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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?
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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?