The short answer, yes.
Recently I decided to run an experiment to find out how Google was treating social signals – so I set up a brand new domain (http://www.yogamatcompare.com) with 0 backlinks and started acquiring likes and tweets to the domain. Today, just a week after registering the domain, the site ranks for ‘Indian Yoga Mats’ ‘Cheap Yoga Mats’ ‘Yoga Mat Compare’ ‘Luxury Yoga Mats’ and many other keywords, still with not a single backlink (time stamped proof of 0 backlinks here, and here).
Here is a brief timeline and summary of my activity, and number of social signals, with rankings in the table that follows.
|Date + Time||Activity||Indexed?||# of Likes||# of Tweets|
|9/3/2011||Bought domain & set up website||No||0||0|
|12/3/2011 11am||Acquired first round of ‘likes’||No||35||0|
|12/3/2011 2pm||Acquired 5 more friends into liking the domain||Yes||40||0|
|13/3/2011 1pm||Acquired 70 likes||Yes||90||0|
|13/3/2011 6pm||Tweeted the site from @marcus_seo||Yes||110||1|
|14/3/2011 7pm||Tweeted the site from 3x new Twitter accounts||Yes||114||4|
|15/3/2011 2pm||Shared link on 3x yoga-related Facebook Pages||Yes||117||4|
|16/3/2011 11pm||Shared link on 1x yoga-related Facebook Page||Yes||118||4|
|Yoga Mat Compare||Yogamatc
|Yoga Mat||Cheap Yoga Mats||Luxury Yoga Mats||Indian Yoga Mats|
The first thing that is blindingly obvious is that it took under 3 hours for the website to become indexed after receiving the first round of likes – I am currently testing several other domains and monitoring this duration more closely, but I found that rather impressive.
Secondly, you can see a progressive increase in not only rankings but the variety of keywords ranking, as you would likely see in a normal link building campaign, which suggests that if I were to carry on acquiring more and more likes and tweets I could potentially attain competitive rankings for these keywords (although that is not proven, and in my opinion would not be the most effective method of achieving competitive rankings).
So if there was still any doubt over whether Google uses social signals in their search algorithm, mystery solved – they most certainly do. As for Bing and Yahoo, the test domain is not even indexed yet, suggesting that those search engines are not using social signals quite as strongly as Google are just yet.
It is my firm personal opinion that within the next two to three years Google will evolve to return results almost entirely based around our personal social graphs. Personalised Search, social signals as a ranking factor, real-time search results and the recent ‘who shared this’ snippets in search results have all been steps towards this. With that in mind, it does not surprise me that Google are using social signals as a ranking factor, as the data that can potentially be captured in a ‘social’ link contains a great deal of contextual information about the person who posted it that a standard ‘link-building link’ does not.
How does this affect SEO? Right this moment I think it’s safe to assume that acquiring likes, tweets and other social signals is a fairly good strategy for not only improving indexation but also rankings.
What do you think?