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Social Signals as a Ranking Factor

Google pushes hundreds of small updates to its search algorithms every year, but it rarely takes the time to explain them. It made some exceptions for things like “mobilegeddon”, and it has often reiterated how important quality signals are when it comes to search too.

Perhaps the most interesting trend over the last few months, however, has been the move towards using social signals as an indicator of quality. Back in May, Google confirmed that it had changed the way that quality signals were being measured, and since then there have been several changes – for example, Tweets now appear in desktop search results, suggesting that social media messages are being given more attention in the algorithm.

Just One of Many Signals
Judging quality is not easy. Content quality measurements have, up until now, been relatively simplistic. Links from highly respectable .edu or .gov domains would be given a lot of weight. Links from sites that had a lot of incoming links themselves might be given a lot of weight too, but quality was as much a numbers game as it was about verifiable sources and clear facts. However, that is starting to change.

Google is working towards rating sites based on the content they post. A site that regularly posts scientifically accurate, verifiable facts will be ranked more highly than one that posts questionable information. A website that attracts a lot of attention quite quickly on social media, and is often shared and mentioned, is likely to rank better than one with a small user base.

Still a Numbers Game?
There is, of course, still some danger of SEO becoming a numbers game. However, to avoid this Google uses numerous other signals. Getting mentioned on social media is a useful indicator of quality, but Google verifies this by looking at things like the bounce rate and the time the visitor spends on the site. If Google notices a trend for visitors it refers to a website viewing only one page or hitting the back button very quickly, this suggests that the quality is not as high as it first appears, or that the page isn’t as relevant as the algorithm thinks to the query in question.

Google’s ranking algorithms are constantly evolving as the way that we use the web changes. Today, Facebook engagement and Google +1s are a sign of domain-level quality. Next year, who knows what we will be using to share our favourite sites and pieces of news?

Why Reputation Management Should Be Proactive

When most marketers think of reputation management, they think of cleaning up PR disasters – if they even think of online reputation management at all. It’s something that people tend to take for granted when things are going well. If your brand is positively regarded, then why would you want to “manage” what people are saying about you?

This reactive approach to reputation management is not ideal, however. Yes, it is good to have a plan for damage control, but if you have a purely reactive policy, then you won’t be able to respond as quickly as you would like.

It is a much better idea to start your online reputation management early. Proactive reputation management will help to build up a positive reputation for your brand online, making it harder for that negative content to bubble to the surface in the first place.

Own Your Name
The first thing you should do is register your profile everywhere you can – not just Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, but Ello, Instagram, YouTube, Vine, Periscope and LinkedIn as well – anywhere and everywhere you can think of that allows you to register a profile. Buy up any similar domain names too. Populate these profiles and direct people to the ones that you use the most.

Check Every Channel
Get into the habit of checking all of the major channels for mentions of your brand, and occasionally post content yourself. Google loves images and videos, so supply it with some. Take photographs of your business and show them off. Start streaming live on Periscope or Twitch or recording small Vines. Make a podcast or upload some audio to Soundcloud. Publish slideshows and presentations on Slideshare.

Make this content informative rather than purely promotional, and encourage people to share it. This will help you to develop a strong presence online and increase your social media visibility. If people not directly related to the brand are mentioning it publicly in a positive light, then this will improve your reputation.

Don’t forget networks such as the Web of Trust and Trust Pilot. Encourage your users to rate you on those sites so that you are known to the sites and have a good reputation. This will make it harder for a single disgruntled customer to affect your brand, protecting your business from the damage that a person with a small number of sockpuppet accounts can do.

How AllRecipes.com Is Combining Search and Social

The recipe website AllRecipes.com recently relaunched, and the new design shows the way that search and social have merged to offer a new look that brings them together in an interesting way.

The look is similar in many respects to Pinterest. In fact, like Pinterest it is something of a niche search engine in disguise. Allrecipes averages more than a billion visits each month, of which a large number are referred by search engines.

Esmee Wiliams, the VP of Brand Strategy for the site, explains that they are looking for a way to differentiate themselves from standard search engines by having their own content that is a rich collection of not just recipes but also reviews and other data. They offer a guided experience which helps to inspire people and takes them through the discovery process, so they can ask focused questions along the lines of “What can I make with what I have right now?”

