In the last few years, social media signals have been having an increasingly strong influence over search engine optimization factors, and this trend is likely to continue as Google and other search engines look for more ways to verify the credibility of a particular site or brand online. To a certain extent, optimizers have more trouble manipulating social media signals than they might have manipulating other off-page SEO techniques involving backlinking.
Online marketers tend to give conflicting opinions on whether specific social media signals such as Facebook likes influence search engine rankings. Yet repeated experiments among marketers seem to indicate that- while a site that ranks well is likely to have accumulated a great deal of Facebook likes- the link between Facebook likes and organic search engine rankings is due to mere correlation rather than causation.
In fact, statements from Matt Cutts seem to verify the lack of causality between Facebook likes and organic rank. Earlier this year, the prominent Google engineer was quoted as saying that Google will not EVER directly use social media actions like Facebook likes to rank websites. Cutts alluded to previous attempts at incorporating this data into organic search, reflecting that it was too complicated and difficult to work into the Google algorithm and the Google SERPs.
Despite Cutts’ seeming confidence on the issue, search engine marketers know better than to take Google’s statements to the search community as the Gospel truth. Even Cutts’ remarks seem to leave open the possibility that Google would directly incorporate social media signals like Facebook likes if methods of doing so that were more practical and feasible were to be developed.
Google and other search engines might benefit from making their algorithms capable of taking such social media factors into account. Looking to a website’s Facebook likes might help validate the authority and popularity of a site.
Yet Google is no doubt aware of the vibrant market for social media services flourishing on websites such as Fiverr that makes it fairly simple for a website owner to rack up thousands of likes in no time. If Google were to allow Facebook likes to influence organic rank, it would perhaps be necessary to filter out the impact of phony likes from inactive or fake Facebook accounts. Cutts statements and the existence of methods for manipulating some social media signals shed some light on the apparent complications inherent in the task of using social media signals as search engine algorithm data.
One aspect of search that has been growing in significance in recent years and could possibly rely heavily on social media signals as it develops further is personalization of search. Google has already apparently been using Google+ activity to influence search results.
For example, if a Google+ user runs a search, any +1s from that user’s contacts my influence the organic search results that he or she sees. Likewise, Bing has reportedly used Facebook activity in a similar way in search results. It is quite possible that- if Google were to begin incorporating like data into organic results- it would be done to personalize search rather than boost a site’s ranking overall.
When will Google start considering likes for SEO? Possibly, Google will never opt to exert the effort required to develop a method for using like data in ranking sites. If it ever happens, it will happen when Google both determines that it’s worthwhile to do so and develops techniques that make it practicable to do so.
Perhaps algorithm engineers at Google will become capable of reliably analyzing such information for practical application in the coming years. However, it seems unlikely that the search engine would do so before developing a method of ignoring fake likes or even perhaps penalizing sites that have attempted to boost their online influence with fake likes.
Unfortunately, those who work in the search industry can only ever rely on speculation and experiment when it comes to drawing conclusions about how Google’s algorithm works. It’s clear that likes are currently not directly influencing rank, but this could potentially change at any moment. One thing is certain: As soon as optimizers see that Facebook likes are impacting site ranking, webmasters and optimizers will immediately begin scurrying to rack up Facebook likes and analyze how they can use likes to catapult their sites to page one ASAP.
For now, an optimizer’s best bet is to stick with the tried and true factors for promoting websites in organic rankings via social media. Although likes are clearly not directly causing sites to rank well, there are some social media factors that many optimizers think are directly helping. Any efforts to boost social media exposure of a website will lead to increased page likes, so webmasters who focus on social media factors that will currently help them out will be prepared if Google ever does begin incorporating like data.
The following are some social media signals that are widely recognized as directly influencing organic search rank:
Regardless of Google’s attitude towards Facebook likes, likes are and will remain important figures that indicate a page’s popularity and- to some extent- influence. Even if likes don’t boost your ratings, they do lend a certain authority to your site among visitors, and you enjoy free publicity every time a Facebook user likes your page. Website owners need to engage in efforts to boost their like count even if it won’t directly impact organic search results.
As off-page SEO strategies, social media tactics remain significant. While it is still uncertain whether or not Google will ever begin to directly incorporate likes into organic results, it is highly probable that likes and similar social media signals from Google+ will exercise a growing influence on personalized search results.
While Google has stated that it will never look to Facebook like as direct factors in determining search engine rankings, the unpredictable and rapidly changing nature of the world of search engine optimization makes it difficult for any absolutes to hold true for long when Google is adjusting its algorithm hundreds of times per year.