How Google Incorporates Social Media Into Search Results (and How You Can Benefit)

How Google Incorporates Social Media into Search ResultsBy Steve Stretton
Guest columnist

Let me start with a confession: I’m not a blogger. But what I do have are a very particular set of SEO skills, SEO skills I have acquired over a very long career. SEO Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you…

Sorry; getting carried away with my Liam Neeson obsession.

Anyway, If there’s one thing I have learned in SEO over the past four years it’s how the search engines structure their results pages. There has been a huge shift in the last few years – with social media taking an ever expanding, ever more important role.

This is what a search result looks like in 2015:

What a search result looks like in 2015Why Social Media is important to Google and Bing

Search engines are an indirect competitor to social media, so the search engines need to either move with people’s habits, or risk losing direct traffic to the networks. Think of it like this: where do you find out the latest news sources?

Twitter?

Facebook?

Five years ago we all went straight to search, but now social networks are becoming a massive piece of the online puzzle.

Taking the Barack Obama search example above, if you want the latest news from Barack himself, you might go straight to Twitter, or to Facebook and make a search there. By including the links direct to these sites it keeps Google as the gateway to the internet.

Quite aside from this obvious takeover of the search results page, social signals are a ranking factor; which means that if your article has hundreds of social shares, it is much more likely to rank higher in the search engine results pages (SERPs).

How Twitter is displayed in search results

If there is a notable person with an associated twitter account, Google shows an awful lot of information, including the Twitter handle.

For tweets there are three points to consider:

  • Google does not index a particularly significant percentage of tweets
  • The tweets it indexes are highly biased to people who have 1 million followers or more.
  • Even for those high authority accounts, indexing is not particularly fast

If you are a writer, Google also computes and uses ‘author authority,’ so if an article is re-tweeted a lot of times that that is viewed as a social signal for Google’s organic rankings (and the page will be listed higher in the SERPs).

This also has the benefit of increasing your ‘author rank’ so that future articles written by the same author will rank higher. Author rank is still a bit new, but you can learn more about it here.

Takeaway: Twitter has a small and relatively insignificant impact on search results when compared to other social networks.

How Facebook is displayed in search results

Google only uses links posted by Facebook Fan Pages and treats them the same way it treats the tweeted links.

How Facebook page posts are displayed in Google Search ResultsLinks shared on the wall of Facebook users are not used in search ranking. However, if a user posts on a community forum, brand or group page, that post is crawl-able if the settings are set to public and it can show up in search results.

Takeaway: If you have a Facebook fan page, make sure it’s set to public so that Google can reach those links.

How Instagram is displayed in search results

Because Instagram is a photo-based social platform, users need to add text in order to be found in search results. One way to do this is complete the profile with detailed and relevant information.

How Instagram is displayed in Google Search ResultsImportantly, if you use a third party app, such as statigr.am or webstagr.am to display your images, then the image plus your username and profile detail will be crawled by Google. If your goal is to get some of your Instagram images showing on Google images, you can determine the search terms they are found for by adding relevant hashtags and descriptions to your picture.

Takeaway: For privacy, don’t use these online services; just stick to the Instagram app.

For publicity, sign up to a third party tool and publish your images along with relevant hashtags and your brand name so the images are displayed for your target keyword.

How Pinterest is displayed in search results

Google shows results from Pinterest in its search results pages. However, the boards and pins that are displayed are those with high page authority — that is, pages that are receiving a lot of internal and external links.

Social Media Infographics on Pinterest from Blogging BistroInternal links are links from other pages on Pinterest – which is another way of saying, “Get your images and boards repinned by other users” for greater exposure in the search engines.

Moreover, the name of the uploaded image or board should include targeted keywords. You’ll also want to add a description to the image as well as a link.

Takeaway: Create great content that is shared within Pinterest in order to receive maximum exposure away from it.

How Google+ is displayed in search results

As you might expect, Google+ is heavily integrated into Google search results.

When a user is logged in, Google personalizes his or her search results based on the circles and users that are being followed.

For instance, if someone in your circles has +1’d a page, posted on Google+ or reviewed a business related to the topic you are searching for, it is likely that their action will rank higher than other results because the two of you are connected.

Google+ is massive, especially in niches where a lot of discussion takes place online and there is a relatively small community.

For example, let’s say Laura convinces everyone to click here and follow Blogging Bistro on Google+. Now, every time that we search for a blogging query that is covered on BloggingBistro.com, we’re going to see content from this site on page one, even for those terms where BloggingBistro currently ranks on page 4 or 5.

Takeaway: If you run a blog and you are interested in repeat search engine traffic (vs. say, user engagement) – Google+ should be part of your arsenal.

How YouTube videos rank in search results

Here’s a secret all bloggers should know: It is easy to rank a YouTube video in search results.

Also, with YouTube being the second largest search engine and the largest social media website in the world, you’re leaving a large traffic source untapped if you’re not using YouTube.

The trick with YouTube videos in the search results is to create videos that answer user questions.

Take a look at these search results for ‘wordpress tutorial’:

How YouTube videos are displayed in Google search resultsThese aren’t the #1 and #2 results but they are in the top 10 – and with the big video snippet they are also getting lots of traffic.

In fact, think of five things you want to learn how to do and do a Google search for them, and check the results.

  • how to + query
  • Review of + query
  • Tutorial about + query

These videos aren’t even that difficult to make – it’s just a massive step out of our comfort zones. Generally speaking, the quality of the video (which will impact the way it shows in the SERPs) is assessed by these metrics: video retention, comments, subscribers after watching, shares on different social media platforms, favorites, thumbs up/down.

If the name of the video and its title contain your keywords, this will help the video rank better. Moreover, the description of the video needs to include a link at the top of the video; the keyword need to be included in the first 25 words and repeated 3-4 times in the description, which should be around 250 words.

Takeaway: Find an area related to your blog where you can create a how-to video. Film it in two days and see how well it does vs your other content.

If you own a car blog, show someone how to change the headlights on a Ford Escort, if you own a travel blog show someone how to find cheap flights using your favorite service. Get out of your comfort zone!

Google vs. Bing: The future

Bing is a bit ahead of the curve when it comes to social searches. Bing uses the links shared publicly by Facebook users and the links shared by Fan Pages.

Moreover, if you are logged on your Facebook account and do a search on Bing, the results will show a post by one of your friends, or maybe a review about the topic you are searching for (similar to what Google Plus is doing). They also have a fantastic hashtag search.

Bing is far more integrated with the social networks at present, and we should expect similar moves from Google over the next few years.

Steve Stretton (@strettonmr) is working on SEO for his social media startup, Socialwatch.co.

  • Kazzie

    Excellent post, thank you