06 Jan 2011, Posted by admin in Featured,Social, 22 Comments
At the end of last year Danny Sullivan wrote an article for Search Engine Land titled “What Social Signals do Google & Bing Really Count?” which featured an interview between representatives from both search engines. The article confirmed that Google and Bing use Twitter and (possibly to a lesser extent) Facebook as another signal to determine where a site is able to rank in the regular search results.
While a lot of SEOs had begun to suspect that tweeted links were influencing rankings, it was really good to see it actually confirmed.
What Google & Bing didn’t mention, though, was how strongly they were using these social signals as a ranking factor. Google has claimed for years now that there are over 200 ranking factors, so it’s hard to say whether their use of Twitter is a majorly influential factor (like links) or whether it’s just one of many neglible factors.
Google also failed to mention how long the Twitter effect would last – I think quite a few people may expect it to be a very time-sensitive thing, particularly around breaking news. The assumption is that, when Google uses tweets to boost a page for a search term, the ‘Twitter effect’ will eventually stop being such a strong ranking factor after enough time (or when the tweets stop) and then the regular SEO factors (links, on-page keywords, etc) start to take over. This wasn’t confirmed or suggested, it’s just what I would have expected.
A final point that wasn’t mentioned is whether or not Google differentiates between tweets from specific countries – so whether tweets from UK users to a specific page helps boost that page in Google.co.uk, or whether it also helps in US results in Google.com.
These two points – tweet locations and how long the Twitter effect lasts for – is something that I wanted to look into because of a post I wrote a while ago on Raven Tools. I wrote it very shortly after Sugarrae published hers, and I noticed something interesting about the two posts – my post very quickly started to rank very well for the term “Raven Tools” in Google.co.uk, out-ranking Rae’s even though I linked to her post from mine, and despite the fact that Sugarrae’s post, by all the regular SEO metrics like number of links and domain authority, greatly deserved to outrank my post. My post ranked so well on Google.co.uk that the only domain that outranked it was Raventools.com itself. This wasn’t true in Google.com though, the US results showed the results that you’d normally expect, with Sugarrae outranking me and with my site towards the bottom of page 1. I should also point out, my site isn’t geo-targetted to any location in particular.
Is there a time limit to the Twitter effect?
At the time I assumed it was some kind of query-deserves-freshness effect, and that eventually my site would drop down the search results. That would fit with my original idea that Google’s use of Twitter is to spot breaking news and promote tweeted articles when the topic was hot, but then dropped those articles in favour of the most linked to over time, when the topic wasn’t being tweeted about as much.
It’s been over 5 months since my Raven post, and it’s still only outranked by Raventools.com in the UK.
This would imply that, in this case at least, the Twitter effect may not be time-based, and tweets from months ago may still help your page to rank well.
Does Google use tweet locations?
I wanted to look into why my post was ranking well in the UK results, but not anywhere else. It’s a .com, hosted in the US and it isn’t geo-targetted to any country, Google shouldn’t consider it a UK specific site.
Using Backtweets I grabbed a load of the data around who tweeted my post and compared it with who tweeted Sugarrae’s. An important point to remember is that Google is likely treating some tweets diffently to others, depending on how authoritative they think a Twitter user is.
While Sugarrae had more tweets to her article than I had mine (she had 23 to my 13), the majority of my tweets were from people who had their location set to somewhere in the UK (9 of the 13), while Sugarrae had the vast majority of her tweets from the US (17 of her 23), and she only had 2 UK tweets.
This would suggest that Google is using the location of tweets to determine which search engine the page gets a boost in. The theory is, if a page becomes incredibly popular amongst UK tweeters – it may only be relevant to people in the UK, and so it only gets a boost in Google.co.uk. This is an observation for just this one specific example – it’s not a cold, hard scientific fact – but if anyone was planning on testing how tweeted links can affect rankings, I’d suggest looking into how long the effect lasts for, and whether the location of the Twitter user plays a part.
And you can download the sheet here, if you’re so inclined.
Flickr image from view-askew.