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We know that Google uses hundreds of ranking factors to determine where it places web pages in its index. We also know that social media sites are becoming increasingly influential on search placements.

Charles Duncombe explored the topic on this blog a few days ago, focusing mainly on volume-based signals. I think there’s probably a bit more to it than that, or at least there should be. 

This is a think-out-loud ‘Friday’ post, rather than a definitive guide to the things Googlebot is sniffing out (for I know not what it looks for). It considers the possibilities, to explore what Google might be able to make sense of. I invite you to share your own ideas in the comments section below.

So then, what kind of social signals might it take notice of on Twitter?

Volume

The sheer number of tweets is likely to be a major influence, not least because it’s one of the easiest things for Google to figure out. 

Research from Branded3 showed some strong correlations between rankings and retweet volume. It found that the more (re)tweets, the higher the rankings. If you can muster a whopping 7,500+ retweets then you might find yourself on the first page of Google, according to this study. 

Average retweet volume

Let’s say Google has figured out that I average 200 retweets for every new blog post that I publish. If I write a post that generates 2,000 retweets then that might wave a big flag in its face.

Context and comment

Last year I wrote about how to extract meaning from retweets. Some people will retweet others verbatim, without appending their own comments or views. I much prefer to see the tweets that say “great post” or “rubbish post”. Google might take notice of these nano reviews, just as I do. 

The ‘65 character rule’ for headlines should be adhered to if you want to encourage people to add comments to retweets.

Bio information

What keywords are in your bio? Do they match the content and focus of your Twitter feed? What about your followers, and the people you are following? If Google can make sense of your interests, expertise and influence then it stands to reason that it might use this knowledge when calculating search placements.

Human-powered accounts vs feeds

It is really easy for a human to spot a Twitter account that is purely automated. Google should be able to take notice of this too, to discount accounts that have no conversational tweets or only ever share links to one source.

Reach

Your own network of followers will be responsible for driving the majority of retweets, at least initially. But sometimes one or more tipping points are reached and many people from outside your network will share your content. I think of this as ‘the Kevin Bacon effect’, and it’s potentially something Google could consider when sniffing around social platforms for information.

Frequency

How often do you share content on Twitter? Low volume accounts with a high velocity of retweets suggest authority, for example @ThisIsSethsBlog (although points may be deducted for automation and a thorough absence of conversation).

Retweeter authority

Who is doing the tweeting? How much of an authority are they on the subject that they are tweeting about? If Avinash Kaushik retweets one of our analytics-themed blog posts then will Google give us a little extra love? That stands to reason, from where I’m sitting.

Conversational vs link-based tweets

Google will take particular care over tweets containing links, since links continue to make Google’s world spin. But to what degree might conversation-based tweets impact rankings, if at all? Will Google only take notice of tweets with links in them, or is there a bigger picture to look at? Remember that we all talk about brands on Twitter without necessarily linking to them.

Follower vs following ratios

If you’re lucky enough to have 100,000 followers but only follow 100 people then Google may well assign VIP status to you and your tweets. Retweets from celebrities will be even more sought after.

Spam followers

There are tools that you can use to remove spammers who are following you. This is a good idea, even if it does reduce your follower numbers (artificially inflated by morons, so don’t worry about it). If Google starts to take notice of the proportion of spammers following Twitter accounts then it will become the hygienic thing to do.

Verified accounts

Presumably this is at the very least an indicator of credibility. 

What do you think? What social signals do you think are the most important for Google?

Chris Lake

Published 18 May, 2012 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

582 more posts from this author

Comments (29)

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James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Chris,

Great post, thanks for the thoughts.

I think the likes of Google & Bing are going to look at recency more and more - Google's March update informed us that recency of video views on YouTube would be taken more seriously:

http://insidesearch.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/search-quality-highlights-50-changes.html

Excerpt:
Improvements to freshness in Video Universal. [launch codename "graphite", project codename "Freshness"] We’ve improved the freshness of video results to better detect stale videos and return fresh content.

I think the same will ring true with social to get search engines closer to real time results. So if you have a webpage that is trending for tweets, likes etc it is more likely to be boosted than a webpage that got social love 2 months earlier.

