Was reading an SEO article on Niche Pursuits I Need Your Input for 2 SEO Experiments! which is looking for ideas for an SEO experiment. Basically they want their visitors via comments to suggest an SEO experiment and there’s a social media SEO experiment I’d like testing
I’ve setup a lot of SEO experiments over the past 10-15 years and always try to limit them to one variable (studied genetics at University, I’m a scientist at heart) as it makes it easier to understand an experiment when only one variable is tested.
Social Media SEO Test
For the past few years I’ve really wanted to setup an SEO experiment that only tests a strong social media footprint, ZERO backlink building per se. Unfortunately I don’t have this capability and know even with a network of willing participants you would still have bleed through from traditional offpage SEO ranking signals (backlinks).
A strong social media marketing footprint will generate organic backlinks which we know for certain has Google ranking value.
For the best social media SEO test.
No link building per se.
Minimum of a couple of dozen quality articles targeting SERPs that aren’t too competitive.
Use a network of participants only sharing and liking the content on their social media profiles etc…: Twitter, FaceBook, Google+ and maybe Pinterest if image heavy content.
Try to limit the offpage SEO to social media SEO only, won’t be possible to prevent backlinks, so best that can be achieved is limit them.
Hmm, I suppose you could disavow all backinks you find.
Why Test Social Media SEO?
If you read about social media SEO on the popular webmaster forums etc… it’s pretty much assumed Facebook likes, Twitter shares etc… are a major Google SEO ranking factor and I do mean many webmasters believe it’s a MAJOR ranking factor, not a minor SEO metric. There’s no DIRECT evidence for this, only SEO correlation not SEO causation data.
I don’t think anyone would argue a strong radio advertising campaign or strong printed newspaper ad campaign will have a direct impact on Google rankings, but if an ad campaign results in users visiting a website, some will add backlinks on their blogs etc… and this will have a direct SEO ranking impact. You wouldn’t seriously argue Googlebot listens to the radio for URLs or reads printed newspapers looking for URLs to use as an SEO signal :-)
I’d like to see social media SEO tested because when you look at correlation SEO data published by places like Moz they always show a strong correlation between social network activity and rankings.
It COULD be a strong social network footprint results in high ranking.
It COULD equally be high ranking (from traditional SEO techniques) equals a strong social network footprint.
It’s a chicken and an egg question, which came first.
I strongly suspect the latter, but can’t prove it.
No SEO Ranking Value from Social Media
If you do the SEO research you will find all the major social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest…) links to a website are rel=”nofollow”.
We know rel=”nofollow” links do not pass any direct SEO benefit. What this means is nofollow links do not pass PageRank (link benefit) or anchor text benefit: see my anchor text SEO test for some proof.
Even under Google Webmaster Tools “Search traffic” >> “Links to Your Site” you won’t find links from Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest… because they are nofollow and Google doesn’t count nofollow links as backlinks.
A LOT of SEO’s forget social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ are just websites, there isn’t anything special about them. With the exception of Google+** Googlebot has to spider and index all the social network websites just like they spider and index your website looking for valid links.
** Google owns Google+, so with Google+ it COULD be different: we don’t know if Google uses Google+ share data etc.. directly without having to spider/index Google+ per se and Google won’t tell us.
Facebook is a good example, Google sends it’s Google spider (Googlebot) to Facebook and tries to index every webpage it can. A lot of Facebook isn’t accessible to Googlebot, if your Facebook activity isn’t public (not everyone can see it), Googlebot doesn’t know it exists. If you are a member of a Facebook Group that’s Closed (only members can see the group activity), Google can’t index any of that groups activity. When Google can spider and indexes Facebook profiles and Groups all the links out are nofollow and pass no direct SEO benefit.
To use Facebook as a direct ranking signal Google would have to treat Facebook as a special case and find a way around these indexing issues and if Facebook changed their website, Google could loose it’s special data (Google and Facebook are competitors after all) : Google via Matt Cutts (from Google’s Web SPAM team) has stated they treat Facebook etc… like any other website (nothing special).
Are Facebook and Twitter signals part of the ranking algorithm? How much do they matter?
Facebook and Twitter pages are treated like any other pages in our web index so if something occurs on Twitter or occurs on Facebook and we’re able to crawl it, then we can return that in our search results. But as far as doing special specific work to sort of say “you have this many followers on Twitter or this many likes on Facebook”, to the best of my knowledge we don’t currently have any signals like that in our web search ranking algorithms.
Current information available suggests social media activity isn’t a direct SEO ranking factor, I’d like to see it tested.
For the record not suggesting a strong social media campaign is a waste of time, if you can pull in thousands of Facebook users to a website some will link to your site from their blogs etc… and this will definitely be used as a Google ranking factor. Since Google owns Google+, Google+ activity could be used as a direct SEO ranking factor, same for YouTube which Google also owns.