What is the Effect of Social Media on SEO?

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Social media is the new frontier of SEO. Unfortunately for Google, it’s arriving a lot more slowly than they’d like. I will answer the question of what the current impact of social media is on SEO later in this entry, but first it helps to have a little background on the power struggle that led up to the current state of “social” search results on Google.

Back in 2010, Google was making overtures to Facebook to form a partnership wherein Facebook would share its vast social data (your friends, relationships, photos, and likes) with Google so that Google’s search results could be personalized. For example, if you searched “best hotels in Yellowstone National Park” on Google and a friend of yours had been to Yellowstone recently and stayed at a hotel that they loved, you might see their comments about that hotel as well as their pictures of it (once everyone had given Google access to their Facebook data, of course). These social results would be mixed in with Google’s regular results so that you could check out TripAdvisor and Yelp in addition to seeing your friend’s opinion, thereby giving you the most helpful selection of results possible.

But Facebook said no. Zuckerberg refused to give away the most valuable asset Facebook has: their wealth of information on who you are, who you know, where you go, and what you do. Sure, Google would have shared a sizeable chunk of ad revenue with them in exchange, but it would have severely limited the social network’s future revenue prospects. For example, when Facebook does eventually create a full-scale “social search” engine, allowing Facebook’s users to get recommendations and opinions about everything from restaurants to doctors through their search bar, it will probably pay off far more than Google’s revenue share would have. And when Facebook’s search bar does become a place where people regularly seek recommendations for products and services, the company will begin to chip away at Google’s market share in a real way. Imagine the ultimate online version of word-of-mouth – your entire network of friends’ opinions on everything under the sun – in Facebook’s hands. They are gunning for exactly that.

One result of Facebook’s grand ambitions is that Google was left without social data. By late 2010, they were readying to collect data in their own way. If they couldn’t get it from Facebook, gosh darn it they would build it themselves. Hence the birth of Google+ about one year later. Google+ was conceived as a “social layer” that would help Google capture data on your likes, interests, and connections. The concept of “circles,” a cornerstone of Google+, is actually a thinly-veiled attempt at getting you to divide the people in your life into convenient groupings so that Google can serve better recommendations and, of course, more relevant ads.

Now that Google is slowly gaining information about you – much of it by forcing Google+ on its users in various ways – it is getting closer to being able to serve those personalized search results they’ve been after since 2010. But since Facebook is the only social network with a trove of social data large enough to have a meaningful impact on Google’s search results, they need to wait until Google+ reaches a similar scale. That could take time, especially since Google+ hasn’t caught on quite as well as the company had hoped. In the meantime, the social data Google+ does possess right now has begun to influence the search results, but not in a tremendous way.

Google+ is the only social media site that impacts Google’s search results today. You can benefit by getting people to add your company’s Google+ page to their circles, as well as by having them +1 your content, both in the search results and via the +1 widget on websites throughout the Internet. Google’s algorithm has depended almost solely on links and title tags for over a decade, and soon social media will play a larger role. But not yet.

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