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.