Of course, it's only 1 ranking signal but the emphasis on freshness is likely to get stronger.

Is that a good thing? Yes and no. There is a social tendency to share the latest content - social proof factor encourages people to tweet what others are tweeting, whether or not it's the 'best' content out there. So that might mean that good quality content gets buried sometimes in order to promote the new.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Right i'm off to retweet this so I look like my finger's on the pulse....

cheers
james

over 4 years ago

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Nick Stamoulis

I think retweeter authority is definitely something to consider. Who else is sharing your content? Is it real people or bot profiles? Who are those people connected with?

over 4 years ago

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Paul Clayton

Hi Chris, Really good blog with useful info. I have sent it out to my Linkedin contacts and now going to retweet. Let's see what happens

over 4 years ago

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Jon Davey

"Those who get followed but only follow a few should get google bonus points"

Get over yourself... rock stars get millions of followers but tweet waffle... and that should fly? Right out the door...

I asked a twitter guru to raise votes for a competitiooon.... i asked someone with 12 twitter followers to do the same... the non twitter person got 34 votes... the twitter glory dude got 2...

run your formulae across that ;)

over 4 years ago

Neil Warren

Neil Warren, Publisher at 2N Media Ltd - ModernSelling.com

The sooner you great people here at Econsultancy notice that LinkedIn is the future for UK / Global B2B people, and for example facilitate joining us in LinkedIn uniform with your main site here, the happier I and millions of others will be.

See The Death of Ecademy, for more.

over 4 years ago

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Hamlet

Very good post But i think
Follower vs following ratios will not affect in search Rankings.

over 4 years ago

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Michael

What are these tools to remove spammers from following you? I've been wondering what I can do.

over 4 years ago

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Joe

Hamlet, I agree, I don't think it is a ranking factor. But, I do think Google checks the ratio for other reasons. If a post is retweeted by a thousand profiles that have either no followers or an equal ratio of followers to followed, then that could be a strong sign of spam.

A good percentage of real twitter accounts have more followers than followed. This ratio should hold true to retweeters.

Fake or spam accounts have either no followers or around the same number of followers as followed. If your posts get retweeted almost exclusively by these accounts, then they could be ignored as a whole.

over 4 years ago

Greg Spence

Greg Spence, Managing Director at Connect4Advice Ltd

I am getting tired of articles and posts like this one trying to second guess Google, their ranking algorithm, what they may do next, and what we need to think about to get our content ranked.

Let's step back and look at the opportunities Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other sites give us, and how best they can be used to provide value to people in our community.

This article only proliferates the desire to produce content that simply ranks by trying to give clues as to what the content producer should do to get noticed. You have a blatant example right in the comments section here.

Someone called "Social Media" has posted a non-sensical comment in the hope that they will get clicks to their website. How fortunate his/her parents had the foresight to give them a first name of "Social" having a last name of "Media"! This comment really adds to the quality of this debate.

Let's stop second guessing Google and start to provide value to our communities.

over 4 years ago

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Yvette Aitken

Useful ideas, I do however worry that all SEO ers out there will now find ways to use this info, I for one am willing to split test this Twitter theory on a couple of websites, Google+ still seems to be their preferred 'love' for obvious reasons I guess, Facebook seems to have slipped down in SEO rankings also

over 4 years ago

Dean Marsden

Dean Marsden, Digital Marketing Executive at Koozai Ltd

Nice idea for a post Chris. What does everyone think about follower's follower quality? A bit like Klout's scoring, where the value of your connections is more important than the size of your connections?

Could followers on their own be a big factor even if you didn't get a RT from them? It's still a signal that Google might think you are important.

A RT from these people is going to get you a lot more of traffic and is a big signal to Google showing the link was important, but its not going to benefit your own site unless its a link to your site?