When people start searching for recipes, the results that they are shown are things that were posted by other users. AllRecipes is very community-based and socially focused. It has been that way since it was first launched in 1997, before social media was as popular as it is today.

The expansion of the social features – adding user profiles, video content and location-based content – is something that the site hopes will appeal to a younger millennial audience. This audience wants more control, more engagement and a more personalized experience from day one. One particularly interesting feature is the addition of a search feature that will show products on sale within a certain distance of the user, opening the door for more sponsorship opportunities for local brands. Google is placing increasing emphasis on brands that offer cross-screen experiences, and AllRecipes is working towards that with its mobile-friendly options.

These latest developments are a great example of how an established brand – one almost 20 years old – is evolving to stay relevant as the internet changes and a new generation becomes interested in their niche. A decade ago, we were sceptical of user-generated content and the difficulty involved in policing it. Today, it is an integral part of the web. If you want your website to bring visitors back, then adding social features is a must for building engagement and connecting with your customers and fans on a deeper level.

Facebook Reduces the Impact of the Hide Button

Facebook has changed the way that the ‘hide’ button works on the news feed for users who are active ‘hiders’. This change will affect some metrics within Facebook Insights, and it could change the response that you get on your page.

The change is aimed primarily at users who are very heavy users of the hide button. Some users hide a huge number of posts, and the button plays a major role in the algorithm that decides what not to show in the News Feed. Users who hide almost everything end up missing a lot of content that they would probably actually like.
The new shift in the algorithm will make the hide signal less important if a user tends to hide a lot of posts. This means that the users will start seeing more stories, because their hide input is no longer as influential as it originally was. Users can no longer hide from content – a subset of users who were trying to do so will now be shown more content.

This is good news for brand owners who have pages and for SEO services in the UK, since a new group of users will be seeing their posts. It will, however, have the unintentional side effect of meaning that there will be more hidden posts showing within Insights. However, Facebook does not expect that those pages will see any significant changes in their distribution because of this. The additional hides may look like a worrying metric but they are nothing to really be concerned about.

The response from users has, understandably, been mixed. When Facebook officially posted about this new change, users were concerned that their wishes were not being respected and that they will see spam that they are not interested in.

It’s important to note that end users can un-like a page if they don’t want to see content in that page, and that while posts liked or shared by friends will appear in their news feed, if they hide those they should not end up having to hide a huge number of pages to control the content of their feeds. The algorithms used by Facebook are quite good at determining what content users are interested in, and the goal of this update is not to spam users but to avoid situations where users see no content at all in their news feeds, creating a negative experience.

Why SEOs Should Care About Engagement

The question of how important user engagement metrics are in terms of SEO has been debated for a long time, but Google recently answered the question once and for all, when John Mueller, a Webmaster Trends analyst, replied to a question about user engagement metrics during a Hangout.

Mueller explained that Google doesn’t see what people are doing on specific websites, so they cannot really treat that as a ranking factor.

Engagement Still Matters
Given that sweeping statement, it’s easy to imagine that all Google wants is links and content, but you will find that any god SEO company in the UK is still focusing on improving engagement, both on their own websites and in social media. Of course, digital PR campaigns should still include link acquisition and blogger engagement, because links and content are a powerful ranking signal, but there are other things that matter too.

In July and August, Google acquired some interesting patents. One grants the search engine the right to rank websites based on how users interact with the search results. This means that if a mobile user sees local search results and responds positively to those results, then the local results will be prioritised. They plan to track the response across other results too, and mirror this behaviour for other types of search.

The other patent gives Google the right to show linked-to pages of authors that it considers to provide good content. So if an author writes authoritative, high-ranking content about a given subject, then other properties relating to that author will appear in the SERPs, even if those properties would not normally rank well by themselves.
There is some concern that these algorithms could be manipulated, such as by clicking repeatedly on a listing in the SERPS. There have been a few studies published in recent months which claim exactly this, but those studies neglect to consider the fact that Google personalises search results for individuals.

Google uses a lot of factors for its personalisation and plans to continue to expand it. For example, last week it was granted a patent that would allow it to track the watch time of videos and alter their rankings. This means that YouTube videos with a lower number of views will no longer rank well in the SERPs, unless, of course, they are a video about a piece of breaking news. There was a time when simply flooding YouTube was beneficial for brands, but now engagement matters.

Should Google Be Taking Twitter More Seriously?

