Tom Schmitz // Jan 6 2011
A metamorphosis is under way, one which will fundamentally change organic search engine rankings and search engine optimization. Google and Bing are getting faith in social media and are converting. Perhaps sooner than later, social media will eclipse backlinks as the gold standard for online authority.
When Sergey and Brin created Google they invented PageRank, a way to measure authority based on the quantity and quality of external links.
Combined with page content and the words in external links, PageRank let Google to create the most accurate search engine rankings anyone had ever seen. The logic was sound. Links come from web content creators. As more content creators decide that a page is valuable the page should earn more links. It worked and before anyone could coin the term search engine optimization people were asking for, trading, injecting and buying links.
Fast forward to 2010. Content creators and their links continue to play the dominant role in search ranking authority; however; too many people are adept at acquiring links without earning them and manipulating search engine rankings. To combat this Google seeks new and robust ranking signals that will be less sensitive to falsification. One way to prevent fake influence is to increase sample size, which is where social media comes in.
When we discuss social media as a ranking signal we really mean user generated content. Each minute, hour and day web surfers make more Twitter tweets and Facebook posts than all of the articles or pages published by site administrators or editors. If backlinks are the Earth, as pictured below, then user generated content is Jupiter. That's a lot of content.
Such immense volume makes user generated content and social media difficult to manipulate. For example, you or I can Tweet about Shelby Autos all we want. We can even get everyone we know and everyone they know to tweet too but the number of brand mentions we create will pale in comparison to the daily tweets about Toyota or Ford. Google and Bing are counting on this. They are scouring through tweets, wall posts, reviews, forums, blog comments — places once considered SEO wastelands — to find brand mentions, names, links and other content to quantify and toss into their ranking algorithms.
Where is this going? Look at the picture of the planets again. If the Earth is links and Jupiter is social media, how does the future for links as a ranking signal look? I'd say that the writing is in the stars.