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Why Social & Site Engagement Ranking Metrics are Important
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Can you imagine if Google was more of a complacent company, one who did not look to regularly improve the search experience for users? What would Google look like? Would it be reminiscent of Yahoo or perhaps more like ASK? While many site owners and webmasters do not always agree with the results displayed by Google in their SERPs, you have to respect the mighty G for continuing to work on refining their results in hope of delivering the best results possible for a given search query.

Take some of their recent algorithm updates for example. Google Panda rocked what we saw in Google search results. For better or worse we saw a lot of sites that lost rankings replaced by at times other sites that were questionable based on the query performed. I have been critical of Google results for the past twelve to eighteen months (oddly enough around the time when Google began rolling out Caffeine) but I can understand what their end goal is... to provide the best search results possible. This is not an easy job people, and Google understands that. Perhaps that is why they are asking help to identify scraped content.

The fact is that if Google did not care about the user, they would not worry about trying to improve the search results as regularly as they do. Google has a series of search teams from engineers, to quality managers, they take their search results very seriously. If they didn’t why would they:
  • rollout a major infrastructure change (Google Caffeine)
  • place more emphasis on big brands (Google Vince Update)
  • improve the size of their Index (Google Caffeine)
  • increase focus on local search (Google Places)
  • assist users with search queries (Google Instant)
  • focus on webspam (Google Farmer Update)
  • focus on low quality content/duplicate content (Google Panda Update)
  • release a Google Chrome site blocking extension
  • launch Google +1
  • be looking to identify scraper sites and duplicated content
It might be a fair comment to say that post Caffeine Google is broken. However a broken Google is still better than some of the alternatives out there when it comes to finding information. (Think of all of the endless low quality directories or autoblogs out there).

Google’s ranking algorithms consist of hundreds of factors but what we are seeing is that the weight of some of these factors is shifting. While link popularity continues to be a key ranking factor, you have to think that with the ability to artificially inflate a site’s link inventory Google is modifying the weighting of this factor. It is no coincidence that Google has been communicating the importance of social and site engagement over the past couple of years. It is with these types of metrics where I see Google going and there is evidence that Google is going this route with their ranking algorithms.

Why Social & Site Engagement Ranking Metrics are Important

Google has often communicated the importance of site stickiness citing metrics such as bounce rate or time spent as being key metrics in monitoring the engagement success of a site. Factor in the social element and all of a sudden we can see just how important social and site metrics become. Google has been watching what has been going on in the online space with regards to social activity. It is no secret that Google has at one time or another tried to acquire or form partnerships with social sites such as Facebook and Twitter. It is no secret that engagement metrics are big on Google's list of ranking factors. That alone should be reason enough to pay attention to social engagement. Google is and will continue to use social engagement metrics as a ranking signal. Look for this to carry more weight moving forward. Social, unlike link popularity cannot be as easily gamed. This also makes it appealing to Google as a ranking factor.

How important is social to Google? CEO Larry Page reportedly sent out an internal memo to all employees informing them that 25 percent of their bonus will be tied to the success or failure of Google's social products. How people interact with a site either positively or negatively can impact what Google will display in their search results. Google’s launch of their +1 button suggests just how important social and site engagement has become for Google. http://www.google.com/+1/button/.

Derek Gordon over at MediaPost’s Search Insider shared a story where a recent meeting between Forbes reporters and Google sales representatives took place in which the Google resource “suggested a strong correlation between search results and publishers putting the Google "+1" button on their pages. The article goes on to suggest that:

Google is encouraging web publishers to start adding +1 buttons to their pages, and the message in this meeting was clear, 'Put a Plus One button on your pages or your search traffic will suffer.'

The fact that the Google +1 button impacts your site’s visibility in the search results is reason enough to place it on your site pages. Keep in mind that this is one ranking signal of many used by Google, but it is a social/site engagement metrics that is a new ranking factor that previously did not exist. If Google’s search results become richer based on the factoring in of social and site engagement metrics, you can expect the weightings of these metrics to increase. At the end of the day we are seeing what could be a monumental shift in how Google ranks a particular webpage. While there are still hundreds of factors used in Google ranking algorithms, expect Google to give more weight to engagement metrics and less to link popularity metrics.

Additional Readings on Social Engagement

Google’s Focus on Quality and the PostRank Acquisition

Official: Google Analytics Gets Social Engagement Reporting

Google’s addiction to speed, and how engagement metrics will shape the web.

Does Google use data from social sites in ranking? (Matt Cutts Video)

What is driving engagement on Google+?


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posted by Jody @ Tuesday, August 30, 2011  
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Name: Jody
Home: Kelowna, BC, Canada
About Me: SEO guy by day, family man 24/7.
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