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Er..maybe social shares and RTs shouldn’t impact search after all

For a while now Google and Bing have been busily experimenting with various ways of incorporating social media signals into the way they determine which web pages rank highly in searches.  One school of the thought  says that if a page (link) is shared heavily on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook etc, it should rank higher. After all people must think it’s of a better quality right? 

Wrong! Not necessarily.  And a recent Tweet from an ex-colleague of mine @CMRLee  (Chris Lee) provides a  great example of why. Chris Tweeted that his site analytics showed that more people had RT’d (shared on Twitter) a link to a page than had actually viewed it.  Assuming his data is correct, this means lots of people shared the page without even knowing what was actually on it (I’m sure nobody who’s reading this page has ever done that).  And that’s a strong reason why shares on social networking sites may not be a good indicator of quality and should not be counted as much of a ranking factor. 

In fact, a CloudNine PR client, Dr Horst Joepen of search analytics company, Searchmetrics, describes the situation quite nicely in a couple of points he made in this article from late last year: 

“First, social media sites are overly influenced by crowd behaviour and the celebrity factor. This is why a link or page posted by a famous pop star or influential blogger gets shared indiscriminately by thousands. Second, some social networkers will happily share or retweet the next reasonable link they stumble upon, just to stay visible on the site or because they’re concerned they haven’t shared anything for a while.”

To get over these issues, my understanding is that Google and Bing have been developing ways in which they identify those Tweeters and Facebookers with high authority – and giving their shares and RTs much more influence.  Presumably because those trusted authorities are less likely to share pages indiscriminately like all of us other ‘plebs’.