Last year, Google introduced Google+, its own social network. While it generated a lot of buzz initially, interest fell off as comparisons to Facebook fell short. However, Google+ is really only part of a much larger strategy to bring social signals to SEO.
Since search engines came on the scene, there has been a constant back and forth battle between the engines, like Google, and the site operators who want their site to place higher in rankings. Recently, you could increase your site rank by placing links to it with strategic anchor text around the web – something JC Penney got in hot water for last year, and for which ended up getting the unkindest cut from Google – getting penalized in search on major keywords, and ultimately losing tons of traffic and revenue. Attempts to “game” the system are understandably frowned upon by Google. It’s bad for Google, bad for searchers, and bad for customers.
Google has a long history of refining its search engine algorithms to find the perfect set of results for any given query. However, recently Google began using social signals to determine where sites should rank in search results for you. And a good portion of this is being powered by Google+.
Today, I made a search for Google+ Hangouts, a popular new group video conferencing feature in Google+. As you can see, the very first result is there because one of my Google+ friends recommended it. Also, across the top, you can see that I have 80 other recommendations that fit this search from friends.
What does this mean for brands? Soon, all of the keywords, meta-tags, and strategically placed anchor text isn’t going to be as important as one major factor – do people like your content? Do they like it enough to share it online? I’ve always been a proponent that SEO didn’t matter if you just put cool stuff up online that people wanted to see. Google has long favored good content to strategic content. However, with Google+, it’s that much more important to put content out that people actually like and want to share. Also, it’s very important to put a Google+ button on your site so people can share there easily.
SEO still matters but the traditional tactics of manipulating the system to gain top placement are becoming less useful. People will find you and your content because their network of connections likes your site. Not because of SEO Voodoo. The era of social search is upon us. To be relevant in search – you have to be engaged socially.