A few days ago Matt Cutts of the Google Web Search Quality Team announced that Google is going to start factoring signals from social networks such as Twitter and Facebook in their search engine rankings and results. This marks a shift from a video Cutts made in May 2010 in which he reported Google was not looking at social results. Used heavily in real time search results in the past (such as in streaming tweets which have appeared above the regular results in the past), Cutts now reports that “[Google is] studying how much sense it makes to use it a little more widely within our web search rankings.” He of course reminds us that pages which can’t be crawled, such as Twitter users which have protected their tweets or Facebook users with strict privacy settings, cannot be indexed by Google’s crawlers and of course will have no effect on rankings.
He reports that these social signals are used relatively lightly for now, but may begin to influence more heavily in the future as they gauge their effectiveness over time. Something Google also wants to look at in terms of ranking influence is not just the number of social followers or friends a user may have, but the quality of those friends. Obviously, just like they want to weed out spam and automated links to pages, Google also wants to weed out social accounts which are little more than bots or have artificially inflated their follower count.
So what does this mean to business and brand owners interested in leveraging social media for search engine rankings? Really nothing, if you’ve already developed a smart and effective social media strategy. It just means Google is finally catching up to you. If you haven’t begun to develop a social media strategy, then this should just be one more very strong reason to begin getting involved.