Diggs, pins and other blahs, are not (and hopefully never will be) the equivalent of a link. However, there is an undeniable benefit produced from these shares, in the form of increased reach, and it’s pretty much a given that this is going to lead to more links and increased traffic.

 

 A while back, I published my magnum opus blog piece ‘Top 10 Twitter Gaffes’ and saw just shy of 100 tweets, a multitude of likes and +1’s – and overall a sizeable increase in the number of links, even from some pretty notable players – Thanks Barry, I didn’t mean it!

This quickly led to an increased amount of exposure for the brand, as well as the blog, which received a higher number of overall shares and links in general (pre-domain change which mildly messed up the re-directs).

Which brings me onto another aspect of social search – virality. You can’t just churn out ‘good content’ anymore; it has to have a hook and a reason to share it. The key aspect of the Twitter piece was schadenfreude, because everyone loves reading about the misery of others! So, rather than writers thinking only in brand terms, we have to think in universal terms – look at culture, look at the news, and always, look at cats.

Ultimately, all of these combined will increase visibility, the social persona of the site and, most importantly, the potential for links. Essentially, link building has become link encouragement and these links will inevitably be the most natural, sustainable and authoritative of them all.

And once again, it all boils down to quality content. But not just quality content – shareable content. But not just shareable content – shareable properties. Associating your brand with quality product will further boost the perceived quality of products and services – and socially sharing the site will boost reach and the overall visibility of the brand online. And whilst we cannot say for sure that social signals are an integral algorithmic ranking factor, there is a definitive correlation.

 

So, all you lazy SEO companies, stop churning out dull content – sit back, have a read of the most popular tumblrs, browse on buzzfeed and write about what people actually want to read, not what you think Google wants to hear.

Tom Clark

I am the Head of Social Search at Lakestar McCANN - a digital marketing agency specialising in SEO, PPC, Social Media, Affiliates, Display and industry news feeds. I have been in the SEO industry for 2 years now, and with Lakestar for over a year, helping to create new effective web strategies, as well as integrating social methods into existing deliverables.

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