web development for search engine optimization

How Social Media is Changing SEO

I was invited to speak to Social Media Charlotte (SMCLT) Breakfast on January 24th, 2013 about how social media is changing SEO.

I started the meeting with a fun game: social media bingo. This encouraged attendees to find people with certain social media characteristics. This was more than getting people to network: I wanted to draw an analogy between finding people “in real life” vs. finding things online.

There were, basically, three ways people could have found someone to fill-out their social media bingo card:

1. Asking someone they already know

For our analogy we’ll call this a “social search”. It’s like when you go to your favorite social network and ask your friends a question. For example, you might ask your Facebook friends, “Where are you going for restaurant week?”

As social media marketers, we’d like to be in the place to answer someone when they’re asking a question for which we have the answer. What do we need to be found in a social search? Three things: CONTENT, EXPOSURE and AUTHORITY.

For example: my parent’s recently moved to the area. They wanted to find a home. Naturally I went to Twitter to ask, “Does anyone know a good real estate agent in Charlotte?” Then I realized, I already knew one. How did I realize this? First of all, she had CONTENT on Twitter- she was actively engaging on the network and when I was looking for Twitter for answers, she came to mind. She also had EXPOSURE- by continually engaging she easily rose to the top of my mind over other agents I know and follow. Third, she had AUTHORITY- I knew her from the past, had met her and had common friends who valued her opinion and even used her services. Naturally I recommended her to my parents.

Now that Facebook has Graph Search, you really need the same thing to be found on Facebook. Sure, someone might use the Graph Search, rather than ask their followers, but you still need CONTENT (you have to be posting things to be found on Facebook Graph Search), EXPOSURE (being found by Graph Search is related to who you follow) and AUTHORITY (the Graph Search algo is weighted by how many followers and interaction you have).

When you were looking to fill-in your social media bingo card you might have done a social search by starting with people you already knew. Sometimes, however, your friends will not have an answer (or a good answer) to your social search query and you might have to turn to another source of information.

2. Looking at someone’s business card

Another way you might have filled-out your social media bingo card was by asking for people’s business cards. In our analogy between filling-out your bingo card and doing an online search, we might call this a “socially influenced search”. This happens online when we go to the search engines and ask a question- only to be given a search result that has been personalized by our social connections.

For example, let’s say your social network was unable to answer your query about good restaurants for Charlotte Restaurant Week, so you turn to Google, “What restaurants are participating in CLT restaurant week?” Google may return results that have been personalized according to your social connections- such as the restaurants they are following on Google Plus or restaurants they’ve recommended on Google Places.

This happens when you’re signed-in to Google and do a search. Google will deliver results based upon a few factors:

  • People you have in your Google Plus circles
  • People you interact with over gmail
  • Channels you follow on Youtube
  • etc.

This is what we commonly think of when we think about social influencing search results. Unfortunately, it’s not that social is really influencing search- what you’re seeing is Google personalizing your search results based upon what it knows about you. Sure, this may be influenced by your Google Plus connections, but it’s not based upon your Facebook followers (although Bing can be, if you’re signed-in to your Facebook account) or your Twitter connections. Social may be influencing search but only because the search engines are personalizing your results.

As social media marketers, how can we take advantage of this phenomenon and influence people’s personal searches?

We need the same things that we needed to influence social searches: CONTENT, EXPOSURE and AUTHORITY. To be more specific, you can’t influence someone’s personal searches on Google unless you have a Google Plus profile with something on it that relates to what people are searching (CONTENT), people are following you on Google Plus (EXPOSURE) and people trust your recommendations (AUTHORITY- without which you won’t get clicks even if you are able to personalize their results).

To return to our analogy- to completely fill-in your social media bingo card you might not be able to find everything you need from your own network (a social search) or checking people’s credentials (a socially influenced search)- you might have to find people by looking outside people you already know.

3. Looking outside their social circle

When someone’s social connections do not have the answer you’re looking for, you may have to look elsewhere. In our analogy, this is an “organic search.” This is where you turn to a search engine but the search engine does not have any personalized results to offer.

This is still very common. Let’s say you’re the first of your friends to get married and you’re starting to look for wedding dresses. Your social network will not be able to provide you with answers. If you turned to Google, they would not have anything from which to personalize your search results. In this case you’ll get a truly organic search. (Of course, there is no such thing as a “truly” organic search these days with personalization based upon search history and geolocation, but I’m focusing in the relationship between social and search here).

So- how do we, as marketers, help our clients get found? Good SEO. This involves three things: CONTENT, EXPOSURE, and AUTHORITY. You need to talk about things that people are searching for (CONTENT), the search engines need to be able to read that content in order to serve it in the search results (EXPOSURE) and you need other websites to link to that content (AUTHORITY).

It’s important to remember that Google’s unique contribution to the search-world is by not serving search results just based upon content, but also because of links. Eric and Sergy came to this conclusion by realizing that people identify authorities not by who says their an authority but by who other people say are authorities. This is best expressed on the web through identifying which websites are authorities by finding out which websites have the most links.

Here’s a YouTube video that illustrates this point:

As more SEOs have identified this fact they’ve ended up spamming the web in order to create more links. This gives websites the appearance of having AUTHORITY even if they don’t really have it. As a result, Google has been cracking down lately:


Google has been attempting to prevent people from manipulating the search engine results through their CONTENT. The Panda update is all about weeding out thin and useless content that only exists to manipulate the search engines.

Although social media may not be affecting the search results in a truly organic search, social media can help overcome Panda by helping generate good CONTENT. For example, by listening to social media accounts and answering questions that real people are asking.


This is Google’s way of cleaning up the search results from people attempting to manipulate it by bringing false AUTHORITY through links.

Although links from social media accounts are not typically factored into the search results, social media can still help overcome Penguin by helping establish AUTHORITY. For example, you can connect with other websites over social media in order to develop partnerships that can lead to good, quality links.


So, in conclusion, how is social media changing SEO?

  • Some people are turning to social media platforms as search engines
  • Some searches are being personalized by social media platforms
  • Social media can help generate good content and links that influence organic searches

Although social media may be changing search, we also need to remember that in many ways social media is not changing search at all. Whether you are doing social media marketing or organic search you ultimately still need the same things to be successful: CONTENT, EXPOSURE and LINKS.

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