As a whole, the search industry is putting more and more emphasis on social media for determining rankings – But just how much emphasis are search engines putting on social media? As social media gains more and more prominence among search engines, that also means that simultaneously the value of links is going lower and lower and lower.
How much weight are Google and Bing putting on social media today, and where are they likely headed in the future? Let’s take a look.
Step Back and Look at it from Google’s Eyes
Remember that Google’s goal in the world is to index all the information on the web and to organize it according to its usefulness. In other words, every algorithm Google writes is designed to do one thing: To sort the bad content from the good and to put the good upfront.
Now, ask yourself: From Google’s eyes, which is a more reliable metric of measurement? The number of backlinks an article receives, or the number of “shares” it gets on Facebook?
Keep in mind that only a small fraction of people actually own websites and blogs. Look at your own Facebook profile. How many of your friends have blogs or websites? By the same token, how many of them regularly post and share links?
The reality is, only a small subset of the internet has their own website. By only counting links from websites, Google is actually getting a very skewed version of what people like and don’t like.
In Google’s eyes, each link today is counted as a “vote” on that website’s level of quality. The more votes it has, the better the website is.
However, in reality Google is only sampling a small portion of the true votes that are happening on the internet. Every day, hundreds of millions of people “vote” on the quality of content by sharing it on social media. Google is completely bypassing those votes, in favor of the old fashioned backlink.
Why Backlinks Will Be Out of Date
One thing that’s been clear about backlinks ever since SEO was invented was that they can be manipulated. People have been trying to game the search engines by buying backlinks, creating backlink farms, exchanging links in complex manners and so on ever since people realized that there’s money to be made by getting on the front page.
On the other hand, social media shares are incredibly difficult to fake. Every person has relationships to other people. People have links to verifiable sources – Things like colleges and employers. In order for a social media account to appear real, they must have hundreds of friends. Friends that know them in person, not just on the internet.
A vote by a real human being is worth a lot more to Google than a manipulated vote by a webmaster. While with the world wide web, even with sophisticated technologies it’s extremely difficult to tell, in social media it’s relatively easy.
When Will This Shift Take Place?
The answer: It’s going to take a while. Why?
For a couple of reasons. First, Google doesn’t have access to the data. At the moment, Facebook is still paired with MSN. All their data is closed from Google if people have their privacy settings set to a non-public setting.
It’s possible that Bing will roll out a search algorithm that fully takes advantage of the data from Facebook. Traditionally however, Google has been the technological leader in search. Will Bing be able to take advantage of the data-edge they have over Google? Only time will tell.
The second reason is because Google already knows that links work. They work relatively well, despite all the issues with them. Switching over to a drastically different ranking model takes time.
Every time Google creates a new algorithm, it needs to be tested. They send traffic to a small subset of their searches with the new algorithm and see if the quality of the search results is higher.
While saying that social factors are important is one thing, translating them into consistent and useable algorithms is something else entirely. As brilliant as Google’s engineers are, it still takes months for major search engine updates to get programmed and years for complete overhauls.