“Social signals” seems to be the 2011 buzz term within SEO agencies and those who focus on integrated and holistic internet marketing techniques, such as social media, as well as SEO and PPC.

There are ongoing experiments to see how tweets and retweets affect the rankings of pages eg over at SEOMoz. However, simply by creating a link to that page, and then the page it refers to (Jennifer’s profile page) I could be skewing the results. Oops.

The point is that whilst Google’s Matt Cutts is being an exemplar spokesman i.e. saying nothing which can be used against him in future (bear in mind, every breath he takes is archived), he is also telling search marketing agencies and businesses little to nothing that reveals the intricacies of the search engine algorithms.

There are reasons why. Here are three:

1. Twitter and many other social media sites are in development. Twitter does not even have a business plan. We have all seen sites such as Twitter go “Pff” overnight as dotcom bubbles burst, often spectacularly. There are new sites every day, and with the current appetite for ‘all things new, shiny and social”, any site could go viral at an event such as SXSW – it didn’t happen this year, but SXSW isn’t the only global internet marketing or IT event. Google do not yet know, and may never know, how social authority, retweets, or any other social media magnet can contribute to the relevancy of the search results. Think earthquake and aftershocks – the ground is still moving.

2. Spam. If Google announced that tweets and similar social signals affected SERPS, then the latest Farmer clean up would be as nothing to the ripple effect that would need to be dealt with by sites such as Twitter and Google. The spammers would be there in force within minutes of any such announcement. We already see spammers leap on every trending topic across all social media real estate anyway. During a time when Google is trying to come to terms with the effect that social signals could/should/might have on SERPS, the last thing they need is to open the gates for totally useless data floods (tsunamis, perhaps, to pick a topical term).

3. Development – Twitter has already intimated that it will reduce the freeflow of Twitter app creation by locking down the future dev of apps using their API. This has caused a massive kickback, because community and open source developed apps, created at the edge of the network, are proven to be those which bring into existence the solid apps that we all rely on today. Office for instance did not begin at Microsoft at all, but out on the edge. Most people who use Twitter do not use Twitter created apps; rather they use the multitude of tools that come into existence each day that are not created by Twitter. Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, Seesmic, are just three. There are literally thousands of others.

Failing to involve the community will always lead to a slow down of uptake of your applications, and Twitter may well be proven, over time, to be cutting its nose off to spite its face. Should that occur, then Google has two choices – buy Twitter, or ignore it and sit back and see what happens. Whilst developing alternatives.

If YouTube had been heading towards a model where users had to pay to upload, which may well have been the case, then Google had those same two choices. With YouTube, there was no other similar video solution. “Vimeo” for instance, has not become a term in the global vocabulary, and not just because Google bought YouTube. But Google knew that video searches were already surpassing Adult XXX searches – often seen as the benchmark for popularity.

Is there a choice with Twitter? We know not, but the likelihood is that any replacement will not gain that “first to market” loyalty that Twitter has. And much of its code or MO is undoubtedly copyrighted or patented, so could not be replicated.

In the meantime, all you need to remember is that there is life beyond the search engines. Each tweet is another person you have connected to, who will like, follow, promote, share, RT, etc what you say. How much PR and promotion can you ask for that does not require Google to be involved at all?

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About the author:

A practising internet marketing consultant since 1996, Lindsey Annison helps companies improve their website marketing, online PR and information architecture. Lindsey is also a qualified adult education lecturer and author. As co-founder of the Access to Broadband Campaign, she has been instrumental in the provision of high-speed internet access to rural areas in the UK. Lindsey is also a past winner of Silicon.com's Outstanding Contribution to UK Technology