Social Signals Not a Direct Ranking Signal

Google has a tendency towards being cryptic or completely counter-intuitive about the details of their ranking algorithms. Following from this, Matt Cutts, head of search quality at Google, recently debunked a report posted by SEO consulting giant SEOmoz, which stated that +1’s for content posted on the Google Plus network helped boost its organic ranking.

To help assure us that he was not just defending a G+ bias for social signals, his statement extended to any kind of like, share or retweet one might find the web’s various social networks. But why did SEOmoz, who develop analytical SEO software, think such a thing in the first place?

Correlation is not Causation

In short, Matt Cutts stated that even though one might often find a connection that content with a lot of social interactions are highly ranked, this is just a logical outcome of quality content. After all, Google is striving to create web-bots that better understand what users might find compelling so them ranking content highly that also ends up being shared a lot across these networks is just a logical outcome, right?

A lot of Google’s input on their ranking algorithm is debunking SEO practices which are obviously vulnerable to exploitation. With the latest trend of creating fake profiles for social interactions on business pages (some websites even sell page likes and followers by the thousands), it just makes sense that Google would want depend less on it as an indicator of quality content.

There’s Still SEO Value Though

That isn’t to say that social signals are dead, just that they’re measured more intricately, says Cutts. The sharing passes PageRank (for what that’s worth) and anchor tags for the share help keyword ranking. In addition, the authority of the user who shares your content has a role in in the rankings boost. This makes sense, as the more followers and trust a user has; the surer Google can be that they’re widely representative of the average user.

Google’s answer to boosting your content’s rank is, as it has always been, to create quality, interesting content. This ambiguous ranking factor apparently has a kind of magical effect on the crushing swell of internet content, causing yours to rise to the top based purely on its journalistic merit.

A little naïve perhaps but the truth probably sits somewhere in the middle of these two SEO philosophies. One must not only create compelling content that offers distinct value to the reader but also market it using traditional diffusive channels that social networks have come to represent. And at the end of the day, in the interests of hedging ones bets, correlation and causation aren’t that different.