The Integration of Social Media into Search Results and Rankings: Internet Summit 2011

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I gave a presentation on SEO and Social Media at the Internet Summit 2011, in Raleigh NC yesterday, in an Advanced SEO session with Lindsay Wassell, Michael Marshall, and Markus Renstrom – head SEO of Yahoo! Daryl Hemeon has a nice write-up of the presentations at Advanced SEO – Internet Summit Day 2 Notes.

I included a number of links and references within the presentation that we didn’t visit or spend time on, for anyone who might want to visit those for more details. The basic premise behind my presentation was that Social Media has changed the expectations of searchers and the search engines have had no recourse but to change in response, and SEO likewise is evolving to meet those expectations.

Early in the presentation, I decided to include a number of the social media projects that Google has been involved in for a few reasons. One is that Google Plus isn’t their initial foray into social. Another is that they’ve embarked on a number of projects that might not have been successful, but they’ve had chances to learn from those. The third is that Google Plus is the first of their social efforts where the search engine is transforming search and integrating their social efforts into how results are displayed, and likely how they are ranked.

I really enjoyed the other presentations from Lindsay, Mike, and Markus and I believe the organizers noted that they would make the presentations from the convention available online. I’ll keep an eye out and link to those if and when they become available. Overall, the best part of the conference for me was a chance to have some conversations with some people who are very passionate about Internet Marketing including Don Rhoades and JP Sherman, Phil Buckley, Diane Aull, Lindsay, and Mike.

Raleigh is a really nice City, and the technology scene there is alive and bursting at the seams. The crowd was enthusiastic, and the presentations that I had a chance to see were all definitely worth attending.

An image of me during the presentation courtesy of Phil Buckley:

On the stage of Ballroom B at the Raleigh Convention Center, presenting on SEO and social media

(Thanks, Phil)

Added November 18th, 2011 – Kelly Duffort’s thoughts on the SEO presentations from Internet Summit 2011 – My Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Takeaways from Internet Summit 2011

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55 thoughts on “The Integration of Social Media into Search Results and Rankings: Internet Summit 2011”

  1. I’m I missing something here … I checked the slideshow but I can’t figure out what the message is … as in; I’m jumping around blogs to find an update about the value of social media for SEO, as in; should we go there now to get our links?

  2. Thanks for giving us the slideshow. I would really like to hear more about the value of social media for SEO. Thanks Bill.

  3. It’s funny that you say the “old is new again”, because I’ve been noticing that some forums and Yahoo answers have been picking up a lot more again. I think part of it is how nicely Google is displaying forum/answer type results for keywords. At one time I was sure forums were replaced by social media, now they are doing quite well in their own niche..

  4. In 2005 search engines mostly relied on links to discover and sort websites. In 2010 search engines introduced social metrics as a permanent fixture into ranking algorithms. Will we see social metrics be as strong as links in 2012-13?

  5. Thanks for your post, especially your slideshow. It’s just great. I wish I were there at the presentation. What a shame!

  6. Hi Lindsay,

    It was great to see you and catch up. It has been too long.

    Are you going to post your presentation online? If so, please let me know and I’ll link to it from here.

  7. Hi Michiel,

    With just the powerpoint slides, and not the actual presentation itself to put things into context, how social media might influence SEO may not be too clear.

    Part of the confusion may be that you’re looking for something about links, and it’s really not too much about links. Part of what Google does is look at links to rank pages, but they also look at a number of other signals as well.

    One set of those signals could be a reputation signal based upon metrics associated with what you publish on the Web (in blog posts, in articles, in tweets, in Google Plus posts, etc.).

    When Google introduced their authorship markup, they provided a way for you to associate your Google Account with content that you create and publish on the Web. Your Google Account is also associated with your activities on Google Plus. Google Plus has been called an “Identity service” by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, most likely because it does introduce a way for Google to provide you with a digital signature that can be associated with your content, both on the social network and on pages that you’ve verified you are the author.

    Google can analyze the content you create and the interactions you have with other people that is associated with your Google Account, and give you a user rank (which might be different for different topics). That user rank or authority score could determine whether or not Google shows your Google Account profile image next to content that you create that they have in their index.

