Social media services, you know, Twitter, Facebook, instagram, LinkedIn etc are the favourites of some, yet dismissed in a breath by others. For anyone with half an interest in search engines though, whether you like or even use these social media services they are worthy of some attention. They’re interesting from a psychological point of view – why would certain individuals revel in their use, while others stay well away but their impact and usefulness in terms of search engine optimisationbears close examination.

Our approach to SEO at NetProspect is built on two foundations. Of course we do our research, evaluate the techniques used by others and monitor the way the search engines themselves discuss various aspects. Our second foundation is perhaps the most important though. Having worked in the search market for many years, our view of SEO various practices is also influenced by a healthy dose of first principles. By that we mean taking a long hard look at the core objectives of the search engine companies. Once you understand what these are then SEO practices quite obviously need to take into consideration how search engines themselves would make evaluations of developments like social media sites and which data they might employ.

Fortunately the value of Social Media becomes crystal clear when you adopt that type of evaluation. In the early days of search engines, the ranking of sites was determined primarily by the content of the site itself and the indicators provided to the search engines through meta tagging. This quickly became a less important factor as site spamming became prevalent and the search engines had to look elsewhere to make their evaluations.

Linking was their next port of call. By basically counting the number of links to a site, the search engines effectively had a ready-made voting system on which to base their rankings. But those interested in high search rankings then focused on getting as many links to their sites as possible. Again once the spammers devalued the technique being employed by the search engines and the raw link count became compromised. Next along came the importance of relevancy, where only “on-topic” links had any real value.

But the main disadvantage of this link counting system was that links were only made available, or originated, by those who had the ability to create and maintain a website – hardly a fair representation of the public at large. Enter social media! Finally here were systems that could contain links or references to other websites, yet be created or populated by the public at large.

Once again there is a danger that spamming will undermine the usefulness of ranking systems relying on this information, but over the past decade or so the search engines have become a whole lot cleverer in identifying spam. Rather than counting what might be called fraudulent links, and then next ignoring them, search engines will now actively penalise a site where possible for using such practices. Of course this approach in itself also needs to be carefully implemented, otherwise a site could be falsely penalised on the basis of a vindictive campaign originated by a competitor.

In these situations our second foundation comes into play again and we put ourselves in the shoes of someone like Google and look at how they might decide to work such considerations into their algorithm.

Terms such as trust, relevancy, frequency, ownership, peer endorsement, third party relationships all spring to mind.
No-one said it was easy, but undoubtedly social media holds some pretty strong cards when it comes to understanding the SEO game at the moment.