Content Marketing Blog

Understanding the link between social and search

Social media is always a popular topic of debate in our office and that’s been especially true in light of a story we covered on our blog last week.

That post was prompted by a video from Google’s Matt Cutts in which he discussed some of the difficulties Google’s crawler has accessing social media pages and picking up on likes and shares.

As a real advocate of social media in our business, I thought this would be the perfect time for me to explain just why I think social is so important for content marketing and how it can – despite the limitations Cutts set out in his video – help your website’s search performance.

1) Building your social halo

The first point, and one I make regularly when talking to clients and prospects about their content marketing strategy, is that a lot of the search benefits you earn from social media are indirect.

Getting your landing page or blog post tweeted a few times is never going to send it shooting up Google’s search results. Like a lot of social activity, Tweets are far too easy to manipulate, which is why the links in Twitter posts are no-follow. There is also no guarantee that Google’s crawlers will always have the access they need, a point Cutts made in his video.

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But while the direct benefit is limited, active profiles on Twitter, Facebook and other relevant social media will help you build your online brand, which will eventually filter through to your site’s domain authority. It’s very likely that – along with other signals, such as your link profile, domain age and indexed pages – your social footprint is one of the elements that Google uses to identify trustworthy, authoritative sites.

You need to think about this “halo effect” you can get from social a bit like you would a brand marketing campaign. If more people know about your lawnmower business now compared to a month ago you might not immediately sell more lawnmowers. But as your brand awareness grows, you would expect to see inquiries and sales increase over time.

The same is true of social media. A few Facebook likes won’t even register with Google, but a growing social presence with active profiles, steady increases in followers and regular brand mentions will build your site’s reputation. It might be a slow burn, but Google has an obvious bias towards well known brands and already popular websites. Social forms a vital part of your long-term strategy for getting your site into that golden category.

2) Accessing the walled gardens

The problems Cutts talked about with accessing some social media sites are nothing new. While most tweets are crawlable, you don’t see them prominently displayed in search results like you did when Google had special access to the Twitter API. Facebook has always been something of a walled garden for Google, due to the competition between the two companies and Facebook’s commercial relationship with Bing.

As most of our clients are here in Australia or New Zealand where Google has a virtual monopoly over search, Bing rarely comes up in conversation. But when I was in the US recently, my colleagues at Brafton were regularly discussing Bing with clients and working it into their strategies. With Bing, there is a more direct link between your social connections and the personalised results you see because of the sharing of data between Facebook and Bing’s parent company, Microsoft.

3) Search potential of Google+

While Google has limited access to Facebook data it does of course have its own social platform in Google+. The desire to find reliable, accessible social signals that could influence search results was a major reason why Google was in the market for a social media offering a few years ago and eventually launched its own.

Google hopes that requiring people to use real names and email addresses and encouraging authorship of content will provide a useful steer towards high quality, popular pages. This is still a work in progress, but I know our content strategists see Google+ as a huge opportunity for our clients this year.

We give them the ability to create unique, high quality content and get it published on their websites and social media. While Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other platforms may be a good fit for promoting their articles, graphics or videos, reaching their target audience and building that online brand I mentioned, Google+ offers the most obvious and direct search benefits.

As well as authorship, which can have an immediate and marked impact on rankings, links shared on Google+ are also indexed immediately. It doesn’t matter how good your content is, it can’t show up in search if it’s not in the index, so this is a great benefit, especially for smaller sites.

By Rob Cleeve