About the author: John Doherty
The advent of social media has brought a host of changes to the SEO industry, and online marketing as a whole. You would be hard-pressed to find a business with a decent online presence that does not have a Twitter account connected to their website, and at least one way to find that account.
Google and Bing recently alerted the SEO industry to the fact that they are using social media signals as a factor in ranking websites. Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land wrote a post back in December 2010 talking about what social signals he thought the search engines are and will be using.
Here is an excerpt from that article:
We do look at the social authority of a user. We look at how many people you follow, how many follow you, and this can add a little weight to a listing in regular search results. It carries much more weight in Bing Social Search, where tweets from more authoritative people will flow to the top when best match relevancy is used.
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…
Jen Lopez of SEOmoz also wrote an article called A Tweet’s Effects on Rankings. In this article, she mentioned how Smashing Mag had tweeted about SEOmoz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO. After this tweet, the Beginner’s Guide to SEO page on SEOmoz jumped to #4 in the SERPs for “Beginner’s Guide.” The ranking has bounced around since, sometimes on the second page. At the time of writing this post, when logged out of Google and using an Incognito window in Chrome, it sits at #4 still.
After these interesting studies and admissions by the search engines, I decided to do a study of my own, using both my own Twitter account and that of the website I worked on as an in-house SEO.
I wrote an article on February 15th about the then upcoming Distilled Linkbuilding Conference in London. Tom and Will Critchlow tweeted the link to my article, which was on a relatively new domain at the time (my personal site), to their followers. Tom also posted a correction, with the URL still in place. Lynsey Little, the event manager at Distilled, retweeted Tom’s correction and also my tweet about the post being updated to reflect the true state of the New Orleans Conference. Upon review of the Topsy.com summarization of the tweets, it listed both Tom and Will as “very influential.” This was an “ah-hah” moment.
Since the post went live, it has been at #3 or #4 for the search “distilled link building london.” It is in similar places for “distilled link building conference”. “Distilled link building” returns around result #7.
Summary and analysis: The article URL was tweeted a total of seven (7) times, three times by influential followers. It was retweeted five (5) of those times. I surmise that the number of influential tweets, the number of retweets, and the fact that the search terms are not very competitive as the reasons why my post still ranks so highly.
I worked for an online college portal website, which myself and two other SEOs worked on daily. We ranked well for some competitive terms, so I was interested to see what would happen if I started tweeting the phrase “accredited online colleges only” using the website’s Twitter account. I also decided to retweet one of the tweets using my personal account, to see if that had any effect.
Here are the rankings before the tweets:
Here are the rankings after the tweets:
Bing: 2 + 3
One week later, and after the Google Farmer/Panda content farm update, here are the rankings:
Bing 2 + 3
The page was already ranking on the middle of the first page for Google and in rank #2 for Bing. After the tweet from a non-influential account, no noticeable change occurred, except that two pages for the website began appearing in Bing.
Summary and analysis: The search term is a rather competitive term, so it is not a surprise that a couple of tweets from non-influential Twitterers would not affect the rankings. I do not know if the tweet had an effect on Bing’s decision to show two results instead of one for the query.
I wrote a summary of a New York Times article about the Fiske Guide, a list of colleges and universities on the Internet, developing an app for the iPad, which makes the guide interactive and useful for high school seniors and their parents. I titled the blog post “NY Times Summary: The Fiske Guide Goes iPad”. After I wrote the article, I tweeted it using the work account. I also submitted it to StumbleUpon.
After the tweet and StumbleUpon submission, here were the rankings for the article for the search query “Fiske Guide”, which I performed while logged out of Gmail, in an incognito window in Chrome, and using a Google location-independent query:
Here is a snapshot of the traffic, which started from the first day.
One week later and after the Farmer/Panda update, here were the rankings:
Google: Page 13
Summary and analysis: I think this one was caught by the Farmer/Panda update, because the ranking tanked after the update. Long-term ranking is inconclusive because of the algorithm update, but the trend holds true that an initial tweet helps a new article to be indexed and rank quickly.
Now, here is where it gets interesting. In order to test if Twitter tweets had an effect on rankings, I decided to write another article called “What Is The Fiske Guide?” on the company blog. I then decided that I would wait a couple of days before tweeting it with the work account.
After the article was publish and no tweet was given, here were the rankings two days later for “Fiske Guide”, using the same search terms as above:
Google: not found
Bing: not found
I then decided to tweet the article to see what might happen After the “no tweet” article was tweeted, here were the rankings:
One week later and after Farmer Update, the rankings had changed a bit:
Summary and Analysis: I purposefully did not tweet out an article that I thought had a better chance of ranking than the first article. I let the article sit for two days, and it was not to be found in the search results. After the article was tweeted, it took a bit of time, but the article eventually made its way onto the first page of the Google search query “Fiske Guide.”
Once again, I needed to test and see if my suspicions were correct about social media signals helping articles to get discovered initially. I wrote a blog post called “Top 15 Inspirational Business Quotes”, which I then tweeted.
It was published on Friday. After 4 tweets, which were comprised of one (1) from us, one (1) from a follower, and then retweets from two (2) of her followers, here were the rankings:
And here was the organic traffic, which started on the day of publication:
Six days later, on a Thursday, the rankings were the same:
The blog that I was writing on is fairly high-traffic, so Mr. Googlebot crawled it frequently. I noticed, however, that when I did not tweet an article, it would often take 2-3 days before it is crawled. When I did tweet the article, I received a Google Alert (I have one set up for the website) a couple of hours later, which showed that it had been discovered and indexed by Google.
“Domain Trust Factors” (more competitive)
I wrote an article entitled “Four Factors that influence Domain Trust” and tweeted it to the world. I tweeted the URL three (3) times, and it was retweeted twice.
After the tweets from me and 2 retweets, here were the rankings for “Domain Trust Factors”:
Bing: not found
It currently resides somewhere in the middle of the 5th page on Google. It was not found on Bing for a while because issues with my CMS.
Analysis and Conclusion: The article was indexed quickly, but it did not and does not rank well. From the previous examples, the ranking trend makes sense, because the term is more competitive, and the indexing trend also holds true.
I have come to believe that tweets, and possibly other social media signals, are becoming increasingly important for the search engines when trying to discover new material on websites. This has held true for the couple of websites that I administrate.
When new articles are tweeted, they are discovered and indexed quickly. When they are not tweeted, it takes the search engine bots more time to find and index them. This leads me to believe that search engines are watching Twitter feeds for indexation purposes, and when tweeters or retweeters are influential, they are using that information for ranking the articles.
The number of tweets and the number of tweeters, however, seems to make a difference for ranking. Articles that were just tweeted one time have reached a maximum of result #8. The two that were tweeted more times have ranked and are ranking higher. From this I think we can assume safely that the more times a new article or page gets tweeted, the better chance the target URL has of ranking well.
- Always post the link on Twitter when you publish a new article. This is common sense for SEOs, but we should also recommend this to clients.
- If possible, have 2-3 or more people who will always tweet your links. Since my findings show that the number of tweets may positively affect rankings, the more tweets you have guaranteed, the better chance your article will have of ranking, even for only a short period of time.
- To bump an established link up in rankings, it seems necessary that the tweet come from a well-respected, influential, and relevant Twitter account. Of course, when the tweet comes from a respected account, it will often be retweeted numerous times (126 at last count, according to Topsy) and clicked many times (over 9,800 at last check).
If you have done any testing into a tweet’s effect on rankings, please leave your findings in the Comments section below!