Over the last few months we’ve heard a lot of talk about how social signals are starting to influence rankings, but how powerful are those tweets really? Today I wanted to explore what we know so far, take a look at some examples, then push the envelope a bit with another test. Who’s with me? Ok, let’s do this.
Tweets Affect on Rankings
As you may have read previously, we’ve had a couple case studies which have shown that tweets can help with organic rankings. The first one was a case study where we asked people to either link to Page A or tweet to Page B. We found that Page B (the tweeted one) ranked higher for specific terms than the linked to one. Obviously there are lots of things that could have come into play here such as duplicate content (the content was somewhat similar), and this test didn’t necessarily “prove” one thing or another. What we did find though was that tweets could be quite influential.
The second case study was quite unexpected. Smashing Magazine tweeted about our Beginner’s Guide to SEO, and within hours we were ranking #4 for simple term “Beginner’s Guide.” Whereas previously we didn’t rank for that term at all. We showed that before the tweet we didn’t have any traffic for the term and after the tweet, POOF, traffic (albeit not a lot).
Last week at SMX West, Matt Cutts was specifically asked about these tests (it’s unclear as to which one was actually asked about) and Vanessa Fox wrote up the conversation with Matt over at Search Engine Land. Here’s the quote from the article:
Someone asked about the recent SEOmoz post that concluded that retweets alone could boost rankings. Matt said he had asked Amit Singhal, who heads Google’s core ranking team, if this was possible. He said that Amit confirmed links in tweets is not currently part of Google’s rankings so the conclusions drawn by the post were not correct. Rather, other indirect factors were likely at play, such as some who saw the tweet later linked to it. (Purely speculating on my part, those tweets could have been embedded in other sites that in turn were seen as links.)
Matt mentioned that signals such as retweets might help in real-time search results and then talked about a recent change that causes searchers to see pages that have been tweeted.
Some mistakenly took this to mean that the Google algorithm would give a rankings boost to pages that have been tweeted vs. those that haven’t, but Matt was talking about the change a few weeks ago that personalizes search results based on a searcher’s social network connections.
This seems to be the exact opposite of what Google said previously on the subject:
Danny Sullivan: If an article is retweeted or referenced much in Twitter, do you count that as a signal outside of finding any non-nofollowed links that may naturally result from it?
Google: 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.
Perhaps, though, the retweets are a signal for QDF, then all the links that instantly get created by various sites that show tweets, help get it to rank. So, in thinking about this, I wanted to take a peek at a recent “case study” that happened when Mike Pantoliano realized that his (seriously amazing) Excel Guide for SEO was ranking #2 for “excel guide”.
By the way, I just checked using the query URL: http://www.google.co.uk/search?gl=USq=excel+guide and see it ranking in 3rd place still today. Remember the original tweet was from March 10, 2011, so it’s been almost a week. But what about backlinks, I mean really how many backlinks could that post already have gained? Well according to Yahoo! Site Explorer it has 204 links from external URLs, pretty good for less than a week eh?!
It’s unclear whether all the tweets and retweets (so far it has 650 tweets) were what pushed it up in the SERPs so quickly, whether it was the instant backlinks created by sites like Topsy, Alltop, Trunk.ly, etc. or if in the end it’s a combination of all.
It also seems to be the case that pages/stories which are simply fresh don’t always perform well in Google, while those that earn several hundred or thousand tweets will do so, and fast. You can test this anytime by visiting a site like Tweetmeme and looking at the URLs that have been made “popular” in the past 24 hours. Nearly every one will rank for some obscure combination of words in its title, and very few have any links at all. One short example is the search query http://www.google.com/search?q=start+a+new+career which ranks in position #3 a Mashable blog post from a few hours ago that was retweeted 1,000+ times.
With all this circumstantial evidence in mind, I have one more test I’d like to try…
Is It Possible to Rank for “Jennifer Lopez”?
Over this past weekend, Rand noticed that when you ran a search for “jen lopez” my SEOmoz profile page shows up. I wonder if at the time he was also seeing a photo of me show up because one of the retweets of this was from someone who mentioned a photo of me. Rand was in Europe at the time though, so by the time I saw the tweet and ran the query, I only saw my profile showing up.
I wanted to make double sure that it wasn’t just a personalized result and I asked on Twitter if anyone could send me a screenshot of the SERP for the query “jen lopez.” My hope was to find someone who possibly had never visited that page before. Debra Mastaler sent me over the screenshot you see below which shows my profile page ranking 4th (in the regular SERPs).
I’ve actually ranked on and off for “jen lopez” since I started working at SEOmoz. Sometimes, the first post I ever wrote titled Google Profile Search (aka How to Rank for Jennifer Lopez) is the one that shows up in the first page of SERPs, but most times it’s my profile page.
But what about the query “Jennifer Lopez”? It seems like a pipe dream, but what if? What if tweets really are powerful and a whole bunch of tweets and retweets from authoritative and non-authoritative users could actually boost a page past the thousands and thousands of SERPs for a celebrity name? Is it even possible? Well how about we find out?! But before we get started, I wanted to make sure we all know where the page is starting from.
Current Stats for My Profile Page
Let’s take a look at the current stats for my profile page to get a baseline. Honestly the page has a decent amount of backlinks but it doesn’t get much traffic and it’s only seen a measly 12 tweets in it’s almost 2 years of existence. 🙂 Take a look for yourself:
As I mentioned above, there’s nothing extraordinary here. Plus if you take a look at the anchor text distribution, I’ve done a horrible job of getting my name listed as “Jennifer Lopez.” This is mostly because I decided long ago that if I didn’t brand myself as “Jen Sable Lopez” no one would ever find me in the SERPs. And as a budding SEO at the time, I couldn’t stand the thought of a possible employer not being able to find me. So… most of my anchor text is to “Jen Lopez” or “Jen Sable Lopez.”
Current traffic for the past month
Somewhat obismal traffic as you can see. That spike there is from Rand’s tweet that I mentioned above. Every now and then this page gets spikes like that but it’s definitely not a page that brings in much traffic at all.
Waah waah waaah.
Send a Tweet for Testing’s Sake
Before jumping right in I want to make note that I honestly don’t think tweets are powerful enough to rank for Jennifer Lopez, but I sure as heck want to try. If not for the community, for the thousands Jennifer Lopez’ (Michael Boltons, Mike Meyers, Jackie Kennedys, etc.) out there who will never be found in the SERPs! I also want to note that I picked my profile page because it has the highest authority for me and my name than any other page on the web (other than my Twitter page) and I have access to the stats on it. 🙂 If my highest authority page was on my own blog or another site I had access to analytics on, I would have used that.
OK people, let’s do this. Now let me reiterate, the idea is to get my SEOmoz profile page to rank for the query “Jennifer Lopez” so be sure to use the big blue button below to send the tweet.
Or, you can copy and paste the text below into whatever Twitter app you use, but use this text:
Jennifer Lopez – the original Jenny from the c-block – http://seomz.me/gaCCDx #jlomoz
We will be tracking the following metrics:
- Number of tweets/retweets
- Hashtag (using RowFeeder)
The fact is, it may be completely impossible to ever rank even in the first 1000 results for a celebrity name, but again, I must ask… what if?
PS. I’m headed to SES New York next week and am looking forward to bringing back some valuable insights to the community. If you’re planning on being there, be sure to say hi!