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MPA-IMAG 2011: Building Community is the Future of SEO

Care2’s CEO Randy Paynter shares 3 important developments in SEO, helpful for all online publishers and digital marketers

In an Audience Development panel at IMAG’s 8th annual conference in San Francisco last week, Randy Paynter from Care2, the largest online community for healthy and green living, shared three developments in SEO he deemed important for publishers.

1. Google’s Panda Update: We’ve written about the Panda Update and have offered white-hat SEO techniques to help ensure your high-quality content is being found. But what and who determines if your content is “high quality”? Paynter shared a great resource straight from Google’s Webmaster Central Blog that offers over 20 questions publishers should ask themselves to determine if their content is in fact high quality. Another important, yet potentially scary fact Paynter noted is that Google is penalizing entire sites, not just pages. So if 90% of the content on your site is “high quality”, but 10% is considered “spammy” by Google’s new standards, your entire site may be penalized.

Paynter also mentioned a new feature Google is rolling out where users can block certain sites from their results. An article on Google’s blog says they’ve added this feature because they believe in giving the searcher control over the results they find and believe in “providing an even more personalized and enjoyable experience on Google”. And while they’re not currently using the domains people block as a signal in ranking, they do say “we will look at the data and see whether it would be useful as we continue to evaluate and improve search results in the future.”

Between giving users the ability to block sites and/or endorse sites through Google’s +1 feature, it’s never been more obvious that providing users with the best possible experience on your site through your content is paramount to digital success.

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2. Social Signals: There are three main ways social cues and insights influence search results:

  • Google Real Time Results – for certain searches you may see a Tweet showing up on the search engine results page. This is Google’s Real Time Results where they are incorporating Tweets, or Flickr pictures as part of the search engine results page.
  • Google Social Search – this is where, if you have a Google profile, you can see customized search results based upon the people in your social network. This is Google’s way of figuring out people you trust, then allowing you to see content from them showing up in your search results. Again, this is dependent on the searcher having a Google profile, so for now I think we’re safe to chalk this up as a nifty social tool.
  • Facebook + Twitter’s Influence on Search Rankings – Google and Bing both have confirmed, albeit only to a small degree, that they are using social signals to help rank regular search results. It seems clear, based on Danny Sullivan’s interviews with Google and Bing, that Twitter data, especially, plays a role in web search. Google and Bing are using algorithms to assess “who” you are on Twitter and they are deciding whether you are a trusted authority or not. It’s a PageRank of sorts, except it’s for people. The answers provided to Sullivan from Google and Bing confirm that getting your pages mentioned in tweets by authoritative people may help your pages rank higher in regular search results.
  • SEOmoz took this a step further recently and began collecting data and running calculations in an attempt to provide more insight. While Google has not confirmed any of this, SEOmoz’s study reveals that there is a correlation between social signals and high-ranking pages.

    The study, based on the examination of the top 30 ranking results for 10,217 searches performed on Google in late March, revealed that the Number of Facebook Shares was the #1 most influential social media-based factor, followed closely by the Sum of FB Shares, Likes & Comments; #3 was Number of Linking C-Blocks to Page (which are basically inbound links to the page); #4 was Number of Facebook Comments; #5 was Number of Facebook Likes and #6 was Number of Tweets to a URL.

    Yikes! So this means Facebook Shares are better for your site than inbound links? No, not exactly. It’s important to remember that this study shows correlation, not causation. As SEOmoz’s Rand Fishkin points out, “it’s up to you how to interpret this data, but whether you believe (or have tested) the causality of Facebook/Twitter or not, all of us in the SEO sphere should be carefully watching the social space and Google’s social efforts.”

3. Paid Search ­– The final update Paynter wanted the IMAG crowd to know about is how the “keyword buy” is becoming much more dynamic. A recent eye-tracking study done by User Centric revealed that only 28% of the searchers on Google looked at the right-hand ad placements. Paynter also recommended looking into Google’s Product Listing Ads as a way to expand your Adwords buys. This is Google’s CPA (cost per action) version of selling ads, where the advertiser can’t control when their ads appear, nor can the advertiser set the bids on the phrases. The advertiser must agree to participate with Google on a CPA basis in order to be involved in this program.

So for marketers, we’ll never have a magic bullet to respond to all these ongoing changes and algorithmic adjustments. But the importance of building a sense of community and following on Facebook and Twitter is overwhelmingly clear. As Paynter points out, “it’s the future of SEO.”

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