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With many people thinking that social media will become an increasingly important SEO weapon, we examine its likely importance in the long term.

When you speak with SEO experts, the hot topic is how social media signals are going to be used increasingly by Google to determine the authority of a website.

It’s believed that the number of Facebook “likes”, Twitter followers, Google +1’s and even You Tube channel views you have, the more credence you could gain from Google.

It has a ring of truth. After all, Google has for years taken more notice of how others regard you rather than how you regard yourself.
However, when you decide how much resource to put into this area you need to consider how much weight these signals are really going to carry with Google in the long term.
History has shown that the amount of weight Google gives an indicator is always inversely proportional to how easy it is to manipulate. As it became easy to stuff keywords, flood directory sites, get reciprocal links, spam discussion boards etc.. their power in Google's eyes has declined.
And when you look at how easy it is to manipulate social media signals you also have to question their future long term relevance for SEO.

Take Facebook “likes” and Twitter followers for example. Offer free cake for every “like” or “follower” you get and all but most the ardent calorie counter will flock to you. For You Tube channel views it’s even easier.

Take an ear abusing song such as “Everything I do, I do it for you” by Bryan Adams, stick it on your channel and, hey presto, over 45m views follow.
When it comes to artificial manipulation of link gaining (ie link buying) Google can impose penalties to reduce its abuse. However, it won’t be able to do the same for people who artificially try to increase their social media signals.

Why? For the simple reason that companies will be able to point to a legitimate commercial, non SEO-related, reason for incentivising “likes” “views” “follows” and the suchlike. Companies can say that it’s to simply increase their subscriber base for future commercial gain and is unconnected to the manipulation of search engine results. Who is Google to say otherwise?
As it will be easy to manipulate social media signals and as Google will have no powers to penalise this manipulation, surely the emphasis Google is going to place on it is not going to be as prominent as some people predict?

Yes, social media can be used to gain other Google influencing factors such as links from people who see your social media campaigns. But when you are investing in social media for SEO I would treat it as a means to an end rather than the end in itself.


Published 14 May, 2012 by Charles Duncombe

Charles Duncombe is Director at Just Say Please Ltd and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

2 more posts from this author

Comments (12)

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Luella Ben Aziza

A really interesting topic. Expect it to revolve around G+ for a while longer. If you're interested in this topic you might like to vote on: wwww.whatwillgoogledonext.com - I'm crowd sourcing the opinion of the digital crowd on Google's next move.

over 4 years ago



Social plays a useful part outside of SEO so focusing on how to make it work for you primarily as a channel of it's own, with some 'possible' SEO kickback is

I tend to think social will more skew an ever more personalised set of results as we move forward but they have to look at more powerful metrics than volume alone. I would imagine the years of experience of weeding through and qualifying links will give them some chops to make this work.

over 4 years ago



I think that although social is easy to manipulate to an extent, they will map the authority of the user like they do the authority of a domain. That is a way around the manipulation.

Social is fast and Google needs it to stay on top. Especially if Facebook buy Bing or develop search. It's to much of a risk to ignore it.

over 4 years ago


Steven Holmes

I don't think it's as straightforward as Google looking at the number of likes, retweets and +1s.
Regarding Twitter, Google have already admitted that they look at author authority of retweets - a retweet from Stephen Fry will carry a lot more weight than a retweet from me, for example. This is not so easy to manipulate.

And, what about the social sentiment for a brand? This is easy enough to figure out and would surely be one of the biggest 'trust' factors.

For me, the biggest social media signal that Google will pay attention to is the number and authority of people sharing your site content on social media sites, which ties perfectly into Google's desire for websites to provide great content.

Don't think of it as a simple numbers game because it's almost certainly more complex than that.

over 4 years ago

Tom Howlett

Tom Howlett, Digital Marketing Executive at Koozai

Agreed, it definitely makes it harder for Google to decipher genuine signals as opposed to ones that have been manipulated.

Could they potentially look at the overall social interaction with brands on social networks, because a popular brand is likely to have a proportional number of interactions across the social networks.

Maybe it is just being utilised for personalised search purposes.

over 4 years ago


Chris Norton

Hmm, yes is the simple answer to this. Google has invested two thirds of its development team into improving and getting us to use Google+. They are desperate to own this space following the failure of Buzz and Wave.