My other prediction would be Click Through Rates, after all relevancy of links is a biggy for Google in AdWords and naturally. What do you think?

over 4 years ago

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James Doncaster, Digital Marketing Executive at Cimex Media Ltd

Lets not forget Twitter is hardly open with the data it shares with Google...

over 4 years ago

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Mark

I think it would be interesting to give increasing weight to 2nd/3rd/nth level followers. It's fair to assume a lot of your followers will RT, maybe they just like you (the celeb followers). But if someone down the chain retweets and retweets...doesn't that suggest the original content is more useful, rather than popular?

over 4 years ago

Joakim Nilsson

Joakim Nilsson, Head of social media at Betclic Everest Group

Wonder if google could get access to all this information?

over 4 years ago

Steve Morgan

Steve Morgan, Freelance SEO Consultant at Morgan Online Marketing

@Hamlet & Joe,

If follower ratio isn't a factor at the moment then it could very well be at some point. After all, it's pretty obvious when someone has 100,000 followers that they're potentially gaming things if they're following 100,000 profiles as well (for a start, it's not normal to follow that many people - where would they get the time to read all those tweets?!)

And I can't see it being too hard for an algorithm or a computer equation to figure out what's a good follow ratio and what's bad, either.

over 4 years ago

Neil Warren

Neil Warren, Publisher at 2N Media Ltd - ModernSelling.com

Point 2 being that a list of reader comments is one thing, and not very valuable, where an engaging discussion with people who can properly identify each other, preferably led and encouraged by the thought leader (expert, trusted adviser), is entirely another - and much, much more valuable, particularly in B2B, and whatever Google says.

over 4 years ago

Neil Warren

Neil Warren, Publisher at 2N Media Ltd - ModernSelling.com

P.S. @Matt Owen - links not allowed Matt, even useful and necessary ones, thus your entire comment auto-deleted - go figure.

over 4 years ago

Steve Morgan

Steve Morgan, Freelance SEO Consultant at Morgan Online Marketing

@Neil,

When that happens to me, I usually inform Econ on Twitter and they usually fix it and show the comment. It's their spam filter - plays a little on the strict side... ;-)

over 4 years ago

Matt Owen

Matt Owen, Head of Social at Econsultancy

haha, sorry guys -actually that was me deleting due to a typo - link is: http://www.linkedin.com/company/econsultancy

We do allow links to be posted in comments, as long as they are relevant -@Neil, have you checked out our own forums? As mentioned I'm actually half way through writing a post on our LinkedIn engagement, we are there - just not in the way most people expect us to be ;)

over 4 years ago

Neil Warren

Neil Warren, Publisher at 2N Media Ltd - ModernSelling.com

Ah yes - NOW I see you Matt (and 55 colleagues in my network and 90 in total).

I would suggest that whoever (techie - boss - budget holder) makes the link open a new tab though?

Also I "did" Forums on our main ModernSelling.com site, and ended up with way too many "SpivvySeller" contributors, like Greg's point about "Social Media" above.

And I also tried the old "complaints dept" thing, Steve, but found the time lags made that fairly pointless, let alone the fewer and fewer times that I found that "United Digital Marketing" had anything much to do with the UK B2B Sales Profession.

Too much like hard work, sorting my wheat from consumer marketing chaff, let alone that so few then would be too bothered to click through my (laboriously assembled) Bronze badge, and where a LinkedIn link to me and our LI Group and main site and so on would be so much easier and better for all, as per my original gripe / suggestion box.

I did base the 2011 re-skin of ModSell on all that was good about Econ though, if flattery will get me anywhere?

over 4 years ago

Matt Owen

Matt Owen, Head of Social at Econsultancy

It's an interesting point Neil (and yes agreed - 'open in new tab' :) Econ was originally an online forum, and the forums are still busy and do contain some very good content (If I do say so myself), we keep a close eye on them and thankfully there's very little spam in general. As with the blog the filter can be a little temperamental, so we run through it manually every couple of days.

As I say, we have a company page and three LinkedIn groups, but as a membership org, it's far more valuable for us to bring traffic here and have users interact on the site, rather than lurking off on other platforms.In addition, LinkedIn isn't particularly set up to promote businesses (as a unified entity),rather, there's a focus on the individual, which is where we gain value from LinkedIn. More detail on this to come (or if you prefer "I don't want to post an entire new blog post in the comments" ;).

On the Twitter data point, I'd assume that if apps can access Twitter data, Google certainly can.