    So, when I publish a blog post, and it shows up in search results with my Google profile picture, that’s because I set up Google’s authorship markup with the pages of this site, and quite possibly because I have a certain reputation score above some level where Google decides to show that profile, as well as the number of circles I am in, and links to my Google Plus profile and any posts I might have made at Google Plus that might be related to my blog post.

    Keep in mind that Google automatically implemented authorship markup at Blogspot and YouTube back in June, and yet we’re not seeing profile images for authors from blogspot posts all over Google’s search results. There seems to be a threshold of some type that an author needs to rise above before that starts happening.

    In addition to Google adding some extras to a display of my page in search results, people who are my connections on different social sites might also see posts or pages that I shared at Google Plus or +1’ed in search results (with an annotation on the specific search result that I did plus it or share it) if my contacts are logged into their Google Account, and the posts or pages are relevant to their queries. If my contacts trust me and find me authentic, then they might be more likely to visit those pages.

    Google may also use the reputation score that I mentioned to determine if it should show posts or pages from me in real time search in the future. They’ve said that they will start showing real time search results again using Google Plus information. They stopped because their agreement with Twitter to show tweets in real time search expired. But, with Google Plus, Google actually has more control over more information about people who post there then they did with twitter, and can more easily identify fake profiles, and look at things like IP addresses and time stamps associated with my posts.

    It’s also possible that Google can use the user rank or reputation scores that I mentioned plus the topics that many people write about on Google Plus to determine which queries might be better served by fresher content, and use those reputation scores to help determine which pages to show within those fresh topics.

    Keep in mind that for recent newsworthy events, natural disasters, and so on, queries involving those are known as “recency-sensitive” and it’s quite possible that Google wouldn’t have much if anything in the way of results for searches on those things. If new pages are linked to at Google Plus on those topics by people with high reputation scores or user ranks, those might stand a better chance of showing up in Google Web search results, even though there may not be very many links to those pages elsewhere on the Web. For example, if an earthquake happened 20 minutes ago, and some news sites just wrote something about it, and many people from Google Plus with decent reputation scores linked to a specific news page, that news page might be one of the ones that ranks highly for searches about that earthquake – even though it might not yet have had PageRank assigned to it.

  8. ok, thanks Bill,

    let’s see if I get this right; it’s about association, right/

    if my google account is linked to all kinds of reputable SEO sites, and other SEO experts are in my circles and all of that, and I write a new blog post about SEO, that might push my post higher, right?

  9. Hi Spencer,

    You’re welcome. Hopefully my response to Michiel, along with the presentation is a good start towards giving you more information on some of the effects of social media on SEO.

    Another aspect to this is that Google acquired Katango last week, and they might use technology developed by Katango to do things like make it easier to organize the circles your friends are shown in, by a topic related to their activities in social networks.

    Katango developed an intelligent social media agent that can check out and keep an eye on the social activities of your contacts, and cluster them into topics that may show their interests. It’s possible that social media agent might be used in other ways as well, and could potentially even influence the topics people might be seen as experts or authorities on, possibly similar in some ways to the topics that Klout identifies for people.

  10. Hi Michiel,

    Association is definitely part of it, but don’t worry too much about links.

    If you write about SEO related topics at Google Plus (you don’t necessarily have to link to many SEO sites, but you could), and interact in meaningful/interesing/novel ways with other people on SEO topics, and connect your blog posts with your Google Account using Authorship Markup, then that might push your posts higher.

    Google would assign you a reputation score based upon the quality of posts you make to Google Plus (new, interesting, useful, something people comment upon in meaningful ways, etc.), and the quality of the interactions you have with others (especially others with high authority or user rankings), and your authority or reputation score can influence the rankings of your blog posts.

  11. Bill,

    so I guess it’s time to go social then … damn, I’m just not a very social person, that’s why I’m doing SEO, it’s not personal … but ok, so be it.

    thanks again,



  12. Hi Mason,

    I made sure to show that the search engines were showing unique search results for some of the older type social sites for a couple of reasons, but it’s interesting to hear you say that you’re seeing more of those in search results.

    When people think about social media, they don’t always think about forums, or sites like Yahoo Answers that have been around for years. They are social media though.

    Google showing those types of sites differently does make them more visible, and there are times when you might be more interested in getting involved in a discussion with people where you can ask and/or answer questions then you are in finding a page about something. It’s possible that the different looks for those may be making them more visible and noticeable. Google’s been doing that kind of transformation of results for those types of sites for a couple of years, and it’s sort of a fore runner for the changes they’ve introduced for search results that now include Google Plus and/or social information.