I wrote about this in June last year and it was widely reported then: http://www.deaddinosaur.co.uk/consumer-technology/a-huge-pr-opportunity-opens-as-tweets-votes-and-social-media-signals-are-confirmed-to-boost-search-rankings/ that Google are going to push us towards using their network. However, twelve months on they are still lagging behind massively even though they keep inovating with Google+.


over 4 years ago


Annalise Kaylor

This article comes from a point that insinuates that social signals are merely built of likes, tweets, RTs, without any consideration of the algorithms across social networks that already help determine weight, relevancy, influence, affinity, amongst other things. Not to mention the fact that this post gives off the air that SEO is the same as it was a few years ago, or even a few months back.

Brands are already inflating their social signals with contests, sponsored stories, and CPC ads and it has a minor effect in search due to the absence of trust and sentiment, as Steven so aptly points out.

Social + search is far more than a quantity game. It's a quality game if there ever was one, and if anything Google has come to appreciate it's the preference for quality content. With social comes factors like trust, relationships, influence, and time decay, all of which help separate "social farming" from quality, authoritative social signals.

Simply put, if Facebook is capable of refining an algorithm that defines my social experience by the people with whom I engage most often, with the brands I am most interested in, and by the information that the people I interact with most deem to be quality for me, Google can do that and then some.

I think you're just selling the concept of personalized social results short and doing SEOs a disservice by ignoring the subjective side.

over 4 years ago

Matt Owen

Matt Owen, Head of Social at Econsultancy

Great comment Annalise, I agree that "Social Signals" is far more complicated than simply 'number of followers', and I'm sure Google are clever enough to realise this (otherwise, they would be reducing some SEO to the level of Klout scores, which would hardly be helpful). I think in this case Charles is using these as obvious examples to make a point (?).

@Steven's comment illustrates this - Stephen Fry may indeed have a high author authority rating, as he is a respected source and is able to create actions based on his social signals, however it's difficult to define the value of those created actions as there's no constant nodal value across anyone's social network.

Again, we can assume (I know, I know, never assume...) that Google would be weighting individuals based on their wider online actions and personal profile, rather than just network/action strength - otherwise Kim Kardashian ends up with more authority than LinkedIn. As usual with anything social, contextual relevance is the key.

over 4 years ago

Andrew Girdwood

Andrew Girdwood, Head of Media Technology at Signal

It's very very hard to "manipulate" a fake Google+ profile so that it looks like a real person, has thousands of connections and shares a wide range of fresh content (prior to the topic becoming hot).

Social signals come from trusted "authors" or profiles. Gaming social signals should not be dismissed as buying thousands of followers on Twitter.

over 4 years ago


Charles Duncombe, Director at Just Say Please limited

Thanks for the comments. I understand that google may look into other factors but I still think that numbers would be a major factor. Even if it's the numbers of followers that the people who follow you have (like the Stephen Fry example) they can still be manipulated. With over 10m twitter users in the UK most people will only have less than 100 followers and so if you are able to set up accounts with hundreds (or thousands) of followers they would supposedly stick out as being authoritative and would presumably pass some of this authority to your main account.

To take the point that the interaction needs to be natural and has to produce a response from your followers, well that can be manipulated as well. You can come up with some knock out offers to send your followers in a natural frenzy week after week but should this give credit to your website? I could run an amazing social media campaign with loads of updates, competition prizes, interesting discussions and lots of “natural” activity but I could have a terrible website which shouldn’t be given the light of day. Surely Google will be wary about rating the apple by looking at the orange?

Google may look at the number of “likes” “google +’s” “pinterests” etc.. that the website itself gets but I am not sure it will look as closely at the activity on the company’s own social media account as some people predict. They are two fundamentally different pieces of real estate which personally I think will end up being ranked on their own separate merits.

over 4 years ago

Panos Ladas

Panos Ladas, Digital Marketing Manager at Piece of Cake

You have to take in consideration that the process of comparing the number of likes or followers has to be done for every domain or URL competing for the results and there might be great variations between each page.

Let's say that the search query is "hotel in Greece" then the results that come up are:
1) Actual hotels. How many likes or followers could they possibly have? Tens of thousands in the best case. And probably there will be 50 hotels that can have tens of thousands of likes.
2) Booking.com, Tripadvisor.com and the likes. The could probably have less amount of likes on the result page (the "hotels in Greece" page) than the hotels and have a few million likes in the TLD.

It's rather hard for me to say which one should score better depending on the number of likes (or followers) and I can't believe that Google has a "fair" algorithm in place yet.

over 4 years ago



Your style is really unique compared to other folks I've read stuff from. Thanks for posting when you have the opportunity, Guess I will just book mark this web site.

about 4 years ago

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