Since last December’s admission from Google + Bing’s search teams regarding the direct impact of Twitter + Facebook on search rankings, marketers have been asking two questions:
- What signals are Google + Bing counting?
- How much influence do these social signals have on the results?
let’s look at some data!
Correlation of Link Metrics vs. Social Signals
How well do metrics like the quantity of shares on Facebook, Tweets on Twitter or Google Buzz shares correlate with higher rankings in the top 30 results in Google’s web search results?
In June of 2010 we ran a similar analysis and found the highest correlated metrics to be exact match .com domain names and # of linking root domains to the ranking page. Exact match domains have fallen substantially (in both prominence and correlation) – but we’ll save that analysis for another blog post – while link metrics have remained fairly static in their correlation to higher rankings in Google. As of late March, the data is showing an unlikely new leader – shares of a URL on Facebook!
Naturally, this data shocked us. I presented at SMX Elite in Sydney last week on this and, prior to showing the slide, asked the audience, by show of hands, who believed Facebook to be more influential in Google’s rankings than Twitter. Not a single person raised their arm. When data’s this surprising (and particularly when the rest of the data from the analysis – much of it available here – matches our expectations), we want to look deeper.
Are Social Correlation Merely the Result of Overlap with Link Signals?
My next guess was that Facebook Shares’ correlation was simply a matter of being a good predictor of links. Surely, pages that earn lots of Facebook shares also earn lots of good links. As before, Dr. Peters had some analysis to help answer the question.
In this chart, we examine the correlations of social data, controlling for links (in this case, specifically # of linking c-blocks). And yet, we still see a remarkable positive correlation between Facebook shares and higher rankings. Twitter, on the other hand, drops dramatically, potentially signalling that its influence as direct signal may not be as strong (though we must keep in mind this data is not causal).
Takeaways from this Data
While we can’t say for certain whether these numbers mean that Facebook strongly influences Google rankings, I personally have some big learnings and opinions to share:
- Social Metrics are Well Correlated with Higher RankingsTo me, correlation alone is interesting because I want my sites/pages to be similar to the pages that rank higher in Google, irrespective of whether those traits are directly measured in the algorithm. Pages that earn tweets + Facebook shares also correlate well with earning links, and send direct traffic on their own – ignoring these services at this point seems foolish.
- Testing the Direct Impact of Facebook Shares on Google is ImperativeWe’ve already observed several remarkable results from testing Twitter’s impact. Facebook should be next on the list for many search marketers.
- I Need to Learn More About How to Earn Facebook SharesGiven the potential importance and the obvious direct impact (traffic from and visibility on Facebook itself), I, and probably many web marketers, need to examine successful strategies and brainstorm new ways to earn sharing activity from Facebook’s massive user base.
- Shares Might Be More Valuable than LikesIn Facebook’s own environment, a “like” of content will show up on your own “Wall” and in “Most Recent” (a new feature as of last week), but it rarely shows in “Top News” where most users scan and click. If that alone isn’t reason to encourage sharing v. liking, the data above certainly is (at least to me).
- Twitter May Be Less Powerful than I ThoughtThe correlation data and the presence of tweets in SERPs was less, in comparison to Facebook, than I would have expected. It could be that in cases like those of our experiments, where many influential Twitter users shared a URL in close temporal proximity, Google takes it as a signal, yet for standard search rankings, it’s not as powerful. We’ll definitely keep testing and watching, but my expectations for tweets correlating with rankings, after controlling for links, were higher, and thus the results, somewhat surprising.