Both Google and Bing have admitted to using social endorsements (i.e. "likes", "tweets" and "+1's) as a signal when ranking sites in search results. But just how much of an effect is it having on your website? Well...it depends. At the moment, the answer is probably not very much, but as personalized search evolves, social signals are bound to become more important. Google only has access to your Google+ data, which is growing but still small. Bing on the other hand, had access to Facebook and Twitter data, which is huge. At the recent Search Marketing Expo in New York, one presenter claimed that social endorsements will be the next link building. Could that really be true? Let's take a look at some searches in Google and Bing and see how much of a difference it makes if I am signed in versus when I am signed out. Test #1 - Signed In Search query: [fairfax car accident attorney] Google Result: Ben Glass gets the first organic spot AND he has a social endorsement from someone whom I am connected with on Google Plus. Click the images to see the full size version.
Bing Result: Ben gets the first organic result without any social endorsements, then consumes the middle of the page with pages that have been endorsed by many of my Facebook friends.
Test #2 - Signed Out Search query: [fairfax car accident attorney] Google Result: Ben takes the first spot again, without any indicators of social endorsements, although we know they have occurred. I did this search while signed out and with private browsing turned on.
Bing Result: Ben nabs the first two spots, but the page is very plain without the social endorsements. I did this search while signed out and in with private browsing turned on.
Technically, There was no change in the rankings for this search term, because of the social endorsements that Ben's site has received. However, we must consider the psychological impact that social endorsement would have on searchers if they are displayed on a search result page. Are searchers more inclined to click links they know have been endorsed by their friends? The answer is a unanimous "yes".
This test represents a very small sample of how social media is affecting search results. For extremely competitive keywords with strong, authoritative sites ranking at the top, the effect could be minimal. But for niche sites and pages deep within your site, a social endorsement could be the difference between a page 1 ranking and being completely invisible.
We can expect this to become an even bigger factor as Google Plus grows in the social network that Google hopes it will. For now, we can see that Bing is relying heavily on Facebook data to provide search results, as they should. (No doubt this irks Google!) We recommend making sure that every page on your website has a Facebook "Like" button, a Twitter "Tweet" button and a Google "+1" button. In general, attorneys are not always considered to be trustworthy and the right social endorsement could change that for searchers. More to come on this topic, but remember that social media is not going away and we all need to embrace it.