Social media now directly influences search rankings

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TravelsIn a recent stunning article, SEOMoz highlighted that Google’s search results are now being adjusted on a per-person basis depending on the searcher’s social connections.

If you follow me on Twitter and then search for email marketing, Blue Sky Factory will rank higher than it would if you didn’t follow me on Twitter, because I share stuff from BSF on Twitter, and Google’s algorithm assumes that because we’re connected, my voice as a social connection should be more influential to your search than some SEO’s optimizations.

Let that sink in for a moment. That’s monumental for three reasons.

1. Influencers who have large social networks are no longer just spreading word of mouth, they’re now causing search engine adjustments (at least on Google and Bing) based on what they share.

2. “#1 ranking for a keyword” on Google is less meaningful now if the #1 is displaced by social sharing influence. My #1 for a search term will be significantly different than yours because we follow different people.

3. If you’re marketing something, there’s now a direct incentive to build your network as large as possible among your prospective customers. Size matters. By connecting with them in as many social channels as possible, you’re effectively doing free retargeting advertising in organic search, since the next time they search for something related to your company’s keywords, your shared items (which presumably include your company’s digital properties) will rank higher with your prospects than if they were not connected with you.

So what should you be doing to take advantage of this amazing sea change in organic search and social media?

1. You absolutely, positively must connect with your customers and prospective customers as soon as possible. If you’ve got any kind of form on your website, asking people for their Twitter ID or Facebook name isn’t optional any more. I just recently changed the form on my site to include Twitter ID, and I’m working on Facebook form integration to be rolled out soon.

2. In tip #5 here I recommended as a way of finding people of influence in your specific industry or niche to follow. Start typing in job titles of your prospective customers and get following; those who follow back are now effectively opting into a passive retargeting program that will show your stuff to them more prominently when they search. Likewise, get to know other influencers in your space and get your content shared, liked, or retweeted by them in order for your stuff to be seen by their audiences.

3. You have a direct disincentive to share or link to your competitors now. If you share or link to their stuff, their content placement in search results will be influenced by your connection to your prospects as well. You’re much better off citing them in a no-followed blog post on your own blog and sharing that.

4. If it’s not obvious already, make sure you’ve socially shared key pieces of content for the digital properties you want to market. Make sure you’re sharing at a minimum on Twitter and Google Buzz, as those two networks are indexed rapidly and aggressively.

5. While there’s no direct evidence that the content around a socially shared link matters, it’s still not a bad idea to give it some context, both for followers and possible contextual association. Here’s an example of two tweets:

Check out my new blog post on @whatcounts:


Check out my new email marketing post on @whatcounts:

This sea change is going to have massive ripple effects throughout the social and search industries. Start making these changes effective immediately, and you’ll be ahead of the curve and your competitors (unless they read my blog too).

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25 responses to “Social media now directly influences search rankings”

  1. Excellent piece Christopher – per usual.

    Really fresh and practical.


  2. Al Pittampalli Avatar
    Al Pittampalli

    Wow, this is fascinating, but not a surprising move by search. The consequences of this are enormous. The isolationists who purely rely on SEO are going to get hit hard if they don’t start getting social. Thanks for pointing to this.

  3. This forces us to also consider whether we should follow everyone back.  Much to consider here.  I think it is safe to err on the “connect” side.  Great post Chris.  Thank you.

  4. Great insight. Takes away from the collaborative “social” relationships though, where linking with competitors, and selecting who you follow, to have a more relevant conversation seemed to be a great ideal.

  5. Christopher Johnston Avatar
    Christopher Johnston

    I love this! Now it is more important than ever to watch what you share because that could affect your online brand.

  6. Hmm… so does this now mean that trying to get big on Twitter just to get big is the right strategy? Historically I’ve argued against techniques that gain followers just to boost numbers, but now it seems it could help with SEO.