Twitter shares have slumped to an all-time low, and the number of new users heading to the site has slumped significantly. This has prompted fresh speculation that Google may buy the micro-blogging social network.

Twitter failed to post growth figures during the second quarter. This has led to Wall Street panicking about the health of the company and shares declining rapidly. Many media outlets have speculated that Google may be ready to swoop in and pick up the social network. However, according to a report published in The Information, Larry Page, Google’s co-founder, “doesn’t give a [expletive] about Twitter”.

If this is true, it could be a massive oversight on the part of the search engine. Google needs to be more mobile -friendly. It has made some strong attempts to be more mobile-friendly over the last few years, but it has a long way to go if it wants to ensure that it is maximising its mobile ad revenue.

Twitter would be a good purchase for the search engine, because it would get a huge amount of information from the Tweets that users post. This information would highlight trends in different parts of the world and greatly improve the company’s organic search algorithm. It may, in the short term, prompt Twitter-spam as a form of SEO, but the search engine has plenty of experience with stopping spammers.

Google re-purchased access to Twitter’s “firehose” for real-time tweet data last spring, after having been locked out of the system for some time. This suggests that the search engine is at least toying with the idea of using Twitter to fuel real-time search. Google has tried, and failed, to replicate what Twitter does through Jaiku, Buzz and Google+. It may finally be coming around to the idea that instead of copying the platform it would be better off, financially and in terms of its brand reputation, working with the existing service.

Whatever happens, we can expect SEO companies in the UK to be paying a lot of attention to Twitter over the coming months. Many brands have de-emphasized the platform in favour of Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook because these platforms seem to be attracting more shares and have better ad targeting. If Google gets on board with Twitter, however, then that could all change, as the social network would have a direct line to real-time organic search results.

Research Shows SEO Often Left Out of Marketing Budgets

According to recent research conducted by the PR agency Hotwire, almost 80 per cent of marketing leaders do not include SEO in their budget.

This revelation was a part of the Marketing Silos report released by Hotwire, and it shows that while 52 per cent of marketers say that their budget includes online advertising, just 21 per cent include SEO. This is in spite of the fact that search engines display a huge amount of digital advertising.

Rebecca Honeyman, the senior VP and general manager at the Hotwire New York office, said that these statistics were both interesting, and “slightly terrifying”. She likened the current situation with advertising to being similar to the 1970s cliché which said that no one ever lost their job because they bought IBM. Out of fear of the unknown, marketers are sticking with tried and tested methods rather than trying new channels.

Honeyman explained that when a marketer was unsure of a new channel, they are more likely to go with the tried and tested route rather than experiment with those new channels, and this accounts for the extra budget allocated to the more traditional channels.

While Honeyman understands the logic, she believes that marketers are missing out on a large portion of their potential audience with this kind of tactic. Search is an important part of making purchases decisions these days, so it is important that marketers take advantage of search engines as a channel for attracting consumers.

New Challenges
A good UK SEO company will acknowledge that measuring SEO performance requires different techniques to measuring other channels, but if a brand owner invests in good creatives, implements the recommendations of their SEO agency well and continuously tracks and monitors the performance of their campaigns, then they will be positioned to do well. Search is a hugely important way for consumers to discover content, and while the visitors who come to a website via search don’t always convert immediately, they do engage with the brand, and they are often on the first step in a slightly longer conversion chain. Those visitors are important to the company’s bottom line in a lot of significant ways.

Today, many marketing decision-makers treat SEO as a part of the non-revenue generating budget rather than in the same area as media. This is unfortunate, and devalues the benefits that SEO can offer to their brands.

YouTube Launches User-Curated Newswire

Google has launched a new user-created news video service on YouTube, called Newswire, which curates eyewitness news reports that have been posted to the service, offering real-time reporting on important news events.

The Newswire will offer both regional and global feeds, bringing citizen reporting into the spotlight for significant news events. Reports on things such as the Nepal Earthquake, the Ferguson protests and the Arab Spring were what inspired the launch of the feature, and by working together with Storyful, Google has managed to put together an efficient delivery system for world events.

Google has been working with YouTube on the feature for some time now. The Tahrir Square protests in Egypt four years ago marked the start of the partnership with Storyful, and were a major turning point for citizen journalism. Now, under the new feature, Storyful editors will curate the most interesting user posts, and embed them from their original sources after they have been verified. The First Draft Coalition, a group of journalists who work on social media, will be putting together resources to help journalists verify user-submitted videos and eyewitness reports.

