Do search engines use social media clues to determine rankings? The short answer is yes absolutely, and the more complicated answer is that while it’s unclear to what extent social media is affecting search results at this time, it is a part of search engine algorithms and likely a growing factor at that.
Included in SEOMoz’s 2011 Search Ranking Factors report is a pie chart of ranking factors that shows an increase from 2009 to 2011 in the importance of page-level social media factors on search algorithms. The report also indicates that many experts in the SEO field believe that social media’s influence on search algorithms will continue to increase in the coming years.
For those who want more organic search traffic to their hotel site, social media may be a good return on investment if they are willing to do it right and make the 6 to 9 month upfront investment it takes for their efforts to show a return.
Why is Social Media Important to SEO
- Influencers: Active and high profile social media participants are people who like to talk about their experiences and have large networks of fans/followers. They often become vocal brand ambassadors through social media when they feel they have a valued relationship with a business. Because these high-profile participants have such vast networks of fans/followers, their endorsements, shares, and mentions often carry more weight in search algorithms than people with smaller networks.
- Citations: Citations are mentions of a site on other sites with or without a link and are used as ranking factor in search. Often found in social media communications, citations are an excellent source of information to search engines about the popularity of a site and in what contexts. In addition, any citations that do contain links can increase the number of quality back links to a site.
- Social Media and Search Integration: New search engines, like Blekko and DuckDuckGo, are making social media a bigger part of their search results from launch by integrating social media right into the results. Even traditional search engines are following this trend. For example, Bing is currently integrating Facebook data into its search results, and Google includes Google+ data in their results. Both search engines include Twitter posts on search result pages making social media yet another opportunity for a site to be surfaced in search. Read more about how Google+ and Twitter content are affecting search results.
Most Popular Social Media Channels
- Facebook – Facebook is the biggest social network by far with over 800 million users. The Facebook demographic is quite varied but leans toward females in their 40 and 50s who have high levels of engagement with the site. Facebook offers hotel site owners more options for reaching users than most other social networks including the opportunity to provide incentives and conduct contests, to share long-form content, images and videos, to purchase advertising, and to create and distribute Facebook Apps.
- Twitter – Twitter is the most utilitarian of the major social networks with its deceivingly simplistic purpose (sharing thoughts in 140 characters or less) and its ability to keep up with a world communicating in rapid fire conversations. While Twitter users tend to be younger, male and more tech-savvy, it too boasts a broad user base. On Twitter, hotel site owners can take advantage of trends as they happen by participating in relevant Twitter streams and keeping followers abreast of news related to its hotel and the surrounding area.
- Google+ – Google+ is Google’s response to the enormously popular Facebook social network and allows users to add both people and organizations to their circles, create online hangouts and chats, share information, and integrate seamlessly with other Google services like Google Docs and of course search. While it is still a fairly new social network, at only 1-year-old it has approximately 150 million active Google+ users who tend to also be more technically inclined and search engine savvy.
- Pinterest – Pinterest is the newcomer to social media that allows people to build personalized bulletin boards of images they find or place online. Pinterest users are predominately female in their 30s and 40s, and like Facebook, tend to be very active on the site. It is a great social media tool for businesses that have an extensive collection of images and can emphasize its offerings through visual appeal. For example, large and luxury hotel sites are an especially good match for Pinterest since they rely heavily on great imagery to attract potential guests for vacation stays, weddings, business conferences, parties and more.
- LinkedIn – LinkedIn is the business side of social networking where people maintain extensive profiles of their professional skills and experience. The social aspect of LinkedIn is in a user’s ability add co-workers, supervisors, vendors, and other work-related contacts to their network and to participate in groups who share a common professional interest. LinkedIn’s demographic is mostly young, well-educated professionals who are building their careers. For hotel sites that cater to business clients, LinkedIn can be a great way to find people wanting to book business meetings, conferences, conventions and other events.
5 Quick Social Media Tips to Get Started
- When first getting started with social media, pick no more than 2 to 3 of the most relevant social media channels to focus on first and build an audience for before expanding to other channels.
- Listen, ask and respond to followers/fans because engagement is important for authenticity in social media. Fans and followers are more likely to become brand ambassadors for a hotel that they feel listens to and interacts with them.
- Offer incentives like special offers, contests and exclusive information through social media channels to keep the audience engaged. This is an especially effective tactic on Facebook where followers have grown to expect exclusive content and offers from the business they follow.
- Cross post useful new site content on social media channels. For example, posting about upcoming events near or at the hotel, news about local attractions, updates on hotel services and amenities, and even bragging about the beautiful local weather can be a good way to build quality links back to the hotel site and get people thinking about a change of scenery.
- Include social share buttons on the hotel’s site and encourage visitors to share. These social “votes” are clear indicators to search engines that the site has built an audience who is willing to share it with their followers and fans.
While sites that engage in well-designed and executed social media marketing efforts generally do enjoy more search traffic to their sites and better search rankings, social media marketing should not be undertaken for the sole purpose of increasing a site’s search rankings. Businesses can benefit directly from strong social media strategy in a number ways including personal referrals, improved guest relations and increased name recognition.
That said, since building a social media marketing strategy does take time, resources and a commitment to a long-term outcome, getting started sooner rather than later is not only worth the effort for better marketing today, it could be essential to a site’s search success down the road as social media’s impact on search algorithms grows.