In the year of Panda and Penguin updates and a time when Google is clamping down on automated link building, overly-SEO'd sites and other black hat practices; social is becoming more and more important to search.
Many businesses cringe at the thought of having a social marketing strategy – either because they fear they have nothing to say or because they don't think they'll be able to manage the account; keeping in touch with customers or handling negative social mentions. But the importance of social cannot be emphasised enough – not only is it a fantastic way for you to expand your brand reach, but it's an excellent form of link and authority building in 2012 onwards.
Twitter, Facebook and Google+ all have a large audience which is increasing daily. All those people across those social networks are potential followers and, with luck, customers. If they aren't their friends might well be. And if your followers are willing to share your messages, your reach expands even further.
This article is not intended to tell you how to build social authority, but simply the reasons why you should.
Social and Search
Social networking and search go hand in hand. Social is having more and more influence on search and the signs are obvious.
Firstly, both Google and Bing have admitted to social having an influence on the search engine results. When asked (about Twitter) “Do you calculate whether a link should carry more weight depending on the person who tweets it?”Google and Bing told Search Engine Land:
“Yes we do use this as a signal, especially in the “Top links” section [of Google Realtime Search]. Author authority is independent of PageRank, but it is currently only used in limited situations in ordinary web search.” [Google]
More recently, Google launched their new social platform Google+. Ever since then they've been trying to force it down our throats. Whenever you sign up to a Google product you're required to have a Google+ account, whether you just want gmail for your email or you've bought an Android phone. The reason is simple, they want to integrate social with search to return the best results for the user. If you're using Google+ then you're giving Google more data to tailor their search (and Pay Per Click) results to you.
Now there's 'Search, Plus Your World' where the search results you see in Google are directly influenced by the people you follow on Google+. This highlights the importance of not only having a business page on Google+, but also of having a marketing plan for the social network(s). If you have a reach on Google+ then you can potentially influence friends and family of your customers as your customers results show in the search engine rankings. With a website or blog connected to Google+ you'll also notice search results that stand out more, like this example from Matt Cutts.
Note the profile picture, link to Google plus and even mention of how many people Matt has in his circle as well as how many comments there were on his Google+ post. All of these sorts of things are likely to influence directly and indirectly not only how your website (and blog) appear in the search engine, but also whether users click on them. The idea is simple, people are much more likely to follow a link recommended by a friend than one they just found at the top of the search engines. So it's essential to make your presence felt.
Social as a Link Building Tool
Social is effective in other ways. With the dominance of networks like Facebook and Twitter and the constant sharing and re-sharing of links, videos, images and more, it stands to reason that they have (or should have) an influence on search. For years we've been emphasising the importance of link building to help boost your rankings, but manual link building has always been a difficult (and tenuous) task because manual links have to be logical and appear natural. Automated and paid links obviously aren't and they're a black hat technique we'd highly recommend avoiding as Google will find and penalise companies using them. But social is probably the most form of natural link building.
With good content, people will naturally share and re-share links and the more people that share the better. Obviously, the same that applied to link building also applies to social links – the better the authority, the better the quality of the link.
In the link building world, links from the BBC, The Guardian or Government websites (as examples) were the Holy Grail. In the social world it's links from celebrities and accounts with thousands of followers that are important.
But of course you could just setup a Twitter account and use black hat companies to build you thousands of followers. But Google are wise to such things, they have algorithms to weed out the chaff. The ultimate goal with social is the same as with websites in general – creating great content and a good user experience, if you do that right and share it on the social networks people will naturally re-share your articles, pages and social messages and thus build links for you.
Obviously there are benefits to a good social networking strategy on its own and with the right tracking you'll be able to monitor click-through rates, conversions and ROI. But there's no denying that social networking is a fantastic link building tool which will help gain your website and company the exposure it deserves.