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SEO Report, Phase 2 – Outside Influences

August 8th, 2014 by Erick Beck

Social media, blogs, the Knoweldge Graph

Google recognized the importance of social media several years ago and has purposefully made it a larger and larger factor in factoring page rankings. Several factors play into this emphasis. First, because of their nature, social media channels tend to be regularly updated with fresh content. We have already seen that fresh content even in traditional web pages is part of the ranking system. Also, social media is very personal to its users. People write about and link to things that are of interest and importance to them. When people click a “share this” icon on a web page they do so because they saw something of value in that content and thought it important enough to share with their social connections. This, then, aligns perfectly with the search engine’s goal of providing information that is relevant and useful to their own user.

Social media channels have evolved quickly over the past several years. When search engines started emphasizing social content most people left their profile pages open to the public, making it easy for the search spiders to find and index the content. In today’s environment of increased emphasis on privacy, most people have their profiles set to allow only friends to view their content. This makes it increasingly difficult for search engines to get to the high-quality content they are looking for.

Of all the social channels, Google+ is quickly becoming the most important in terms of SEO. The fact that this service is owned by the dominant search engine company probably is not a coincidence. Almost everything Google does is related in one way or another to their core focus of search, even if that relationship is not easily visible to the casual observer. The way they have structured the Google+ service, then, unsurprisingly is optimized for getting information into the search engine.

Most blogs and social sites understand how search engines work in terms of using links on their pages to add “juice” to the link’s importance. These platforms have made a conscious effort, in part because of past abuses, to limit this and mark their outgoing links as “nofollow” or “noindex.” This tells search engines not to count this link in the Page Rank of the target page. In other words this link adds no value to the target’s search ranking. Google+ is different. Links there are DoFollow, which means that search engines will include these links in calculating the target’s ranking. This immediately makes Google+ more important than other platforms in terms of your SEO strategy.

Beyond simple likes (plus-ones in Google+ terminology) the primary benefit of actively managing your Google+ account is localization. Localization is a huge emphasis for search engines right now. They understand that to give you the most relevant returns for your search query the returns should be local to your area. A search for “restaurants,” for example, should show those in your area rather than a nation-wide return. Google+ is directly tied to Google Maps, so it lets you manage your location information yourself rather than being dependent on some outside factor or agent.

There is also a pilot project to link Google+ accounts to authorship of articles on the web. Author information on blog posts or news articles, for example, would have identifiable information about the author. Influential writers could then gain additional exposure. Google has been making a lot of changes to this program, such as no longer including the author’s photo on returns pages, so it is still too early to say how important this mechanism will be.

Google+ is also vitally important to your overall organizational recognition. Whenever someone searches for your organization the return page will often show a Knowledge Graph (the contextual information that shows up on the right-hand column.) For a well used account, the Knowledge Graph can return links to your Google+ account or even the content of a recent post. See figure below for a real-life example.

Screenshot of the Google Knowledge Graph for the search "Texas A&M University"

Blogs can be important, if they are configured to be search engine friendly. To be a successful blog the content must be kept fresh, which we know is important to search ranking. As a blog becomes more popular and reaches more people its affect can grow. Configuration is the key, though. Blogs must be set to allow “juice” to flow to the links’ target pages. The bad guys know this, though, and so target blogs for comment spamming – posting links to their sites in comments hoping to gain Page Rank from the blog site. The comments section, then, must either be moderated to not post these comments or have the site code written so that comments are marked as NoFollow.

Given the large, and increasing, importance of video, YouTube is a vital SEO element. While we don’t think of it as such, YouTube is actually the number two search engine in the world. According to recent reports it gets more searches per month than Bing, Yahoo, Ask, and AOL combined. Given that Google owns YouTube, and we have already mentioned how everything they do is tied in to search, this should be another primary focus of an SEO strategy. Optimizing your YouTube account, then, will increase your standings in both the #1 search engine (YouTube videos are included in standard Google returns) and the #2 search engine, YouTube itself. This can be a powerful advantage over your competition. Most firms have Facebook and Twitter accounts and put their primary focust there. Fewer firms have YouTube accounts and even fewer of those put real effort into making it a central part of their SEO (or even social) strategy.

While not quite “social media,” Wikipedia and similar open databases are still part of the Web 2.0 framework and are also critical parts of SEO. Wikipedia is one of the most popular pages on the Internet and has become the first choice of online information about a topic. Making sure that your Wikipedia page is accurate and up to date, then, is important in terms of protecting your brand reputation. Wikipedia does implement a NoFollow policy on its articles, so links from that site do not add to our site’s Page Rank. Do not, then, try to edit your organization’s entry to add links and hope it will boost your SEO (abuse of this in the past is probably why the NoFollow policy had to be implemented.) Content of the entry, though, is vitally important. See the figure above and notice that the text written in the Knowledge Graph comes straight from Wikipedia. Since Wikipedia is also on the first page of returns for most searches you can get double exposure for your message.

Related to Wikipedia, and also used by the Knowledge Graph is Freebase. Freebase is an open directory (owned by Google, so keep in mind what that implies) that allows the public curate information about a range of topics. Much of the information that gets posted in the Knowledge Graph comes from Freebase (in the screenshot above this would include address, mascot, enrollment, acceptance rate and colors, which are all prominent features of the Knowledge Graph.) This gives us the ability to directly affect the Google returns page regardless of the pages that are included in the results.

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