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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.

Julian Grainger

Published 21 June, 2010 by Julian Grainger

Julian Grainger is an internet consultant and cotnributor to Econsultancy.

9 more posts from this author

Comments (19)

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Andrew Steel

Andrew Steel, Business Development Manager at Objective Associates Limited

Interesting post Julian.

In terms of "quick win" rise in rankings this certainly is of use.

Any notion of scale/number of conversations etc required to see significant results movement?

about 6 years ago

Julian Grainger

Julian Grainger, Director of Media Strategy at Unique Digital

@ Andrew Still an unknown to be honest. It seems to require a significant volume though.

about 6 years ago

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Peter Young

Surely this probably more down to the impact of QDF rather than anything significantly new to long term SEO influence?

about 6 years ago

Julian Grainger

Julian Grainger, Director of Media Strategy at Unique Digital

QDF ranks content like breaking news or a press release because it is new. There is no new content on the website and all the action is off-page so I personally don't think that algorithm would be triggered.

about 6 years ago

Andrew Steel

Andrew Steel, Business Development Manager at Objective Associates Limited

Agreed, it does sound more to do with real-time search developments Google have been working on than QDF.

Roughly how long did the benefits to ranking last? Days? Weeks?

about 6 years ago

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Web Design Gloucestershire

Is there any way of increasing the longevity of increasing the rank in this manner? Or is it a matter of looking for topics/keywords and constantly extending the peak traffic/pr??

Would the addition of links within the content add a negative impact on the rankings then??

Regard

Rob

about 6 years ago

Julian Grainger

Julian Grainger, Director of Media Strategy at Unique Digital

@ Andrew about 4 weeks the first time. At the moment it's still up after a week. @ WDG You would need to add links, like econsultancy do with the blogs. That is already a well known strategy that, done well like on here, provides consistency in the rank.

about 6 years ago

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Charlotte Britton

I could see this coming for the past year - and it makes a lot of sense. From Google's view, if a company has loads of negative comments about it online, then it doesn't deserve to be well ranked. Compared to a site which has positive comments about it online.

about 6 years ago

Julian Grainger

Julian Grainger, Director of Media Strategy at Unique Digital

@Charlotte, we don't have data to say positive sentiment helps rank, only conversation. It would be nice if it did though, so it is something we will try and test where we have buzz monitoring. I think your thinking is right though, it would definitely be a roadmap the search engines might follow.

about 6 years ago

Robin Buxton

Robin Buxton, Online Program Manager at Esendex

Excellent article Julian. Is there any indication as to whether the quality of conversations makes a difference or is it just volume of conversation?

about 6 years ago

Julian Grainger

Julian Grainger, Director of Media Strategy at Unique Digital

@Robin, we don't track the end of funnel on this sorry.

about 6 years ago

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Andy

Two questions:

  1. Are you saying you set up the relationship between Facebook Twitter and Magners.com somewhere in Google settings?
  2.  Have you changed the Twitter link recently? 

It looks to me that:

Twitter.com/MagnersUK --> facebook.com/magnerscider --> magners.com

I dont think Google sees this linking relationship though, because the Facebook page isn't in Google's index.

about 6 years ago

Andrew Steel

Andrew Steel, Business Development Manager at Objective Associates Limited

I'd have thought that, at the moment anyway, Google is only working on the volume of conversations rather than the quality as such (spam conversation probably gets discounted though), or the sentiment (positive/negative).

I can't really see sentiment ever having an effect as it's fairly meaningless to Google since they don't take sides if, for example, people want to express negativity towards BP, or praise McDonalds.

Quality of conversation could, one day, be a ranking factor, much like Google attempts to determine quality of website. However, quality of conversation could be deemed fairly subjective which could lead to a number of arguments against.

about 6 years ago

Julian Grainger

Julian Grainger, Director of Media Strategy at Unique Digital

@Peter, I think Googles latest Webmasters blog post may be the best answer. @Andy, I'm saying the best way is via the API. Bear in mind I did state this was accidental. Also, Google will be looking at other peoples profiles not Magners when collecting conversations. @Andrew. Agreed.

about 6 years ago

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phil

Very interesting piece. We are seeing social interaction as an ever important tool in SEO and whilst the results are difficult to measure, it is our belief that a good and useful interaction in the relevant community will prove beneficial for our brand. Perahps Google are using this to combat the "no-follow" tag?

about 6 years ago

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inkodeR - Aidan Rogers

Quite possible the most exciting post I have read in... this is just awesome :) As social media continues to become more and more popular, changing the way people interact and share (links), it makes sense Google will start using sm/conversations as a ranking signal. Also if you think about it - a conversation like this is far more difficult to fake then getting some junk links on some rubbish SEO directory. 

Thanks for sharing!

almost 6 years ago

Mike Essex

Mike Essex, Marketing & Comms Manager at Petrofac

Very interesting post. As the rankings fell following the end of the conversation I wonder if this is more or less effective than link bait on blogs / news sites? Assuming that both are equal (and once new links stop link bait will be less effective) then this shows that social media strategies should come in waves, with the next strategy kicked in to motion before the decline of a previous strategy.

almost 6 years ago

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Phil Taylor

It is very obvious that Google is responding to social media. My Twitter posts are getting high search listings on Google, often within just a few days. In fact, if you simply do a Google search for my Twitter name, ptaylor98, I get #1 ranking in the results. Likewise, my Twylah, SWOM, and womVegas posts are getting indexed and ranked highly. I am using Twitter as a funnel to my websites and blogs, and Google is helping this effort, whether intentionally or not. I certainly hope it stays that way!

almost 6 years ago

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Pete Kosednar

Twitter tweets show up in Google search right away on instant search. Thats it. Days, week later and that tweet does not rank in search.....in my research.

over 5 years ago

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