Google has recently released a large algorithm update named “Hummingbird”. This is a significant move as it is the first major update to its algorithm in years and signals a potential change in trends for the future of SEO.
I’m not going to even attempt to decipher the technical elements behind the update, but after going through a lot of the comments and discussions around it on the web it is clear that while Hummingbird is not going to fundamentally change how SEO is done, some activities will take more prominence.
In addition to more focus on semantic indexing (move from a focus on keywords to a focus on the overall meaning behind the query and then provide the content that best matches the question or inquiry) it appears that Google will now give a lot more value to social signals and social authority.
What are social signals?
Social signals are all the little clues that will show Google how valuable and relevant your website is in the market. Signals are the acknowledgement given by users to your content via Facebook Likes, tweets, retweets, mentions, +1 and so on. Think of them as a vote of confidence, each time a user decides to engage with your content and show their community that they like it, then it is a vote for your website and your brand.
Google then analyses these social signals via its algorithm when choosing results to display for a search query in its index. If your website is well optimised, has good content and inbound links and strong social signals supporting it, then it is likely to rank better than a similar website without social support.
I know some of you will be saying by now “but that’s already happening, isn’t it?” and the answer is yes, Google already uses some sort of social analysis, but this is now going to become a larger part of the algorithm formula. How much is not known, but enough for us to say that social media and social engagement are soon going to become a necessity for good rankings.
Where do I start?
- Step 1 – Create your social accounts
if you don’t already have them, create some social profiles for your business. Ideally start with a Google + profile as it is a Google product and results are starting to show in the search engine results pages. As usual be sensible when starting social activities as there is no point creating many accounts if you’re not going to maintain. Start with just 1 or 2 and assess what resources are required to manage them. It is best to have one well managed account rather than 5 inactive or poorly managed ones. As usual make sure you choose the ones that are the most relevant to your industry: LinkedIn is for example best for B2B companies while Facebook can sometimes be more consumer focussed.
- Step 2 – Social integration
Once you have created your accounts, think about how you can integrate them on your site to ensure visitors know they exist. This can be as simple as adding icons in your page templates.
In addition to links to your profiles, encourage social endorsement and engagement by visitors by adding social sharing buttons in key places of the site (blog posts, news, valuable content like guides). If visitors like your content, then give them the opportunity to share it with their community. Creating social sharing buttons is extremely simple and can be done using websites like Sharethis
- Step 3 – Write valuable content
SEO is all about good content, so the rules don’t really change here. If you produce good content aimed at your target audience on a regular basis, then social endorsement should follow. The benefits of having well-optimised content added to your website regularly will also extend to your onsite optimisation as Google will have a more valuable copy to index.
A lot of businesses underestimate of complex and time consuming producing quality content and managing social accounts can be, so be sure to do your homework before jumping in. These activities need to be planned carefully and integrated within the wider marketing strategy of your business.
We help a lot of businesses with all social media and content aspects of digital marketing, so do get in touch if you have any questions. Alternatively, you can read the SEO predictions for 2014 here.
About the author
Etienne is the Head of SEO here at Mahon Digital and he’s been involved in the digital & search marketing industry for nearly 11 years now, working for small family owned businesses as well as international FTSE 500 companies. He’s passionate about all things digital, but more specifically about digital & search strategy and marketing analysis.