There’s a great deal of speculation on the web regarding google and its use (or not) of social media content from sites such as Facebook and Twitter in its search ranking algorithm.
Social Media engagement drives organic search rankings.
But what, exactly does that mean?
The inference in the above statement, which I hear a lot, is that having a Facebook Fan page with thousands of Fans, and having good engagement metrics on the page (discourse between fans and between you and your fans), will somehow drive up your organic search rankings.
So let’s break this down into understandable chunks, before we expose the fallacy.
Your business has a website that sells widgets and you want it to rank well on Google under the search term ‘widgets’. How do you make this happen? – You understand that Google likes good quality content and Google thinks that when people are engaging with your content it’s a sign that people like your content, and Google likes websites which are popular so it will rank yours highly – right?
Lets unpack that mouthful above, as it’s important to understand what’s being said and where it came from.
Segment 1 “You understand that Google likes good quality content” – yes, it does. Google’s main focus isn’t hiring dudes to drive around the neighborhood in little white vans, photographing people as they hang out their laundry, it’s selling advertising. In order to sell advertising, through their Pay-Per-Click model, it needs to deliver quality content which is highly relative to what the searcher is looking for. This is the way it will retain its status as the world’s most popular search engine.
Segment 2 “and Google thinks that when people are engaging with your content it’s a sign that people like your content” – Indeed it does. Google favors content which is ‘liked’ (NOT ‘Liked’ in the Facebook sense) as it sees it as relevant, authoritative and therefore useful to its users, thus reenforcing segment 1 above. Google tracks interactions between it and your website using the Google Analytics platform and its Chrome browser, where it measures metrics such as ‘time on page’, ‘bounce rates’ etc. It is this data, primarily, that Google uses to asses how well your content is liked and how relevant it is to its search users.
Segment 3 “and Google likes websites which are popular so it will rank yours highly – right?” – In theory, yes. But there are plenty of things you can do to have Google dislike your website, even when your website visitors love you.
So, how do we get people to engage with our content and thus inflate our organic search rankings? – We turn to Social Media, right?
Not so fast.
Much of what happens internally within websites like Facebook and Twitter is invisible to Google. Twitter generates something like 500 million tweets daily, each of these tweets is considered, in website terms, to be a page. 1 Tweet = 1 Page. Google, even with its vast resources, can’t crawl through and index 500 million tweets each day, not in addition to its normal overhead. And why would it want to? Anyone using Twitter knows it’s basically awash with garbage and complete nonsense, so why would Google look at that content and use it within its ranking algorithm, even if it could?
But it doesn’t quite end there.
What, from the content happening inside of Facebook and Twitter, spills out onto the web at large? And, is that content visible and useful to Google?
Ah ha. Now we’re getting there.
Let’s look at a couple examples familiar to all of us.
- My favorite pet website posts a blog on their website of a cute cat video.
- The blog gets posted automatically to their Facebook wall with a link back to the origin (their website).
- 6000 crazed cat fans all like the video.
- 1000 crazed cat fans share the video on their timelines.
- The video has now had around 250,000 Facebook eyeballs, but so far, it’s all contained within Facebook itself.
It could end there but it doesn’t. It’s statistically impossible for 250,000 people to engage with a piece of content without that content being passed out into the web at large. Someone is going to post it on a forum they’re involved in. Someone is going to post the link on their own website or blog. It’s going to start to grow roots outside of Facebook, and that’s where Google snaps it up.
Remember, the snippet of content, in this case a video, sits on the Pet website. People are linking and sharing and some of this activity is finding its way back to the source.
A website owner creates a promotional video on YouTube. It could be the same cute cat video or something relating to a product or service. They setup their YouTube video and YouTube Channel to include links back to their website, as it is this which they are attempting to promote.
Someone views and likes the video and shares it to Facebook or Twitter.
Then the same thing happens as in Example One. This time, YouTube is the sharing hub. Each time the video is shared back into the real world, a path exists (links) between the sharer, the video host (YouTube) and the source (the Pet website). Google snaffles up these links like a dog eating breakfast (or cat).
There are many ways Social Media content leaches back into the web at large, those are just two. The point is, if you have 10 fans on Facebook and post twice a year, then statistically you’re going to be invisible to Google insofar as your social media activity is concerned.
While we’re here, lets deal with a common misnomer which many ‘Social Media Marketers’ fall foul of –
Taking a video from an external source, and posting it on your own company Fan page, is not helping you much, it’s helping whomever is at the source of the video. Sure, your Fans might get all giddy about the cute cat video you just posted, and they might like and share it. But when the activity leaches out from Facebook, it’s the source/host of the video who will be rewarded, not you.
In time the above may well change. Google already sends its crawlers inside of Twitter and Facebook for a snoop around, we know this happens. But so far the data it utilizes seems to be limited to what falls outside of Facebook and Twitter, as shown above.
Eventually, having a 10,000 strong Fan base might be used as a ‘social signal’ by Google, and it may be able to connect your Fan base back to a website and apply some form of credit in the form of improved rankings. But for now, any such thing is experimental.