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Social Signals: The New Inbound Link Ranking Factor for Organic Rankings

Kerry Guard • February 6, 2014 • 4 minutes to read

Everyone from Rand Fishkin of Moz to Neil Patel of KISSmetrics is saying it lately:

Social signals are proving to have influence over organic search ranking factors

For the most part, SEOs are blogging that social signals influence on organic search rankings is in it's infancy; that while it is a ranking factor it's not yet of the staples (e.g. link authority and on-page content optimization) of search engine rankings.

After doing some internal testing and doing some thinking of how search engines have historically ranked pages, I am confident in saying:

Social signals will start becoming a major ranking factor for Google in 2014.

You can quote me on that.

What is my thinking there, aside from our internal testing data that shows some good to conclude this?

Well, it all starts with a quick history lesson...

Google came along and changed the ranking game

Before Google came along, search engines ranked content based solely on what was on the page. On-page optimization ruled all.

This spurred the rise of keyword stuffing; putting white text on a page with white backgrounds, and utilizing the now useless meta keyword tag.

Google changed all this. What they set out to do was to take some ranking influence from this on-page optimization... but also look at what pieces of content people vouched for . How can you tell which article people "vouch" for more: Article A that's about cat pictures on the Internet or article B that's about cat pictures on the Internet? Both very similar, but have all of the SEO blocking and tackling in place. So which articles ranks highest?

By the number of inbound links each article received

The inbound linking factor that Google introduced in its "Dominic" update was what really set Google apart from the rest of search engines.

Low and behold, all search engines now place almost 50% of organic ranking weight to inbound link metrics (both on a domain and web page level).

Social signals are the new vouching method

Before social media became so predominant in our everyday life, linking to websites was the primary way of "vouching" for a page's content. This still holds true today: in fact, WordPress users create 40.5 million blog posts each month. This is simply one CMS platform!

Now with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and hundreds of other popular social sharing platforms, users can "vouch" by simply taking ten seconds and writing up 140 characters + a link about a web page. No longer does someone need to own a website in order to share content they like: social media makes this so easy a baby could do it.

Ok, maybe not THAT easy, but easy enough.

But Matt Cutts saidddddd!!!!

Yes, Matt Cutts recently said Facebook and Twitter social signals do not factor into search engine rankings (watch here). This is interesting, because back in 2010 he said Google did use social signals as a small ranking factor.

So that's it right? Finito. End of discussion.

Not so fast.

Neil Patel, a guy I consider one of the sharpest online marketing individuals on the planet, put out recent findings that shows a very positive impact on rankings when you get some social media sharing clout behind a website. See below for that (this gifograph is too good):

Courtesy of: Quick Sprout

What We're Seeing vs. What Matt Cutts is Telling Us

We're all seeing social signals impacting organic search rankings. We're seeing it here with our client roster at MKG Marketing. Others are blogging about how they're seeing it. And Neil Patel shows some pretty hard evidence of this happening as well.

So, this about sums up my thoughts on Matt Cutts' recent video that we hit on above:

Our Theory: Google Search Rankings are connecting social media and SEO at the hip!

To summarize our point, search engines looking to share the most relevant results possible to a user lean on two important pieces of ranking information:

  • On-page optimization
  • Inbound link authority

Social signals have shown to have a positive relation to organic ranking factors. Even with Matt Cutts stating that Google doesn't take these into account currently, plenty of other bloggers as well as our own data shows otherwise.

Don't delay: social signals will be the third-highest ranking factor for websites. Get your social media marketing plan buttoned-up and be prepared when search engines start leaning more towards social signals in ranking factors.

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