User Generated Content Can Drive Sales
This increasing emphasis on user-generated content is interesting for brand owners because it can help them to drive much greater engagement from their users. McDonalds, for example, has had a lot of success with promoting user-generated content in their Snapchat campaigns, and many other brands are doing well embracing UGC on Instagram.

YouTube is an incredibly popular website, with more than five million hours of news videos alone being consumed on a daily basis. Twitter is also attracting a lot of attention these days, and is launching its own news promotion service, Project Lightning, which curates newsworthy Tweets, image and video posts and will promote them to other platforms. The Twitter mobile app will soon display current trending topics of newsworthy status, such as the recent shootings in Charleston, as well as things like sporting events and Hollywood events, or memes that have spread wide enough to be worthy of consideration as news.

This move towards citizen journalism is an interesting one, and something that will empower brands and SEO companies in the UK to reach out to consumers more often and engage them in conversation, not just about their products, but about the things that matter most to the consumers. That is how a brand becomes a part of the public consciousness.

Bing Adds Audio Tools to Homepage

Bing has added some new audio tools to its homepage, in an effort to make it more informative and to offer faster access to information.

When users land on the homepage, they will see a video, and can watch it to learn more about the theme of the page, and listen to an explanation of the theme. For example, Bing recently featured the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, and decorated the homepage with a video of the park, showing geese in flight. Clicking on the audio icon will play a sample of goose calls that was captured by researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, as well as some information about the video. If the user then clicks on the camera icon they will be taken to the search results page for the wildlife refuge, so they can learn even more.

HTML5 Search
Bing has always been ahead of its time in terms of search presentation. They launched the HTML5 homepage, with video content, back in 2011. They then made the homepage interactive and panoramic in 2012. This is a stark departure from Google’s empty, plain homepage, although Google has a similar initiative for promoting causes and events, using redrawn versions of the Google logo to draw attention to various issues.

Search in The Future
This move towards interactive content is something that any good UK SEO company will be paying a lot of attention to. Rich snippets and things like video content on third party sites are already an important part of SEO and we can expect to see increasing movement towards even more rich media over the next few years as 4G becomes more common. Today, the search engines are still working to find a balance between being fast, accessible and reliable, while continuing to offer an experience that wows the visitor.

Rich media is great for driving engagement and attracting the attention of searchers. Used well it can greatly increase your conversion rate. The webmasters that harness those features first will enjoy significant benefits in terms of increased organic traffic while other webmasters scramble to catch up. Take a moment to think about what your visitors want to see, and the most effective way to convey that information. Is it review stars, product pictures, pricing information, or video and audio content? There is room for all types of content on the web today.

Instagram Adds Place Search Feature

Instagram has added a new “place search” feature to its app. This feature will allow users to search for people, places and tags more easily, making content discovery a much simpler task.

There are more than 70 million photos and videos uploaded to the Instagram service each day, so it is quite hard for user to find the content that they are interested in. The new feature will allow users to search for different locations, for example entering “Buckingham Palace” and then see content that is tagged as being from that location. They also offer an event tagging feature, which allows users to search for photos taken at specific events, and a trending topic feature for hashtags.

Instagram’s developers say that the photos which turn up in the search results are based partly on the keywords that they are tagged with, and partly on the popularity of those specific photos within the Instagram user base. The algorithm also takes into account the photos that different users have liked in the past.

The Instagram location search update is available now on both the iOS and Android version of the app. Windows Phone and Tablet owners will have to wait, although this should come as no surprise to them, since the Instagram app for Windows Phone is lagging behind both in features and in popularity compared to the app on other platforms.
Instagram is already a great marketing tool for brand owners, and companies such as Starbucks have done a great job of reaching a massive number of users with their content over the last few years. Instagram users respond well to aspirational content and creative or unusual images, and are likely to share and like them, as well as engage with them in other ways. The most regular users post a lot of content, and will check their feeds on a near-daily basis. This gives brand owners the opportunity to make sure that their messages are seen by those users quite frequently, increasing the amount of exposure those users have to their brand.

While the new feature is undeniably useful, it may take a while to educate users about its existence. Content discoverability is a challenge on every social media platform, and if users don’t realize that they can search for something in a particular way then there is no reason for SEO services in the UK to focus on that promotion method.

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