Share Me, Like Me, Retweet Me, +1 Me, Just Don’t Ignore Me: Effects of Social Media on SEO

Social Media. We all know what it is, most of us use it (whether personally or professionally), and yet most people are still trying to grasp its affect on daily lives.

First, let’s start off with social media’s obvious affects. You know what your friends/connections/tweeps are doing at all hours of the day, literally (and sometimes creepily). You know if a friend of yours is just down the street grabbing coffee, you know who they hung out with last night, and you know where they’re going on vacation next week. Aside from being a stalker (yes, I’m looking at you), your brain goes into overload as you try to process all of the information. Some people ask, “Ok, so what does this mean for me?” or are simply too overloaded to really stop and think about these affects.

Simply put, at a personal level, (and pardon the mocking tone) it makes it easy to be more social! And hey, that’s kinda cool (for us social people). When you see that your friend is just down the street on a Friday night, it’s pretty easy to go meet up with them (or run in the opposite direction, if you so choose). It’s easier to make plans because you have so many options at your fingertips for connecting and communicating.

Now, for those of us who do this on a professional level, what does this mean for us? At this week’s Seattle Social Media Club’s monthly event, the panel discussed mobile devices and how they play a part in day-to-day business. With smart phones and social media applications, we now have the ability to rant and complain when we’re at our maddest. Paul Booth, one of the panelists, mentioned that while people used to have a few hours before they could get in front of a computer and thus time to cool off, social media + mobile devices now gives us an edge that companies are going to have to figure out how to battle: instant public voice. And anyone with a social media presence has a voice.

Later, Jeff Hasen spoke of a story in which he was having difficulty with a service provider and was unable to get it resolved through customer service. Long story short, that company eventually figured out that he was someone with a pretty strong presence on the web (a lot of Twitter followers) and thus refunded his monthly fee, and tacked on an additional $170 worth of free services, and yet he still didn’t feel completely satisfied. Companies are now faced with an interesting dilemma: is it right to prioritize customers when it comes to customer service?

Jeff then told another story where he was out at a very nice restaurant in a Seattle suburb (I should have gotten the name, because now I’m compelled to go there). He ordered a fish dish (ha, fish dish) and asked that it was cooked in a certain way. When it wasn’t, the restaurant promptly took care of the matter, brought him a salad while they re-cooked the meal so that his wife didn’t have to eat alone, and at the end of the night waived the price of the fish. In this case, the value of the meal was more than the service provider mentioned above and yet he felt way more satisfaction; this company treated him with respect without knowing what his online presence was, i.e. without fear that he was going to rant on the internet.

Aside from the opportunities for customer service (offering deals to nearby customers, Tweeting out daily specials, etc.) at a more obvious social interaction level (you can read my blog post about how companies should use Twitter), how else is social media affecting business? Google and Bing recently have started making moves towards integrating social media into their search algorithms. And while I think this makes a lot of sense, it certainly makes the job of an online marketer (more specifically a search engine marketer/optimizer) more difficult. In this week’s Mozinar about link building, SEOmoz mentioned the affects that social media has on SERPs. Aside from their recent announcement of Google +1, Google (and other search engines) are also incorporating other social media channels.

Facebook ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ are giving links more weight – instead of looking at the PageRank of the page where the link is coming from, search engines are now looking at how many people are recommending that link to their friends. Google relying on actual people in their algorithm?! *gasp*! Not to mention, if you’re on Twitter like me, then you’ve likely noticed that who you follow on Twitter has an effect on search results.

I’ll show you a little experiment I did. In this example below, where I did a Google search for “pie” you’ll notice that the third option down says “Pie shared this” (you’ll also notice that I have a location selection turned on; set to Seattle). In this case “Pie” is a company I follow on Twitter and is a local Seattle pie shop.
Who you follow on Twitter affects SERPs

I then logged out of my Google account (disconnected the connection to Twitter), redid the “pie” search, and noticed that the local pie shop was no longer in spot 3. In this particular little experiment, the local pie shop showed up in spot 13 on page 2. Next, to see the impact of location I changed my location to New York City, and the local Seattle pie shop was nowhere to be found. To see the weight of location versus Twitter, I kept the location as New York City, and logged back into my Google account and almost like magic, Pie showed up at spot 3 again.

This is an awesome change as a consumer, but quite tricky as an online marketer. Whereas before we could say “Ok, our site shows up on spot 13, let’s try to get to page 1 for ‘pie’”, we now have to take social media into account. Now that companies have less direct impact on SEO and have to rely more heavily on the general internet using population, it will be up to them to get that general internet using population talking about them (and liking them, sharing them, +1’ing them, etc.).

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