    I do like that Google is showing things like number of posts and authors for a thread, and related threads, as well as a date associated with the conversation. That makes it easier for me to decide whether or not to click through to the conversation.

  13. well, I also read that comment about forums being back on the rise … my guess; that’s because of the panda update; people are just trying the old, familiar stuff more since articles took such a big hit, but ok, I’m just guessing here.

  14. Hi Michiel,

    You’re welcome.

    I think you only really need to be social enough to learn enough so that you can teach others such as your clients how to use social media, and have an influence on their own pages.

    Rather than doing the work of social networking for them, it’s quite likely that they would get better results, including building more meaningful and useful relationships, if they were the ones getting social. :)

  15. Hi Michiel

    I’m not sure if forums are back on the rise, or if they are just more visible within search results because Google is showing diffent types of results for them then non-forum pages. I’d love to see data one way or another, but the only people that might be able to give us that data are from Google.

  16. Hi Ryan,

    Links still have some usefulness, but Google is expanding the kinds of signals that they are looking at, and definitely one of the places where social signals seem to be emerging strongly are for queries that are recency-sensitive, where the queries involve things that may have happened very recently and there aren’t many link signals to rely upon.

  17. Bill,

    yes, true, but I’m already having a hard time to make my clients understand they should also do at least a part of their own blog comments as well; how can you stay on top of the market if you’re not reading up in blogs, right? (after all that’s what I’m doing here)

  18. Good point, Michiel.

    When it comes to answering or writing blog comments, blogging, tweeting, social networking, at some point it turns into a business issue and practice where people have to recognize that those activities can definitely determine how their (potential) customers might see them, understand their brand, and use that information to decide whether or not to buy their products or services or go to them as an information source. Success may mean being seen as an interesting, engaging, authentic voice that is willing to interact with people in meaningful ways.

    At least, that seems to be what Google seems to be increasingly looking for.

  19. It is always good to be on your site and read your post, I have revisited your site after a long time now… I’ll stick to your site this time to keep up with things :D…

  20. Thanks for slides Bill, even though they are difficult to place in the right context by themselves, I did discover quite a few social ventures of Google I never heard of.
    Regarding your point on user rank and the authority that someone (an author) can associate to his Google account, this does seem that if this trusted author contributes on different sites using the right authorship markups, he is actually improving their SEO as those pages all acquire relevance thanks to his author rank.
    I can imagine content popping up in the future which is tagged as belonging to a reputed author when it actually isn’t…

  21. Hi Bill, thanks for the insights, after your helpful interaction on Google+ this seems like a good time to come and say hello here :)

    It’s easy to forget all the other Google social initiatives in your slides, I am aware of all of those but like many tend to think in terms of just Buzz and Wave.

    Your chat with Michiel is also interesting, I face the same problem, clients or potential clients that assume their site or SEO is something that is done once and that’s it. I think a good parallel with outsourcing social media and blog commenting for small business is the wave of call centre outsourcing to India a few years back.

    You can’t outsource personality.

    BTW: I’ve seen my first “by author” and the circle that person was on right on the SERP, so Google is moving fast.

  22. Hi Bill,
    as you say that social media will be one factor to determine the popularity of a blog such as Google+. Whether this will also be used as one benchmark to determine the PR of a blog? and how much influence Page Rank of a blog in the eyes of search engines? Sorry if my question is too simple, because I am a newbie blogger and still have to learn a lot about SEO. Thank you in advance.

  23. So far my intention was to gain rank in organic search result but with this presentation, I think I have to integrate and start new social media campaign as main part in my business promotion. One day it will surely have great impact on search result,

  24. Thanks for the slides. I have been doing SEO on my own which is how I ran across your blog. It is a learning process and your presentation helps a lot.

  25. Social media really changed the way we use the internet today. Even search engines are adapting to these changes. Google even joined them with it’s Google+.

  26. Your postings are really very informative, that’s why I can’t help myself but come back and see what you posted again for me to gain knowledge. Thank you.

  27. I don’t think that is great to have the social media results every time you are looking for somebody or something. So many people think they are kinda protected on those networks… Looks like they don’t even have a single ‘free’ space left to speak up! What if tomorrow somebody gets fired or not hired only because he posted a personal opinion about a given company ? Oh, sorry, happens all the time. Gosh.

