Social Signals in Search

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semaphore_smallADOTAS – No doubt brands have had to think more critically this year about social and its role in online marketing. While measurement and analytics in social continue to be great fodder for industry panels and quarterly business reviews, we all know for a fact that consumers are indeed engaged in social activity and increasingly spending more time on social networks.

From the work our agency has done to help several brands increase online visibility and reach, we also know that although Google has not publicly confirmed integrating specific social signals into its ranking algorithm, the search engines are leveraging signals that demonstrate authority. For success with organic search, a brand has to show to the search engines that the brand’s online properties or web assets have authority.

What role do social signals have in this authority play?

Those assets include social properties and certain signals have more weight than others. For this article, instead of providing an exhaustive rational for each social signal within every social site, I’m focusing on the social signal I believe has the most weight within the very popular sites of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn & YouTube. The work we have done with clients suggests that many of the signals mentioned below could be equally applied to these and other social media sites.

Twitter

Despite its 140-character limitation, Twitter offers a number of social signal metrics. A lot of people probably think the most important metric is the number of followers. However, as we all know from Charlie Sheen, winning the follower war doesn’t do much for your career choices.

From an authority perspective I believe that the number of unique messages retweeted is probably the most important metric. This metric means that people that follow your tweets are finding the information of such great value they personally believe it should be retweeted or shared.

Unique messages are more important than total number of retweets because you could get lucky with one great tweet. In contrast, if 3% of your tweets get retweeted, that means your tweets are not just informative but also influential.

Other Key Twitter Metrics

  • Number of Followers
  • Total Number of Retweets
  • Unique Messages Retweeted
  • # Mention Count (Theming)
  • Unique # Mention Senders
  • @ Mention Counts
  • Unique @ Mention Senders
  • Follower/Follow Ratio – Premise of Having More Followers is Better
  • Tweet Frequency – How Often You Tweet
  • Tweet Source – Who is Tweeting

Facebook

I know that many people and businesses strive to increase their number of “likes” (formerly known as friends). If you are a retail business it is important to have tens of thousands of likes.

However this is not the most important metric – at least in my opinion. I believe the most important metric from an SEO perspective is the authority of the like.

I equate this signal closely to PageRank. If my mom “likes” WebMetro, while it is nice it does not amount to much. However, if Oprah Winfrey likes WebMetro – all of a sudden we are the best digital marketing agency on the planet.

Other Key Facebook Metrics

  • Number of “Likes” vs. “Unlikes”
  • Unique Posts “Liked”
  • Frequency of Posts by Owner
  • Number of Comments Overall
  • Percentage of Posts that have Comments
  • Who You Like

YouTube

Who doesn’t like video, especially the Angry Birds Peace Treaty?  I believe that most people will select number of views as the most important metric. While this is clearly important, I believe the most important metric of SEO authority is the number of subscribers.

People watch videos all the time but how many take the time to watch, subscribe and then watch more. If people are subscribing, chances are you are an authoritative source of information or funny bones.

Other Key YouTube Metrics

  • Rate of Subscribers
  • Number of Views
  • User Comments
  • Likes vs. Dislikes
  • Number of Times a Video has been Shared
  • Number of Times a Video has been Embedded

LinkedIn

As friends of mine will attest to, I love LinkedIn. In December 2010, LinkedIn modified its policies to permit Open Groups. In the new Open Groups, all discussions can be viewed by anyone on the internet as well as on the major search engines like Google and Bing.

In addition, Open Group information can be shared on other social networking platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Of course Linkedin now permits Open Groups to open its closed environment.  In doing so, it also is a great strategy to secure additional traffic from the search engines.

Of the social signals that Linkedin offers, I believe the most authoritative signal is the sharing of a Linkedin update.  To me this is very similar to a YouTube subscriber.  It’s one thing to “like” a post, however, if people find your post of value – they will share it with their network.

Other Key LinkedIn Metrics

  • LinkedIn Post “Likes”
  • Comments on LinkedIn Updates
  • Recommendations
  • Connections

In addition to these sites, there are lots of sources of social signals originating from sites like Digg, Delicious, StumbleUpon, Yahoo Answers, Google Blog Search, and Reddit. These sites and other sites like them all have their own value. Localization sites like Foursquare also add a mobile social signal to potentially consider.

As we all learn from social and search, I believe the key from an SEO perspective is to identify those social sites that yield the most authority for your online assets and optimize towards that engagement.

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