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A recent study conducted by SEOmoz on ranking factors indicates that 90% of SEO experts believe that social signals at the page level will be the most important ranking factor in Google’s ranking algorithm. This trumps even exact keyword match, which significantly dropped in perceived importance over the last two years.
So what does that mean? Basically, SEO-privy individuals imagine that things like Twitter, Facebook, and Google Buzz will have a high impact on getting your website to the top of the rankings list. Although StumbleUpon and Digg weren’t the most favored sites and were in fact listed lowest, they expect things like tweets, particularly the authority of tweets, will impact Google’s algorithm.
SEOmoz simultaneously conducted a correlational study to see if the survey results fell in line with these expectations. They found that the #1 factor associated with higher Google ranking was the number of Facebook shares. This even trumps external links and unique IP addresses that visit the URLs! They also found that 60% of the over 30,000 URLs they examined had at least one Facebook share.
But can Facebook shares really increase your ranking according to Google’s algorithm? Not so fast, my Facebook-eager friends. Further examination showed that the correlation between Facebook shares and Google ranking was spurious, meaning there’s something else that is influencing both. Don’t get me wrong, Facebook shares are great, but it’s likely that linking to Facebook probably also means that the URL is getting linked to, tweeted about, and shared on a variety of other social media communities. So getting deeper engagement is important, but not necessarily a cause for high Google ranking. Perhaps it is an indication that the link is content-rich and there are other things that are driving the rank in Google – an indication of quality and interest, but not something that Google is looking at directly.
Listening in on the Webinar that SEOmoz shared last week was super insightful in helping us understand at least a little bit of Google’s algorithm, which is constantly changing and becoming more complex. Some of these results point to activities that directly relate to high rankings in Google, such as more links linking back to your site from more diverse sources, higher traffic from unique IP addresses, and these. Some of these characteristics, however, show attributes that are possessed by top ranking sites, but aren’t directly affecting their rank, such as Facebook shares. The bottom line is both are characteristics that successful sites have and are worth considering if looking to strengthen your marketing efforts and potentially bring your rank up.
Thanks to SEOmoz for sharing this insightful data. You can check out the study in its entirety on SEOmoz's blog. Keep an eye on those social signals and your social networking efforts. There’s no denying the impact that social signals have on Google rankings now, and the potential for their increased influence in the future.