  28. HI Steve,

    Thank you very much for the kind words in your post. It was published automatically before I had the chance to see your statement about not having to publish it, so decided to leave it as published.

  29. Hi Eliseo,

    Thanks. When I created the slides, I anticipated posting them online as well and included some extras within them such as some URLs to pages people could visit to learn more about some of the topics discussed.

    It is possible that if Google extends authorship markup to comments that people might leave on blog posts or articles, and they have high reputation scores that those pages might benefit from their comments. When Google published a patent about Agent Rank, that patent discussed that as a very real possibility. When that happens, and someone does publish a comment like that, it would be something they would do when logged into their Google Account, and Google would be able to track those comments and associate them with a specific author to prevent the kind of abuse that you note might happen otherwise.

  30. Hi Pedro

    Thanks. It’s nice to see you here.

    I’m actually regretting including some more “social” sites from Google like Knol, which Google just announced that they are going to discontinue.

    One of the benefits that Google Plus seems to have that past social initiatives from Google didn’t seems to be the amount of engineering firepower Google is throwing at it, and the integration of Google Plus into search results in a big way.

    I’m really happy that Michiel asked some of the questions that he did, which gave me a chance to describe more about what I was trying to get at within my presentation that I probably even had time to do during the presentation itself (15-20 minutes isn’t a lot of time to do a topic this large justice).

    Marketing your business, whether through the Web or print or radio or television is an ongoing part of running that business, and it’s almost impossible to outsource for many different reasons. You may have new services or goods that you want people to learn about, you may have new ideas on how to reach your audience, you might find out that people are using your goods in ways that you might not have imagined or anticipated as well.

    You might learn the value of reaching an audience willing to buy gift cards for what you offer to share with others as well. You may want to provide some informational or educational materials to the people who come to your site, and help them learn about what you do.

    By engaging an audience socially and creating real relationships with people, you also can get valuable feedback from them, share information about new products or services, learn about products or services that they might be interested in seeing from you, and more. By being active socially, and by thinking about the marketing for your site and the message your sending to present and future customers, you’re including yourself in conversations about your business and your market.

  31. Hi Clara,

    Google and the other search engines pay attention to links as one part of how they rank pages, and PageRank is one measure of those. But they look at many other signals as well, and social signals seem to be something they have a lot of interest in at this point.

    When people on Twitter or Google Plus or other places mention your business or link to it or +1 it, that may be a signal to the search engines that they should pay more attention to your site. When you associate your site to your social activities with authorship markup and a Google Account, and are active on Google Plus, that might also tell the search engine more about things like whether or not you are the original author of content they find on the Web, what topics you might have an expertise in, and others.

    So it’s not really a question of PageRank as it is of other signals that search engines could look at as well.

    When it comes to topics that are recency-sensitive, such as an earthquake, and you’ve written a detailed blog post about it that many people have either mentioned or linked to on Twitter or Google Plus, and there really hasn’t been much time for many other sources that have been around for a while to link to your post, that social activity about your post may influence Google to rank your post highly for that topic.

  32. Hi Alex,

    That sounds like a great idea. One of the benefits of focusing upon other services like Twitter or Facebook or other social sites is that they can also help deliver visitors to your pages independently of Google as well.

  33. I wonder if there are other ways to leverage Google’s interest in “recency-sensitive” posts and information. Is Google paying more attention now to things like press releases?

  34. Hi Francis,

    Absolutely. When something newsworthy happens, and we hear about it on Twitter, and then search at Google or Yahoo or Bing and don’t get any results, that’s pretty disappointing. I don’t think Google had any choice but to get more social.

  35. Hi Richard,

    That’s how I first started learning SEO – by doing it for one site and learning as much as I possibly could. Glad to hear that the slides have helped.

  36. Hi Emma,

    I do think it’s important for people to consider carefully what they might write when they tweet something or update a status or blog about a topic.

    I know that many companies have come up with written policies about the kinds of things that they should think about when participating in social media as guidelines for their employees to try to avoid the situation that you’ve described.

    If you are going to post a personal opinion about a particular company, it might not be a bad idea to do it in a way that shows some tact and might aim towards constructive criticism if possible, if there’s a potential that you might consider working for that company in the future.

