In my post earlier this week about Google Caffeine, I made the observation that certain Facebook Pages seemed to have received quite a rankings boost. I also noted some comments about Twitter pages receiving a boost as well.

As more and more people give Caffeine a whirl, the increased prominence of results from the social media sphere appears to be a widespread phenomenon.

Andy Beal of MarketingPilgrim performed some searches of his own and suggests that there may be “too much emphasis on real-time indexing“. His Twitter account currently holds the number seven spot on the first page of a Google search for his name; with Caffeine, it ranks second. He writes, “I love using Twitter, but is it really the 2nd most relevant result for a search
for my name?
” That’s a good question.

Beal also noticed that “there appears to be more ‘Similar’ only and less ‘Cached’ results“. On one sample search, he found that three out of the top five results were not cached on Caffeine. This hints that Google is focused more on the speed of its indexing since new pages are usually indexed before they’re cached.

The question, of course, is whether social media (and real-time) deserve more SERP love? There are a number of arguments for and against.

On the for side is the undeniable fact that social media is a big part of the internet today. Internet users are spending significant amounts of time on sites like Facebook and services like Twitter are playing an increasingly important role in the distribution of information through the internet’s social channels. Because of that, there’s a good argument to be made that search engines like Google should up the weight given to the best social media-based results.

On the against side is the reality that not everything that takes place in social media is important. A lot of Twitter profiles and Facebook Pages don’t provide the type of rich content and they’re not in a format that many internet users will make much sense of. Take Starbucks’ Twitter profile, @starbucks, for instance. At any given moment, the content that appears there may or may not be relevant and meaningful to someone who finds the profile through a ‘starbucks‘ search on Google.

In my opinion, this highlights what it all comes down to: relevance. As Beal asked himself, is his Twitter account really relevant to someone searching for his name? That’s a tough question to answer. Not every unique search is made with the same intent. Someone searching for Beal’s name might want to know who he is, in which case his Twitter feed might not be so relevant. Another person searching for his name might already know who he is and be more interested in reading what he’s saying right now.

Given all this, there are two possible outcomes that I can see here, both of which aren’t mutually exclusive:

  • The apparent increased love given to social media with the Caffeine update will propel social media even further as internet users who may not be active social media participants or observers gain more exposure to social media through their Google searches. In other words, Google Caffeine could serve as a form of marketing for social media by opening up a part of the internet that had hitherto been hidden to many internet users.
  • The love could backfire by giving too much prominence to results that the average internet user is going to find less relevant and meaningful.

If Google launches Caffeine without any changes to the weighting it appears to be giving certain social media results, success will depend on whether Google users find the results to be relevant.

For webmasters and SEOs, however, the implication is clear: you had better start including social media in your SEO strategy where appropriate and necessary because it looks like it’s going to play an increasing role in this area.

Photo credit: saital via Flickr.