Social Media, Branding and AuthorRank: Are they SEO ranking factors or not? (3 expert opinions)
Not all experts are famous. Many of the best search engine optimizers are quietly working away for their clients – researching, testing, and promoting websites. Their job is to understand, through any means possible, what factors into SEO rankings and what doesn’t. I’ve rounded up a few of them and asked them some questions I’ve been wondering about.
Google is making a lot of changes, and speculation about the direction of these changes is at a fever pitch. Many search engine optimizers have specific concerns about over-optimization and brand vs. keyword links. But the bigger discussion is around the bigger trends:
- What effect does social media have on SEO rankings?
- Do branding and direct traffic have an impact on rankings?
- How do Google Authorship and AuthorRank impact SEO rankings?
Let me introduce our three experts, Chris King, John-Henry Scherck, and Mert Sahinoglu, answering these three questions:
1. Is social media activity a factor in search rankings or not?
I suspect that search engines will only continue to increase their use of social sharing data as a factor in search engine rankings in the coming years. A majority of content-sharing increasingly happens in the social channel, so finding out how to best incorporate this data into search algorithms will be on search engineers’ plates for some time to come.
Whether it is Google tightly aligning its search results with Google+ sharing recently or Bing in its experimentation with Facebook search integration, the engines are definitely working to personalize search results based on user social activity.
Also worth mentioning is that as of today, Google has indexed 5.8 billion pages from Facebook and 1.6 billion from Twitter. Within these footprints lies the story of what people find interesting and relevant. Still, much of Facebook activity is completely closed off to Google’s crawlers, but expect them to continue to get as much information from them as they can.
If it affects rankings at all, it’s a tiny factor. On April 19th, Wil Reynolds from SEER Interactive published this article. If you haven’t heard of Wil before, he is pretty well known in the search community, and he has a monster following on G+ and Twitter. If you read his article, you will see that social didn’t save his site when push came to shove. I think if you write on a trusted web site and get author mark up, it can be great for CTR and increased social sharing.
Hypothetically, if you and a competitor had the same backlink profile, I could see greater social engagement giving you the edge. However, I still don’t think that 10,000 tweets that include a link to your website are going to boost your rankings above sites that have more authoritative backlink profiles, and I know a lot of seasoned SEOs that would agree with me.
However, social has fringe benefits when it comes to building up your backlink profile. If something is “shareable” on a social network, it is generally “linkable” for a website. When your content catapults through the socialsphere and racks up tons of RTs and +1s, you are getting exposure. Someone who sees those shares might choose to include your content in a blog post round up or on resource page. It boils down to making the right friends on Twitter and G+ and producing compelling content. If you do that you can have your social network doing your link building for you without even asking.
Local Search Effects: Since the Google Venice Update, websites with local signals have seen their rankings increase when people search from the local area where the signals come from. Google loves tracking the Google Plus +1 votes from local areas. It even displays the number of +1 votes if there are hundreds of them for a local area which immensely increases the CTR. Local and Social are becoming more intertwined in the Google algorithm for any major brand with local offices/stores or a local small business.
Personal Effects: When you are logged into your Gmail or Google + account, your search results are influenced by your Google network of friends bookmarking certain webpages. Even if the page they bookmark is not even in the top 100 in that keyword’s SERPs, the bookmark allows you to see that page in the first page of the SERPs. While Bing is not 100% at the localization of search results, it will still display your Facebook network’s likes in its search results front page if you are logged into Facebook while searching Bing. This is especially a very strong factor for businesses who serve a special niche demographic that tend to network a lot.
Indirect Link Building Effects: Social Media Exposure brings together actual links from bloggers and even comments. There is an indirect SEO value through inbound (usually awesome) links from other websites.
2. Are “brand” and direct traffic factors in search rankings or not?
Since a brand is mostly intangible as it pertains to search algorithms, I think it’s more helpful to think of it in terms of domain authority. The sites that have built and maintained a unique, high quality destination on the web over a sustained period of time have attributes that search engines are absolutely using as indicators that rank them over thin affiliate sites, for instance.
Direct traffic is a different story. I haven’t personally seen any evidence that search engines are using direct/type-in traffic data in any notable way. There is definitely a lot of discussion around privacy concerns these days, and it will be interesting to see what happens with this in the future.
No. However, being a huge brand gets you natural links. Other sites will link to you whenever your brand does something newsworthy. Furthermore, if people are comfortable with your brand, they will be comfortable linking to your brand as a resource for goods and services. When it comes to ranking, I firmly believe that the link graph is what matters. When executed correctly, brands have so much reach and power that they can get huge links with relative ease.
Brand can be a factor especially for short tail keywords. Brand is usually a factor when people search for a short tail non-brand keyword and then search for a specific brand name. Google is known to track Google Chrome traffic along with people’s individual interaction with the search result queries. Bing also follows this trend by copying search trends using the Internet Explorer data. This happens in global, local area, and personal settings (both when you are signed in or when you are using a specific IP address).
3. Are AuthorRank and author credibility factors in search rankings or not?
Search engines are constantly searching for better solutions to give the true author of content the credit for their work. Initiatives like the “rel=author” tag and verified accounts in social channels are interesting attempts at accuracy regarding rewarding content creators for their work.
I think the best answer for this is, not yet but maybe someday. G+ is something Google wants to succeed, but if using rel=author caused attributed content to dominate search rankings, G+ will quickly be abused and people won’t view author mark up as a sign of credibility. I do think getting tons of +1’s and having your authorship annotated on a piece of content can help that specific piece of content rank, but content doesn’t usually have a high conversion rate. I have seen nothing to suggest that +1’s and social shares transfer into your landing pages on your main/money site seeing better rankings.
Author Rank allows for larger discovery and exposure of the content in SERPs and increased CTR. As people discover the content due to the increased real estate it occupies in SERPs, over time it receives more links. Correlation does not imply causation in terms of a direct ranking factor.
I believe that Author Rank increases exposure, especially in the QDF (Query Deserves Freshness) ranking boost stage, when the content is first published. The additional exposure in the SERP real estate allows it to have higher natural rankings due to increased exposure and correlated earned inbound links.
While the AuthorRank can play a larger role in the algorithm in the future, the small percentage of websites using the Author webpage code tags and the ability to purchase Google plus followers fairly quickly makes it harder for this to be completely trusted by Google.
There you have it. Three expert opinions on three big search trends. Of course, you can expect this to change. I’ll be checking back in with these experts and others as SEO ranking factors continue to evolve.
Here’s a bit more about the contributors:
Chris King has been involved in SEO and Web Analytics since 2003 following years of experience in site coding. Currently, he serves as Associate Director of SEO at TBWAChiatDay where he develops natural search marketing programs for companies such as Nike, Hewlett Packard and Vonage. You can find more insights from Chris on his SEO blog and on twitter
John-Henry Scherck (formerly of Digital Third Coast) is an SEO Associate with SEER Interactive, Philadelphia’s finest SEO consultancy. He is a self proclaimed ‘link building bro’ and cat enthusiast. Follow him on Twitter to learn about felines, craft beer and SEO.
Mert Sahinoglu is an Enterprise Level SEO Consultant with experiences with many Fortune 500 level brands and a Chicago Real Estate Broker which gives him both a local and global perspective in digital marketing.