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What’s Your “Social Authority”? And Why Should You Care?

Many people are surprised to learn that I didn’t originally get excited about social media because of its “social” qualities.  Back in 2007 when I began recommending that my clients jump on the social media bandwagon, it wasn’t for the purpose of building awareness, word of mouth referrals and finding new friends.

Sure, those were benefits that would be realized as more people began using sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.  But the real reason I was initially excited about social media was because of the potential I saw in helping my clients search engine ranking results by strategically marketing using social media sites.

How Search Engines Determine Where to Rank Your Site

You see, two of the primary components that search engines factor into their decisions about where to rank your website in the search engine results are the relevance of your web page to the keywords searched, and the number of inbound links you have pointing to your web page from other sites online.

So as I watched how people were using social media and the number of links that were being created, it became crystal clear to me that the future of search engine optimization is social media, and that there was a clear progression already happening to integrate what most people thought were two distinct disciplines.

Fast forward to 2009, and Real Time Search where Facebook Pages and Twitter conversations began showing up in the search results for keywords relevant to our client’s web pages.  Then, in October of 2009, Google’s launch of Social Search, where your search results are determined based on what your friends create or like best.  All of this combined to illustrate the importance of social media to how you will be found online.

Social Authority Comes of Age

But it wasn’t until December when Danny Sullivan of the SEO site Search Engine Land published this article recapping his interviews with both Google and Bing regarding which social signals are counted in the search algorithms of the two major search engines.

In the interviews with both search engines, we learned that both Google and Bing do factor “Social Authority” – how much influence you wield online based on all of the places you participate on the web – into how well you will rank in the search engines.  In the eyes of the search engines, links from sites considered to have a high level of social authority will have greater value and impact than those from sites with no authority.

What this means is that the search engines are no longer looking exclusively at your web site to determine where to rank you in the search engines.  PageRank (the numbering system Google uses to quantify the authority of any one particular page) is now applied to social sites.

Here’s what Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Webspam team, has to say about their use of social authority within their search algorithms:

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It’s Not About The Numbers!

Fortunately, the search engines aren’t looking only at “quantity” in terms of the numbers of friends or followers you have.  Instead, to determine social authority, they are looking at the quality of your connections and the nature of your content.

Here are some tips to keep in mind to develop your own social authority:

–       Connect with real people who actually care about what you have to say

–       Engage with the people you are connected with; ask and answer questions

–       Join in conversations and develop relationships

–       Participate in a variety of social media sites to extend your reach

–       Create and share content that is relevant to your business and of interest to your connections

Bottom Line — Now, who you are online determines how well you will be found online.

Caroline Melberg

Online Marketing, Search Engine Optimization & Social Media Strategist

Published on: February 8, 2011