    1. Get big with the right audience, yes. Target your prospective customers and get big in that niche market.

      1. Christopher, 
        I am glad you added that in the comment. Because I was going to respond that size only matters if you engage with that audience. A big following means nothing if you don’t engage with them.And on top of that, we may see down the road, if not already, that part of those “social ranking factors” are level of engagement per size of your following. Meaning, you are significantly less valuable if you accumulate a gigantic following but don’t engage with them. Whereas someone who is highly engaged with their audience, albeit a smaller following, proves to be more authoritative, influential,  highly relevant to them.Nice article!
        Aaron Friedman (@aaronfriedman)

      2. Hi Chris. Thank you for the response.

        I started to re-respond, but it got long, so I decided to make it into a blog post, which I published this morning here:

        “Is Google Rewarding People Who ‘Buy’ Friends?”

        I’d love your comments.


    2. Great point/question. I now wonder the same thing. Probably goes to what Chris mentions, in a larger sense, who you are targeting in the first place, is key

  7. I think, like you, that this is huge and will change SEO forever. Your network size DOES matter eh?

    1. Size does matter, and which pool you choose to target. I have no need of Bieber fans for B2B no matter how influential they are.

  8. KevinFerrasciOMalley Avatar

    Great post, you always get my grey matter churning. I’ve used @followerwonk successfully to identify potential candidates to follow on Twitter but hadn’t found
    a comparable useful tool on Facebook…. until last week. Then I started
    using it enables you to use keywords to identify
    popular FB fan pages along with some cool trending data. Knowing
    your penchant for “data analysis” thought you might find potentially interesting.

  9. Great post and definitely something to think about. However, what you haven’t touched on is that content shared by your social network only shows up when you’re logged into your Google account when you search. I wonder what percentage of people search while logged into Google. Any thoughts/insights you can share about that?

  10. mue123 Avatar

    Great post. I couldn’t agree more. I think this is a huge shift in how business think about marketing. It’s also a shift for practitioners in our industry. Being primarily a SEO firm, we have to now adjust our strategy to account for the importance of social signals in ranking. But’s so much more that…all marketing will eventually be targeted this way.

    Here’s my post:

  11. Really good post, and great food for thought.  Real food for thought, and great ammunition when talking to businesses who just don’t “get it” about Social Media.

    Thanks for sharing Christopher

  12. I think it’s a great move from Google to reward people who took the time and effort to build a great network. Let’s just hope this won’t lead to even more twitter spamming…

  13. Wow, this is really going to change things for a lot of people. Thanks for the information and the suggestions.

  14. […] schreibt ein gewisser Christoph Penn, einer der vielen US-Influencer, dazu: Social media now directly influences search rankings 1. You absolutely, positively must connect with your customers and prospective customers as soon […]

  15. I think is not a bad thing but must say, that this is once again an entry from spammer or viral marketers to rank up. is not only about the effort invested is also about fair competion

  16. Great post.  This article, unlike other recent articles about social media marketing, provides new insightful information.  This is an amazing post and I will most definitely further research this as a service to provide to my web design and internet marketing clients.  Something like this is so useful for local small businesses especially in the areas that I work in (DC, VA, MD, NYC).  Thanks!

  17. Until now SEO and Social Media were separated things, but now we can see how they will work together!
    We can say that Social Midia becomes part of a SEO job.

    Great Article!

  18. reachstudents Avatar

    Great info Chris. Any idea if they look at Twitter follower/following ratios, rather than simply followers? If not, they should do as followers alone is a poor indicator of influence.

    Shame about the competitor disincentive, as I have found social media good for developing mutually beneficial relationships with competitors, but this may have to be reviewed if it’s going to affect SERPs.

  19. Andy Drinkwater - iNET SEO Avatar
    Andy Drinkwater – iNET SEO

    Been selling the virtues of social SEO for some time now and it’s been working a treat for customers. Ignore it at your peril 😀

  20. I had been reading that it is important to belong to Google+ for my business. I will get improved rankings as a result of it.

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