A client and friend recently asked me an all too familiar question that I’m sure you’ve probably heard: “with the growth of social media, is SEO now dead?”
Indeed a reasonable question. Is SEO – and its constituent parts like outreach and link development – now unnecessary? Do links still matter, or has social completely changed the landscape?
The answer is, as you can probably guess, a little bit of yes and whole lot of no.
Allow me to explain.
The off-site SEO of yesteryear is dead. If you’re concentrating your efforts on just traditional link building, you’re going to have trouble ranking. The reason for this is that social media signals, in addition to traditional links, are now a major part of ranking algorithms. Great social helps rankings, no social hurts. It’s really that simple.
Why would search engines use social media indicators in the algorithm?
Let’s look at what a search engine does. Day in and day out, search engine crawlers scour the internet to discover and index new content. In no time at all, the engines are able to see the web from a ‘10,000 foot’ view. By following one link to the next, it quickly becomes clear which websites are the most popular – they are the most frequently referenced or ‘linked to’. Add in some proprietary formulas to help judge which links are the most relevant and useful, and search engines have a wonderful way of determining quality. It’s like a democracy where links act as ‘votes’, or editorial endorsements. The site with most votes tends to win.
Some have commented that Google is host to the world’s biggest online popularity contest, and how that might not be a good thing. One thing is clear though: first prize in this contest can be high-rankings in organic results, and that has a business impact.
Now, let’s think about the rise of social. As search engines would go about their daily business of hopping from one site to the next online to discover and rank content, new types of pages would suddenly start sprouting up: social profiles. First it was just one or two of these ‘profile’ pages, then ten, then fifty, then… circa 3 billion+ as of today?
The speed of growth for social networks like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn gave search engines a whole lot more work to do, and less time to do it in. Pages on these domains (profiles) were frequently updated – perhaps daily or even hourly – totally unlike many of the older static pages online. And the content was different too: these pages were full of conversations and content recommendations.
The scope of work for the information hungry search crawler had just increased if it wanted to visit and index as much of the internet as it could.
Fast forward to today. Instead of having to rely on old school website links alone, search engines are able to listen to much of the social world too. And it’s a big, big social world.
Why not use social signals to improve search result quality?