When the Google + social network opened up in Beta, there were a myriad of SEO's and webmasters wondering how the "+1" button found within search would effect search results. Would a hugely popular article that had a lot of social influence (or lots of "pluses") make a difference in how it ranks? Suddenly, websites started sprouting up everywhere offering to +1 a webpage for a fee, looking for webmasters who suddenly are aiming to game the search engines using the social signal.
There is no doubt that social metrics are starting to filter down into the SEO side of organic search. People like Rand Fishkin have done a number of tests to see if something that gets tweeted a lot can influence how a page is ranked.
While I appreciate Rand's insights on social media influence on rankings, I feel as though SEO's are looking in the wrong direction as to what social media will mean for search because they are still operating under old school SEO methodologies rather than embracing where network clusters may account more for search rankings in the future.
Those who think that are under the opinion that social networks for ranking can be gamed may change their opinions after reading this article.
A few months back, pre Google's social network, I wrote a post entitled Where social meets search, in which I mused over where I thought that search was headed. The article focused squarely on personalization as what may ultimately change how we, as search marketers, create marketing strategies that pull in organic traffic. Since then, my own personal theories as to how things will be affected have evolved beyond personalized search based on a surfer's individual behavior and into the idea that even your social cluster will define web results.
Your Personalized Web (Experience)
If you are like me and spend your livelihood on the internet, you have probably watched as your search results have gone from "untainted" to personal. If you are a serial rank checker, you may have even been amazed when you see your keywords all ranking high in the SERPS, in spite of them really not.
This is the effect of constantly going to the same webpages over and over. The search engines basically watch your behavior and adjust the search results to fit your behavior.
What started out as optional has indeed turned into de facto. Eli Parisier has aptly termed this the Filter Bubble (of which he is no doubt a critic). If you lean to the right, politically, then news you may see within search may be completely different to what someone on the left sees in organic search.
Search engines aren't the only ones using this either; Facebook has edge rank that will trim down news that it deems isn't critical to what you are interested in based on your behavior.
For a search marketer looking to build brand, interaction beyond simply ranking becomes paramount to maintaining search results. After all, what if your brand is the page that is replaced with a page that the user has shown a preference to?
Your Social Circle, Your Search Results
As if personalized results weren't enough, social circle preferences are already starting to make their way into organic search as well. Before Google's social network went into beta, there were icons that were displayed underneath searches that showed the faces of those who you followed if they recommended or shared a link that was relevant. The results were pulled mostly from Twitter, your RSS reader and a couple other social platforms.
Usually, these recommended links didn't base their merit on the most common SEO practices to get ranked but instead were totally community related; as in YOUR community. The fact that they are there isn't really important though; the fact that they are replacing other websites which used the old school SEO methodology of ranking is.
Google + And The New Search On The Horizon
Which brings us full circle back to Google's new social network and what could be in store for the SEO community. While most SEO professionals are reluctant to pull the trigger and prognosticate what Google has in store for who ranks where, the evidence is pointing to social signals in the very least, affecting results on a case-by-case instance.
The evidence (or clue) can go no further than a recent book published by Jim Lecinski, managing director of Sales for Google, called the Zero Moment of Truth, in which he makes the statement-
Google is so convinced of this that we created the +1 button, which lets anyone recommend products, services and websites to friends with a single click. While looking at a website or even at search results, you click the +1 button to tell your friends, Im a fan of this. Next time your friends search, they will see your recommendation below the search result for that page..If I search for a hotel online and six of my friends have given it a +1, my decision is made.
If what Jim is stating is true, the world wide web will get much smaller. If Google decides to let your social circles influence what you see in search, then websites using the old SEO methodology of concentrating on links rather than brand, will undoubtedly suffer more in search than those who invent strategic ways to get people to share their website and articles via the web.
What if Google's +1 button didn't largely influence global search but instead influenced just your network?
That question is the crux of this article. What happens when numbers of "likes", "tweets", or "+1's" don't necessarily affect search globally but instead affects things on a local basis? Spammers can sell likes which they undoubtedly will do so through a network that they have built themselves but what happens when search discovery only affects the community that they surround themselves in (in this case, spam profiles daisy chained together to fake importance)?
The important takeaway from this is that Google's expansion into the social side of the internet means that they can view social clusters to help determine what is truly important and what is gamed by a network of spam profiles intended to fake importance.
Does This Mean Traditional Search Optimization Is Over?
Absolutely not. Search algorithms still need to determine a baseline in regards to importance. But what this does mean is that the smart SEO will focus on more than simply ranking in search through link building; they will also focus on networks within their market to help promote their message.
If "networks" suddenly become a base for pushing an otherwise non-ranking website into the spotlight, then networking will have to become a viable tool for the search marketer. In essence, they could push themselves up to the top of the SERPS by growing a large network as opposed to the more traditional so called "merit based" rankings.