By Chris Lee
Social media shares seem to be having an increasing impact on Google’s search rankings for UK websites, according to a study by search engine optimisation (SEO) software firm, Searchmetrics. Brands appear to have a natural advantage in terms of ranking highly, while running too many ads hits search visibility, the company also found from its study of Google.co.uk for 10,000 popular keywords and 300,000 websites.
Searchmetrics said that a natural spread of backlinks is important for rankings as over-
optimised sites suffer, plus domains with a keyword in the web address still attract top results.
Search results in both the UK and US indicate the importance of various search factors, according to the study. ‘Shares’ appear to have the strongest association, followed directly by the number of backlinks in the overall summary, Searchmetrics said. Twitter is far behind these values but is still the sixth strongest metric in Searchmetrics’ analysis behind Facebook and the number of backlinks to a site. The company also found that Google +1s have the strongest correlation of any of the metrics analysed.
Within the backlink category, the number of backlinks is the most important factor in SERP ranking, with backlinks including the keyword and even those including a ref=nofollow signal having an equal bearing.
"In our view while links will stay the strongest ranking factor, social is becoming more and more important as it is hard to manipulate social signals due to the individual involvement of each user,” Marcus Tober, chief technology officer at Searchmetrics, told NMK. “The rising correlation between social shares and likes and top page rankings in Google UK shows that more visible pages in social networks are also more visible in search engines.”
Tober added that the strength of social ranking factors is hard to calculate but the correlation is a strong indicator that search engines love shares, likes and tweets from social media.
But how can Facebook be that influential in search when many accounts will be private and therefore beyond the reach of Google’s index?
“Whether a person’s Facebook page is private or public doesn’t seem to make a difference – it is the total number of shares and likes that seem to correlate with rankings,” Tober concluded. “However Google can’t actually get the Facebook data unless the page is public – you could argue that one of the reasons they created Google+ is to build a similar database of information to help search.”
According to Felice Ayling of digital marketing consultancy Target Internet, most digital marketers won’t be surprised by the findings, but “hard data is always hard to come by when it comes to measuring ROI (return on investment) for social engagement,” she added in her blog post. “It’s a clear message that the power of customer engagement is paramount to demonstrating quality and relevance of content.”