How Could the Social Graph Work?
Last time we covered linking and how the search engines use linking to understand more about your website; both from a “popularity” perspective and content perspective. So how would a social graph compare and will it take over the link graph? Although I cannot answer these questions 100% because I do not have insider knowledge from the search engines…I do have ideas of how it may work.
Overall I believe the way search engines gather and use the data will be similar. The more related and reputable people discussing, mentioning, and linking to specific sites, brands etc., the higher the likelihood that those “links” will affect search engine visibility.
A few years ago, social bookmarking was all the talk about how the social world would be used similar to linking. For the most part, that never happened. Yes…you could get traffic, they provided little if any link value. Nofollows were added because of spam. Yes, spammers ruin pretty much everything, they also change the way SEO is performed.
So where have we come since social bookmarking? Well, everyone and their grandparents have a Facebook account, Google created one of the largest social networks nearly overnight with Google Buzz, many people still have a hard time grasping the idea of Twitter (but use it anyways), and real-time search using social media has become a reality not just speculation…and yes, social bookmarking is still around.
Again, I come back to the thought that the technology behind the social graph will be similar to the link graph. People share nearly everything through social media. Some things extremely small and unimportant, sometimes breaking news stories, sometimes the latest music trends, etc. Whatever it may be, there is text or a link track what people are talking about. Whether a user is using Twitter usernames, brand names or a shortened URL, the search engines will have the technology to compile that data. Real-time search may even be the foundation of the social graph. Most people think Google real-time search was a flop and takes away the integrity of search results, which whether or not this is true, Google is using incredibly advanced technology to make it happen. Once a search engine can understand what people are talking about or sharing across various social landscapes, it can implement that data into algorithms.
The link graph will not go away entirely. As Rand at SEOMoz mentioned on a whiteboard Friday, not everything is shared through social media. There are just certain types of things that you don’t mention or link to on Twitter and Facebook, yet this is information that still needs to be ranked.
To sum everything up. I do not believe the social graph will completely remove the need for inbound links for something to be visible within the search engines. Although, I do believe as more “partnerships” are made between search engines and social media venues, the more that information will be used to determine where something should rank organically (not including real-time search). It will be important for a business/website to be involved with social media in some way. Have a Facebook page with all of your information and a link to your site, fill out your Twitter profile completely, and just become active. I do believe in the future your social popularity, good or bad, will come into play and directly correlate with SEO. There will be challenges with Spam, but this is a obstacle search engines, users and marketing professionals have to deal with. This may not be the perfect explanation of how the social graph will come into play, because I just don’t have all of that information. Some of this is speculation, but the usage and technology is already in place. It will be surprising if the search engines don’t take advantage of that to make organic search more relevant.