As recently as 2010, Google has taken into consideration social media influence on its search engine results. In a nutshell, Google has started looking into social networks and shared content as a means of improving SERP rankings. However, popular content from Twitter and Facebook mostly influences real-time results (as opposed to normal search engine results). Meanwhile, Search Plus Your World, which exclusively deals with shared content found in Google+. Your website rankings will still rely on your page's link quality and the reputation of the people who are linking back to your content (i.e., they shouldn't be bots).
Good News for Businesses Longing for SEO Visibility
For the longest time, search engine optimization and social network optimization reside in separate worlds. However, thanks to innovations such as the Google-Plus-centric Search Plus Your World and Google's decision to put more stock on trending Twitter links and popular Facebook posts with their real-time search results, these two worlds are slowly but surely merging. It's not a stretch of the imagination to say that in the future, search engine optimization packages will include social media influence under one service. Content delivered by reputable sources and a healthy collection of backlinks all across the worldwide web by trusted websites remains a better means of improving SERP rankings.
Google's different web search divisions have been taking a good look at social media influence on SERP since 2010, which could possibly (and understandably) explain why Google has setup its own Search Plus Your World service in the first place almost two years later. The bottom line here is that Google is using social-network-delivered content from Facebook and Twitter as signals for its search results, and it's not anymore an "urban legend" of sorts. This is particularly true for real-time searches where you might see individual tweets or Facebook wall posts appear or streaming up on the results page. However, when it comes to normal SERP rankings, link quality is still the king.
The Argument for Link Quality versus Social Network Popularity
Google reacts in certain and specific ways when it comes to dealing with material made trendy or known by Twitter retweets or Facebook wall post links. For example, Google does use as a signal retweeted or Twitter-referenced articles in its news and organic rankings. The search engine giant will even take note of how many people shared the piece. Its search quality team will also compute Twitter author quality (a real person who's not a spambot) and take it into consideration. The "authority" of the person who tweets a link will also be used as a signal, particularly in the Top Links section of Google's real-time search. However, author authority is independent of Page Rank and is presently used in limited situations when it comes to normal web search.
Google treats Facebook links the same way it treats tweeted links, which means they mostly influence real-time search, but have less of an impact in ordinary search. Google possesses no personal or fan page wall data from Facebook. Everything concerning Facebook or Twitter impact on SERP rankings is at a testing phase, so social media authority on links will be limited to real-time search for now until Google decides that they will have a bigger influence on normal Google search. To wit, Google won't allow a certain link to a website or media rise in the SERP rankings just because it's vouched by social network popularity unless it's a quality link. Link quality remains a better signal for SERP rankings than social network popularity, although the latter may serve as an indicator of the former.
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Social media is a dominant force in the internet, there is no turning back.
David, you are right. It’s becoming more and more important but here is also a lot of hype around it. So understanding what signals that Google consider important for social sites is very important moving forward..