  37. Hi Joel,

    That’s an interesting question.

    Unfortunately, many companies publish press releases on topics that aren’t always that newsworthy, possible to try to gain links rather than actual press.

    I’m also not sure that those have the potential to alert Google that a subject might be trending in the same way that tweets or Google Plus posts might.

    But it’s still a great question – what other sources of content might Google be looking at that might help them answer a need from searchers on recency sensitive queries?

  38. Good read. Indeed, page ranking is no longer an SEO efforts, but the marriage of social media optimization (SMO). What’s nice about SMO is that it is interactive you can readily or instantly request someone to visit your site or ask people to promote it. While facebook, twitter, youtube, tumbler and etc is what are famous now. Empire Avenue is gaining momentum as well for it integrated most of the social media sites.

  39. Hi Bob,

    I don’t have any speaking engagements lined up at present, but when I do I’ll try to provide a heads up here beforehand. Thanks for asking.

  40. Hi Charles,

    A holistic approach to SEO has always included an awareness and understanding of social media, and consulting for clients on strategies and approaches to social media is a growing part of SEO.

    I think it’s not unreasonable these days for your SEO to be able to help you determine whether and where to include buttons on your pages for Twitter and Facebook and Google Plus, help set up authorship markup for Google Plus when appropriate, develop strategies for Facebook pages and internal company polices for social media use, and so on.

  41. From what I’ve read, social signals could be as much as 10-15% of Google’s algorithm these days. Having a visible “buzz” to search engines about your brand and content on the various social media sites tells them that your content is important, shared, and liked. Helps with the trust factor I would assume.

  42. Hi Dan,

    Anyone not from Google telling you how much weight certain signals, whether social or otherwise, might be counted by the search engine should be ignored.

  43. While I understand why google is going there what happens if your website isnt actually ‘sexy’ enough for social media? I do think this approach favours the big guys who can afford to throw money at the thing, which strikes me as the opposite of their original intent.

  44. Hi Tina,

    It’s not always easy to write content that is interesting, engaging, and something that people might share and retweet, but if you create content specifically for your audience in a way that does capture your attention, then you may capture an audience. This is the same audience that you’re trying to persuade to buy the goods or services that you might offer.

    Your website sells contemporary furniture. Have you ever considered adding a blog to the site? You could blog about furniture in movie and television sets, furniture in famous places, famous furniture in different settings, how to choose the right desk or couch or table or chair for different uses, famous furniture makers in the past, and so on. Be creative, make it interesting, and use your imagination.

    Tell me about the Wassily Chair, the Barcelona chair, Isamu Noguchi, the Deutscher Werkbund, and so on. I think there are a lot of potential stories that you could tell about contemporary furniture, designers, and so on.

  45. The integration of social media to almost everything on the internet is expected. How much it plays in search results will remain to be seen. Algorithms seem to be changing with increasing regularity. Instead of trying to chase or forecast these changes, we can control what we place on the internet for the consumers of the info. Consumers are people and people are social so we should have content tailored to them and not search engines. If our content is not fresh and engaging, we probably will not hold people’s attention very long

  46. Hi Brett,

    If I’m going to become an auto mechanic, I’m going to learn how cars work. If I’m going to perform surgery, I’m going to go to medical school.

    If I’m going to be hired by people to help them improve their visibility on the Web and make it more likely that they get visitors to the pages they offer who might be interested in what they offer, then I’m going to spend time learning about search engines, about algorithms, about social networks, and about how people interact with each other in many different mediums.

    I’m not writing about patents to try to chase those algorithms or try to reverse engineer them, but if the search engines are going to publish publicly accessible documents such as patents, white papers, presentations, and more, it’s my responsibility and my due diligence to the people who hire me to be informed, to learn about what those documents might have to say, to try to understand the business models behind the search engines, the assumptions that they make about search and searchers and websites and the Web and social networks.

    Attempting to understand the framework in which websites work and search engines operate and people interact enables me to provide thoughtful, intelligent, well-researched, and reasoned advice.

    If you help someone build a website that search engines can’t crawl and index, that contains important text in images that search engines don’t read, that has the same title and meta description for every page, and that is filled with broken links, missing images, empty alt text for meaningful images, and so on, it doesn’t matter how fresh and engaging your content might be, if no one is ever going to see it.

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