You can manipulate a website's rank on Google during a social media campaign using conversations that do not contain links. Whether this is an intentional ranking factor by Google, or just a quirk, it moves social media well and truly into the SEO space.
Some of the best things are discovered by accident. This happy accident discovered in Google’s ranking system has the potential to change how we use social media for search engine optimisation (SEO).
For a couple of years now, Google has collected all the relationships between people and brands. This helps Google to find out which people have an affinity with a brand. The affinity is signalled by liking or following the brand on social media websites like Facebook and Twitter.
Google has also collected information on peer networks. So people who are connected on these social media websites and choose to make this public, are networked into Google’s social graph. The connection to a brand is also added to the graph so several in a peer group may be connected to the same brand making that brand a peer hub.
The social graph is also a tool so developers can also hard code relationships between a personal blog or a brands website and the social network. You can even categorise the relationships into the type of connection between people (contact, acquaintance, sweetheart etc). Powerful stuff!
During a project for Magners Cider we worked on SEO improvements to the magners.co.uk website. We wanted to ensure the relationship between Magners Social Media and the new website was recognised as a link. This was connected in Facebook and linked through the Twitter account and hey presto, linking done.
End of blog post? No. Here comes the happy accident.
The launch of Magners' new website coincided with the infamous cider tax budget. Conversations online grew and Magners took advantage of the change by promising not to pass on the tax to keep their prices the same. As people talked about Magners, the website rose up the ranks on Google.
The rank improved across the board for brand and generic search terms. Some of this we can put down to the improved SEO. The previous website was poorly optimised for Google. So once we had accounted for increased relevance we looked at links.
There were no links other than the couple created to crawl the website. It was a brand new domain as the UK content had moved from the subdirectory on magners.com to magners.co.uk.
Then we looked at the social conversations for links to Magners. As you see these are still online and they do not contain links. You can see my tweet there as well. It indicates where things got really interesting.
Associating Magners website with Cider on relevance was step one:
Ensuring a strong link between the website and its social media was step two:
The brand joining the conversations online the ranks on Google rose without any assistance of hyperlinks or SEO improvements on page.
For proof we set up a test Wordpress website to contain a feed of all conversations. We ensured there were no hyperlinks on any page going to Magners. Our theory was if conversations had rank benefit, this website would show up in Google Webmasters as a link. It did.
Step two for proof was to do nothing and let the ranks fall when the conversation died. The website dropped from #5 to #11 for the search term 'cider'.
However, real proof is repetition and you can watch this in action. Magners are conducting a social media campaign for the world cup through Facebook. It started last week and I said ranks would rise. They have:
When the campaign ends, the websites rank on the search term 'cider' will fall.
What this means is that you can manipulate a website's ranks on Google during a social media campaign using conversations that do not contain links. To achieve this, there must be clear signals of the association between social media pages and the website, preferably integration of social media into the web pages themselves. The resulting rank is dependent on the velocity and size of the conversations you start online.
Whether this is an intentional ranking factor by Google, or just a quirk, it moves social media well and truly into the SEO space. Social conversations drive rank and social being a brand tool, it probably drives search as well. This is an extremely powerful combination that we are now using to full affect for our clients.