Are You Sending the Right Social Signals?

Google’s Matt Cutts recently confirmed that the search engine was factoring in “social signals” to help determine rankings. Both Google and Bing have been considering using reputation, consumer feedback, and reviews to gauge relevancy for searchers for some time, and both search engines have taken steps to change their search algorithms to reflect social signals.

What does this mean for sites? Last month, the New York Times reported on the horrific customer service, or, more accurately, the intimidation and harassment, for which New York eyewear shop, DecorMyEyes, is known. The owner has leveraged tremendous negative attention to ride to the top of the SERPs. Presumably, the changes will make it more difficult for such sites to enjoy high rankings. This points to yet more relevance for social media sites, which are fast becoming the “search engine” of choice for products, services, and reviews.

Does this mean that businesses with greater numbers of Facebook or Twitter followers will enjoy a higher rank on Google or Bing? Not necessarily, says Mr. Cutts. It is believed that retweets and links would play a large role in rankings. Retweets are, according to journalist Danny Sullivan, “a new form of link building,” and can influence your site’s visibility.

Link “juice” has always been (and is) an important component of SEO. In fact, after content, external links are perhaps the most crucial element of a site’s SEO efforts.  Links, though, can be manipulated. Facebook Likes and Twitter retweets are, for the moment, regarded as more resistant to spamming because of the self-regulating nature of the social networking sites. The problem for search engines now is to assign a value to the “author” of these posts because there is little to no contextual or anchor text to go by.

Likes and retweets won’t replace valuable links, but it is an area on which every site needs to focus.

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