If there’s one thing that has driven me nuts over the last 6 months it’s the non-stop chatter and search and social. If it’s not about social killing SEO, it’s about the so-called blurring lines. It doesn’t end there as we’ve now (supposedly) had confirmation from the main engines that they do infact look at social signals.
Please note, ‘signals‘ are not always ‘ranking factors‘. But we’ll get back to that.
It has gotten so bad that I decided to write this post… so, be ready to disagree and ready for some realities. It’s time to put some of this to rest, once and for all.
Social kills Search
It’s no secret that SEO’s death is proclaimed at least a few times per month. If it’s an algo change or social or something else, SEO has been dying since it’s inception. While most times it is generally someone looking for attention or a deluge of links that silly search geeks seem to send them time and time again. But social? Really?
Let’s do this once and for all; they are separate disciplines, plain and simple. To make the supposition that social will somehow negate the need for search optimization, is blatantly false and ignorant. As long as we have search engines, those engines send traffic, there will be a need for SEOs to help clients gain inclusion and rank for them.
The Lines are getting blurred
Now, let’s take it further. There is another odd habit over the last year of people stating that the lines are blurred to the point that it is indistinguishable they are synonymous. This is also a misnomer and borne from ignorance. For starters, social isn’t the first nor only market channel that crosses over with SEO… a few others include;
- Public Relations
- Paid Advertising
- Link advertising (yes, once upon a time it existed)
- Offline media (Radio, TV, mailers etc..)
At the end of the day one should ALWAYS have a well crafted marketing program where all the channels play well together. That being said, it is a bad idea to get to the point where you blur the lines too far. It is paramount that one has clear directives for each channel and the people performing them.
This reminds me of the other recent SEO claim, that somehow CRO (conversion rate optimization) is their domain. YES it is important to understand the related practices. Yes we can keep one eye on them. But to disregard other professionals whole-sale is just bullsh*t. Imagine if the CRO guys started saying SEO was part of their job. We’d not be too happy would we? So please, stop the whole blurring the lines crap.
Social and the SEO misconceptions
Now, the point of this post. How are search engines looking at social? Back in December Danny Sullivan wrote about some responses he received in regards to some questions to the engines about social signals. To me, it seemed there really wasn’t anything all that groundbreaking. To others, this was some kind of watershed moment so those that talked about the blurring lines, were redeemed.
“Yes, we do use it as a signal. It is used as a signal in our organic and news rankings. We also use it to enhance our news universal by marking how many people shared an article ”
Signals V Ranking Factors
Note the use of the term ‘signal’. A ranking factor is not always the same as a signal. Some types of other signals they can glean include;
- Trust concepts
- Temporal (velocity)
- Context (semantics)
Get the idea here? For example a link from a tweet might simply be used as a signal for discovery. In many ways social has given search engineers new avenues for discovering content beyond massive crawls. Does that mean they are using the links in the more understood area of PageRank? No, not at all.
For further distinction I am drawn back to a comment from Google last year where they envisioned the future to be a mix of social graph and PageRank. We also can consider the never-ending need for deeper personalization, so add local/mobile to that list.
Links Are About More Than PageRank
Yes, it may seem a bit alien to many of you, but links are far more than just PageRank vehicles. All too often the concept of social in search comes back to discussions of nofollow not being treated as we understand it.
So let’s look at some other values of links;
- Anchor text (tho often attributed to Personalized PageRank)
- Velocity (more on temporal factors)
- Context (semantic analysis)
- Discovery (as mentioned earlier)
- Traffic (wow, what a concept)
- and of course, social graph
(you can learn more in my buddy Steve’s article on link valuations)
The point here being that we simply can’t become (PageRank) myopic when it comes to how (social) links may be perceived and valued. The search engines are certainly looking at what value can be had from social, but it may not always be about actual ranking factors. In the Search Engine Land piece, when asked about valuations, Google stated;
“We use the data only in limited situations, not for all of general websearch. ”
The Evolution of Social Signals
Another point to consider, which came up with a recent (podcast) interview we did with Danny, is that social is evolving at a very fast pace. As search engineers start to try and figure out exactly what value there is in social, the game changes again by the time they implement.
This means we also can’t assume what we perceive as something that would be valuable (today) for a search engine is what’s going to be in the algorithms. There is always a time difference between social web changes and search engines ability to incorporate them into the system.
Just look at Facebook and how ‘shares‘ and ‘likes‘ have evolved over the last year. If they put too much stock in one signal, things can change in short order and negate those efforts.
Back To Reality
And so it says here that YES, social does most certainly play a roll in search. YES, we should most certainly be paying attention to the evolution. But what seems to get lost amongst the hyperbole is not only what that relationship is, but how the engines are actually dealing with it.
Instead of writing articles proclaiming SEOs death at the hands of social, articles about the blurring lines, it’s time to get back to what it is we do and how social (and other marketing channels) may affect that. Any long time readers know my ongoing angst about SEOs not understanding enough about IR and search engineering. This is just one more case to the cause. Start to understand how these things interact and stop writing drivel borne from ignorance.
Last but not least, with such massive changes over the last few years, SEO is most certainly not on the operating table. It is alive and well… ever evolving.
“No matter what one does, whether one’s deeds serve virtue or vice, nothing lacks importance. All actions bear a kind of fruit.” – Buddha