One of the great quests in physics is to find a Grand Unification Theory (GUT). If you are a physics professor at Cal Tech, please stop reading now because what follows is going to resemble a scientific explanation in the same way a morning meal prepared by kids for Mother’s Day resembles ‘breakfast.’
Everything in the universe is held together by four forces: the strong force, the weak force, electromagnetic force and gravity. GUT seeks to explain the interaction of the first three. (Excellent party trivia ‘ GUT does not try to answer how gravity interacts with the other three.)
Personally, I’m happy to leave it right there. Why solve a mystery and ruin it for the kids? But pesky scientists have long sought a single theory that can consistently explain how these three forces interact with each other. They have not found it yet. Subtitle: Meanwhile’Back at the Web Research Lab
Web marketing nerds are a different breed than science nerds. We tend to dress better, are more fun at parties and, in a national crisis, no one at the highest levels of government ever says, ‘We’ll get our top marketers on it, Mr. President.’ But when it comes to understanding exactly how social media interacts with your web marketing performance, things get a little complicated in our world, too. Just like physicists, we don’t have one all-encompassing answer that applies to every web marketing strategy. And we still deal with some mysteries because the major search engines don’t reveal their formulas to us mere mortals. So I imagine I will be working in my underground research lab on my Grand Web Marketing Unification Theory for a while. In the interim, I’d like to share a few thoughts that have become clearer to us in 2011.
Social Media now affects Search Engine Ranking
Since inbound links to a website page are a key factor in boosting rankings in organic search listings, common sense would lead you to believe that Twitter links and Facebook posts from John and Jane Websurfer would boost ratings. But until recently that was not the case. In 2010, staffers from Google were on record as saying that citations and inbound links from leading social media sites were not factors in their ranking algorithms. In fact, tweets (short microblog posts from Twitter users) that contain a link to a website are tagged with a ‘nofollow’ code that makes it easy for search engines to recognize them and, at their discretion, treat those links as less than worthy.
So it DID seem that these links didn’t influence search engine ranking in 2009 and for most of 2010. Even if hundreds of people were tweeting that my boarding kennel was the best and I had 1000 ‘Likes’ on my Facebook page, Google, Bing and Yahoo! didn’t take that into account when ranking my site. The Big Three search engines weren’t exactly sure how to count links and mentions when they ranked organic search returns. So, they punted and didn’t count them at all.
But things have changed in 2011. While we don’t know exactly what weight major search engines now give to links and mentions from Twitter and Facebook, we do know that they now have some positive effect on your ranking. Here is a quote from officials at Bing in response to web guru Dan Sullivan regarding the effect of social media on search engine rankings:
Sullivan: ‘Do you track links shared within Facebook, either through personal walls or fan pages?’
Bing: ‘Yes. We look at links shared that are marked as ‘Everyone,’ and links shared from Facebook fan pages.’
Source: SearchEngineLand.com, December 1, 2010
The statement from Bing does not spell out exactly what they do after they ‘look at’ the links, but search engines rarely detail that information to the public. However, the simple fact that they admit to examining that data means they are using it in some way to rank sites. Google and Yahoo! have recently indicated they now take a site’s social media presence into account when deciding how to rank it.
Additionally, search engines are beginning to display social media information, such as the number of people who have ‘Liked’ your business on Facebook or have given your business a ‘+1’ on Google Places. Right now, we don’t find any connection between the number of ‘Likes’ or ‘+1’s’ and a site’s organic search rank. But one could surmise the day is coming when search engines will use that as part of their ranking formula. Just be aware that consumers are seeing that ’43 people Like this business on Facebook’ next to online business listings and it may influence which business a consumer decides to check out.
While factors like the relevance between search phrases and text on your website or inbound links from quality websites still seem to matter most for SEO, your social media footprint is likely to play an increasingly important role in your overall visibility on the web in the years to come.
What to Do About It
You are the first group of people that get to use Griff’s Web Marketing Social Media (GWMSM) continuum to help you determine what your business should do about social media in 2011. The GWMSM continuum is a low- to high- scale based on your business’ competitive needs and the competitiveness of your market
Your Competition: Low
If you are one of two plumbers in a market like Mobridge, South Dakota, population 4000, I think you can get by with monitoring your competitors to see if they are using social media to connect with customers, and by paying attention to occasional articles (like this one) on Social Media so you stay up to speed..
Your Competition: Moderate
If you are in a market the size of Amelia Island, Florida, population 24,000 or larger, you should at the very least create a Twitter profile, a Facebook page, a Youtube account and a Blogger Account for your business. Even if you don’t have the time or inclination to actively tweet or keep your Facebook page updated, claiming your real estate on these social media sites gives you a chance to create credible links to your main site and lets search engines know that your website has a fully up-to-date web presence.
All things being equal, that may tip the odds in your favor when Google is trying to decide which business it should list first among a crowd of HVAC contractors. If you don’t have the time to create these profiles, contact your web marketing firm or your friends at Market Hardware and ask them to do it for you.
Your Competition: Medium
If you live in a market like Brownsville, Texas (with 150,000+ happy, warm people) or you have 50 or more competitors, take the moderate step above and also go a bit deeper on Facebook – fill out your profile and add photos and videos. Doing so is a prudent move in 2011. The time and effort you’ll spend on it is a reasonable web marketing investment now. I would not have said that last year.
Your Competition: High
If you live in a market the size of Boston, have lots of sharp competitors, or you want to be number one in your market, do everything mentioned above but also build a customized, professional-looking home on Twitter, Blogger and Youtube.
I encourage businesses on the high end of the GWMSM to begin to actively engage and communicate with your customer base from your social media platform. That engagement means something different for each of those sites, but they all involve an ongoing recruitment of an audience who cares about your business or service and regular dialogue about key business milestones. Be sure to include relevant, useful information about the services you provide or personable information about you and your staff. If you are unsure about what it takes to maintain an active social media presence or you’re debating whether it’s right for your business, go to the source and check out the background information and advice provided on Facebook.com and Twitter.com. Or call us at (888) 381-6925 and we’ll walk you through what Market Hardware can do for you, even if it means just answering
that one social media question you have been stewing over.
Power Stat: Over 150 million in the United States have a Facebook page. Source: Facebook.com
Quote: The grand aim of all science is to cover the greatest number of empirical facts by logical deduction from the smallest number of hypotheses or axioms.”