New evidence is emerging to suggest that Google Search is not evaluating social media sharing as was previously thought. This, of course, has huge implications for all bloggers and anyone else who needs to place well on the search engines. In this article, I’m going to cite some surprising examples which seem to demonstrate that it’s not who’s sharing your links that matters – it’s who’s clicking them.
Of late, I’ve begun to feel that SEOs in general tend to underestimate Google and the sophistication of their tools. We can gain an incredibly thorough insight into the performance of our own websites using Google’s tools (Analytics – depicted above) – to the point where we can measure a visitor’s precise behaviour. And yet many of us at the same time assume that when it comes to ordering the search results, Google distills everything down to simple factors – like how many times something got shared on Facebook. WE can clearly see that the number of shares on networking sites is so often meaningless, so why would an organisation with Google’s sophistication and knowledge accept such a statistic as even vaguely useful?…
Of course, the best SEO gurus realise that simple link spamming on Twitter means nothing, and does nothing, but they still seem to focus their attention on links rather than behaviour. For example, the number of retweets might be cited as a factor, along with the influence of the users retweeting the links. But that’s still a numbers game, and it’s still incredibly unreliable as a measure of content value or relevance. Afterall, even influential social site users can succumb to the lure of paid promotion and start plugging stuff they don’t really care about. And because the users are influential, people will retweet their stuff. They just will – even if only to suck up to the user and draw attention to themselves.
I’ve seen quite a few highly interactive Twitter users, with many thousands of massively engaged real followers, tweeting links for money or freebies. Some even discuss the promo deals on Twitter itself. So it’s a fact: proliferation of links on social networking sites, regardless of the users’ apparent status, does not in itself tell Google a post is relevant or of interest. Naturally, if a link goes absolutely blazing viral across the world, then that’s a different matter, but for relatively moderate numbers of retweets, even involving influential users, the actual content could be useless – a simple attempt to game the system.
This article was actually prompted by experiences I had with two separate blogs (neither of them this one), which suggested to me that Google does not monitor social sharing as is generally accepted. Let me first tell you what happened…
A Twitter user with a big and engaged following tweeted a photo taken from a blog of mine, along with a link to my original post. It got a large number of retweets, but this resulted in little traffic to my site, and no gain at all on Google. Simply, people had been given the photo in the Tweet, so very few bothered to click through.
A link to a post on another of my sites was passed, by a reader, to an influential Twitter user, who clicked through and expressed high praise for the post, but didn’t retweet the link at all. Because a heck of a lot of people are extremely interested in the individual in question and lots of people visit her profile page, curious parties saw her “wow!” comment, then viewed the conversation on Twitter, then clicked the link to my post. Engagement was high once the users landed on my site – substantial page visit times, and a very low bounce rate.
Even though in this second example it was just one link on Twitter with no RT at all, I got an almost instant jump on Google from Page 13 to Page 2 (and after a week or so Page 1) for the two main keywords. What’s more, there was a subsequent case very similar to this one, involving another highly influential Twitter user, and again resulting in a lot of traffic from a single Twitter link. In the subsequent instance the link did get retweeted a couple of times, but I strongly believe it was the uptake and interest in the link, rather than the retweets, that once again caused a phenomenal and almost instant jump from Page 4 on Google to position 2 on Page 1.
I was never able to find any other links or factors which contributed to these giant leaps in search status. To me, this only makes sense if Google is using real uptake (clickthroughs) and/or visitor behaviour to gauge interest regarding social traffic, rather than link counts. And why wouldn’t they? They have the technology, and it’s the one thing that’s exceptionally difficult to fudge.
So, as regards links posted on Twitter, this is what I believe…
- Tweet your own links 50 times a day, without any noticeable amount of clickthroughs: gain on the search engines – zero.
- Set up loads of Twitter accounts (or use a paid service to do it for you) and retweet your own links two hundred times, without any noticeable amount of clickthroughs: gain on the search engines – zero.
- Tweet one link which elicits 500 unique visits to your site from genuine people, who demonstrably read the post: gain on the search engines – very significant indeed.
- Tweet one link and click through to your own site 500 times: gain on the search engines – zero.
I don’t think the actual number of links to your posts on Twitter or other social sites has much, if any bearing at all. I think it’s purely about real expressions of interest in those links, and Google is in a great position to accurately measure real interest. If I’m right, this is another nail in the spammer’s coffin, and long may the progress continue.