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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Role of Facebook and Twitter in SEO

Since the Panda and Penguin updates to Google's search algorithm, Google has started taking 'social signals' into consideration while deciding a site's ranking. Bing soon followed suit and now the web truly has a social layer that has been fully integrated in to the way it works. Facebook and Twitter are by far the biggest social networks out there currently. Twitter, for the most part acts a broadcast medium where anyone can follow anyone, while Facebook is much more controlled in its scope with most people preferring to add people they know. Whatever the nuances of each service is, it is now clear that search engines keep track of what happens on these networks. This is unsurprising as nearly every user of the Internet in the West has both a Facebook and a Twitter account that they check and use every time they go online. What's more, the popularity of Smartphones has led to the explosion of people using these services use while on the move.
In the case of Facebook, Bing has access to the data stream which allows Bing to factor in features like 'Like' and 'Share' in their search results. Google too tracks this activity through Facebook like and Share buttons that are popping up on every website. The Twitter data stream is used to identify the links that are re-tweeted by users of Twitter. Search engines today give a lot of importance to the number of times links are re-tweeted. Sites that have their URLs re-tweeted by lots of users get significant improvement to their Page Rank.

Searchmetrics, a player in the SEO industry recently showed that a site that does well in SEO also tends to have a lot of correlated social shares. They also showed that the converse is true. Thus improvement in a site's Page Rank is fast becoming a tool to gauge the effectiveness of a particular social media campaign. Google uses all the social signals generated by Google Plus to improve search results. This is particularly evident when you search for information on a particular topic and the first result you see is an article that has been shared in a significant number of Google Circles. To date, Bing does not have a similar strategy for ranking pages that are shared a lot in Facebook, though this is bound to happen sooner rather than later.

The logic behind search engines adopting social signals as part of their ranking methodology is simple. Crawler bots can only understand a page from an algorithm's perspective, whereas a human is more likely to recommend a page based on its quality and usefulness for humans. It follows that pages recommended by other human beings are better and should be ranked higher.

Searchmetrics has also noted that both Facebook and Twitter have a strong impact on search results and page rankings. Facebook results have a correlation of 0.37 while Twitter results still lag behind with a correlation of 0.25. A possible explanation is that while Facebook reports 700 million users, Twitter reports just 250 million users. This level of correlation alone is more than enough for Internet marketers to incorporate social media as a key component of their social media strategy.

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