Are social metrics really affecting SEO? [WordCamp]

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So then, do link sharing on social media services like Twitter, Facebook and Google+ actually have an effect on our posts’ search engine rankings? Sure, it’s now become standard fare for Google and Bing to show us articles shared by our friends, but what happens beyond our social graphs? That’s a question Neil Pursey, an SEO guy and owner of SEO agency WebGrowth has been trying to answer. Pursey presented his findings to a packed audience at WordCamp Cape Town today, the annual all things WordPress conference.

In short, the answer that he came up with was: maybe. We’ll never know for sure as Google’s ranking algorithm remains a closely guarded secret, but Pursey presented some case studies that show a definite correlation between social media sharing activity and increased incoming traffic. He noticed the same effect by implementing the Open Graph on content pages. His studies couldn’t conclusively say whether the viral effect of sharing content on Facebook for example, lead to increased traffic or whether search engines increased site rankings, but social media channels are clearly beneficial for increased traffic — no real surprises there.

Moving on from Facebook, Google+ appears to have some interesting effects. Pursey cited one study where a Google+ user asked his thousands of followers to +1 a post that ranked sixteenth for the phrase “vintage scooter helmets.” After thousands of his followers responded, the post was ranked sixth. As Google experiments with its social signals on an ongoing basis however, the legitimacy of reproducing the effects of the case study remains in doubt.

Pursey’s studies did find that Google Authorship — often overlooked — does legitimately seem to boost search engine rankings and strongly recommended looking into it. Google Authorship links your Google+ profile to the content you create. A WordPress plug-in called AuthorSure makes it easy to implement Google’s Authorship markup on a WordPress site.

According to AuthorSure, “once Google has verified your authorship you will start building your Author Rank, which means higher rankings and your face ultimately appearing in the Google SERPs, which leads to a better clickthrough rate compared to listings without the faces showing (unless you look really scary in the Google Plus Profile photo!).”

Pursey says that Google+ remains an important social media channel and is the most likely to affect search engine rankings in future. He also recommended taking a look at Google’s Webmaster tools, also often overlooked.

He concluded his presentation with a quote by Matt Cutts, Google’s head of search spam, who revealed to Danny Sullivan from Search Engine Land that links are likely to remain more powerful than social signals in the foreseeable future.

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