The interesting thing for me with any measurement 'score' for Twitter lies in the nodal value of a particular user network, which would tend to be stronger for very small, niche accounts. @modelrailwayenthusiasts is probably nodally far more influential than @BarackObama - if you're selling model railway parts obviously... So signals would need to be contextually attributed by relevant network.

If anyone has the tools to figure this out automatically, I'd bet on it being Google.

over 4 years ago

Neil Warren

Neil Warren, Publisher at 2N Media Ltd - ModernSelling.com

I won't risk the link Matt, but if you'd care to Google "modern selling media pack", you'll also find The Sales Direction Database morphing through that, precisely and exactly to start putting sales people in touch with companies and all their staff, via LinkedIn pages.

And I'm just limbering up to include 100,000 more records, from a major UK business data supplier, for pan-industry versions of same.

I absolutely get the point about needing the traffic out here, rather than in LinkedIn, which is not really a content provider of any sort.

And indeed if you can assemble the equivalent and forever-changing database of Marketing Services Suppliers (and users?), on your corporately structured databases, that's good.

But I don't see the vast majority of UK business folks being able or willing to maintain more than one virtual profile, in most instances, thus my settling for "log in with LinkedIn", but where it should still be clear to all concerned that the thought-leading and content-providing Community Hub, is ModSell, Econ, MyCustomer, whatever.

A typical search for a trusted adviser cum expert, (e.g. "matt owen social media") will also throw up LinkedIn first, and I can't swear to it, but wouldn't be surprised if having a scattering of auto-links - like you find on the comments on our main site discussions, reinforces that too. So let's integrate, rather than waste our resources and time competing?

over 4 years ago

Neil Warren

Neil Warren, Publisher at 2N Media Ltd - ModernSelling.com

Now what!? Just typed a lengthy reply, and it's disappeared into the ether! ;-(

over 4 years ago

Matt Owen

Matt Owen, Head of Social at Econsultancy

Sorry Neil -fixed! As I say, it's a little temperamental...

over 4 years ago

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Simon P

Fascinating stuff. It's probably not good news for this fledgling travel blogger considering I'm also a fledgling Tweeter! Still, it would make my retweets a little more valuable...

over 4 years ago

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C. Douglas Conlan

As with anything else, it can be gamed. I would tender the position that diversity of social signals combined with consistency is most likely the best strategy overall. Obviously Re-Tweets must figure into the mix, but those can be gamed as well. Engagement is most likely a big signal, along with consistency, and I would suggest the "relevancy" of the content -- this goes to only linking to a single site concept.

I only bother with a few of the people that I follow, and it's because they provide me valuable information that I would otherwise have to go searching for, or might not even know about. I'm happy to put up with the 1 in 5 tweets that go back to their site for the "service".

over 4 years ago

Neil Warren

Neil Warren, Publisher at 2N Media Ltd - ModernSelling.com

I take nothing away from your insights two months later from Scottsdale Arizona Douglas, but would point Econ back to my original point...

"The sooner you great people here at Econsultancy notice that LinkedIn is the future for UK / Global B2B people, and for example facilitate joining us in LinkedIn uniform with your main site here, the happier I and millions of others will be.
See The Death of Ecademy, for more."

over 4 years ago

Matt Owen

Matt Owen, Head of Social at Econsultancy

@C - yes agreed, building diverse, relevant communications can only be a good thing. Google can't catch all the gamers just yet, but they're trying, so creating valuable outreach in this way has to be the best long-term option.

@Neil. To be honest, you're off-topic here. As mentioned, we are active on LinkedIn, but have no plans or inclination to integrate their API at this point. It may have value in many cases, but currently it isn't high on our list of priorities. .

For more, please see our LinkedIn company page, groups or events listings.

Thanks,

Matt

over 4 years ago

Neil Warren

Neil Warren, Publisher at 2N Media Ltd - ModernSelling.com

@Matt - yes sorry Matt, I am (sadly) fixated on this bit...

"Human-powered accounts vs feeds

It is really easy for a human to spot a Twitter account that is purely automated. Google should be able to take notice of this too, to discount accounts that have no conversational tweets or only ever share links to one source."

...and the Conversational Content and so on.

Vending machines in B2C Marketing rule though, and I'll bow out ;-)

over 4 years ago

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