Do Facebook and Twitter Endorse Black Hat SEO?

Facebook and Twitter endorse black hat SEOBlack Hat SEO has become a hot topic in the last year within mainstream society. Stories about, J.C. Penney and others have further muddied the public's perception of search engine optimization as a respectable profession and legitimate way for companies to earn new business. And as social media continues to influence search results more and more, there are now two big players in social media who may be openly encouraging black hat SEO tactics. Specifically, it now appears that Facebook and Twitter may be endorsing black hat social SEO.

What is Black Hat SEO?

SEOs know that the most important factor in our profession has traditionally been the number of quality links from other pages on the web that point to our websites. Google sees links as votes, and rewards the most popular pages with the coveted spots in the top of the search results.

Black Hat SEOs have tactics that typically involve creating links (or votes) artificially as a way to trick Google's algorithms. Buying links is like buying votes in an election. It's easy to see how they would be considered artificial.

But other types of artificial links are less intuitive. didn't actually buy any links, but rather gave universities' students big product discounts that the colleges could post on their websites in the form of links to the Overstock product pages. Overstock gave college kids 30% discounts in return for nearly doubling their average monthly web traffic from around 10 million to 20 million visitors per month. Ultimately there was a quid pro quo, discounts for links, and Google stepped in and penalized Overstock (and others).

Overstock's Black hat SEO traffic(Click on image to visit, a web traffic measurement company)

So Then What is Black Hat Social SEO?

Search engines confirmed they are using signals from social media in the search algorithms. The number of Likes and tweets containing links to a particular page are making a big difference in the search results. It stands to reason that Likes and tweets are being looked at by search engines more and more just like links in terms of importance. And yet the tactics behind acquiring Likes, tweets and links are quite different.

Search engines discourage getting links in any way that is deemed fake, paid or spammy. On the other hand,  Facebook currently permits compensation in exchange for a Like of a page. From their Promotions Guidelines:

"You must not condition registration or entry upon the user taking any action using any Facebook features or functionality other than liking a Page, checking in to a Place, or connecting to your app."

In other words, you can't ask people to do some things, but compensate people all you'd like for Likes.

And Twitter's guidelines aren't much different. While they discourage repeated tweets, it's perfectly acceptable to ask someone to link to a page and include a hashtag in return for entry into a contest.

Do Facebook and Twitter Endorse Black Hat SEO?

This is where it gets tricky. Facebook and Twitter have developed their own user communities and customs over the courses of their respective histories. Facebook has obviously found something that works for them, as their users number well past 750 million. And Twitter's no slouch either at around 150 million users. They've got a good thing going on, so why should they have to change?

On the other hand, shouldn't there be the same level of authenticity on the social web as what Google attempts to drive within the search results? Astroturfing is disapproved of as a way to get fake attention in social media. Should it be just as taboo to get paid attention through contest Likes and tweets?

What do you think? Should social media sites continue to condone compensation for tweets, Likes and other social engagement, or should Google's concept of an authentic vote drive a change in Facebook and Twitter's black hat SEO-friendly contest rules? Share your thoughts in the comments.

5 Reasons Social Media Belongs in Your SEO Strategy

Social media and SEO strategyWhen you think of search engine optimization (SEO) tactics, keyword research, meta tags and inbound links come to mind much sooner than engagement via social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. But many recent search engine industry reports paint a picture of the near future in which links, likes and tweets become equally important to your overall SEO efforts.

Why is social media becoming so imporant to SEO? Here are five reasons why social media belongs in your SEO strategy.

5 Reasons Social Media Belongs in Your SEO Strategy

  1. Google and Bing Algorithms - In a December 2010 Search Engine Land interview, Google and Bing both admitted to using signals from Facebook and Twitter to calculate a part of their search algorithms. They take note of how many times a page is shared and the importance of those doing the sharing to calculate a portion of the ranking process.
  2. Liked Pages Rank Higher - SEOmoz recently reported that content shared and liked on Facebook correlated more highly with higher search results than did the number of links on the web. Until now, links have been the bread and butter of SEO. This research suggests an important role for social media in the future of SEO, a development that should drive a major fundamental shift in most SEO strategies.
  3. Social Media in the Search Results - Google's new +1 button gives search engine users a chance to note which web pages were helpful. If you're logged in to your Google Account, you'll start seeing pictures of your friends near the search results they found helpful. The first result on a search results page typically receives the most amount of clicks. With the +1 button, click patterns will shift towards the results that carry the recommendations of your trusted network. This is only the beginning of search engines using social media signals to increase the quality of search results.
  4. Bing Results and the Facebook Like - Not to be outdone by Google's new +1 button, Facebook and Bing announced a deal to show Facebook likes in Bing's search results. Likes should now be considered a primary tactic for Bing Social Media/SEO strategy, as they have a direct impact on both the ranking factors and the resulting click-through rate patterns within Microsoft's search engine.
  5. The Power of Social Proof - We often take the suggestions of others before making decisions. Web pages are no different. A web page that has been liked or tweeted many times subtely persuades us that we have found quality information. We notice the sharing counts in the margins or the headers of the articles we find and read the ones that impress us. Social proof increases the chances visitors will stay on your site, thus increasing the value of traffic you fought so hard to get through SEO in the first place.

Approaching search engine optimization and social media from separate angles is not a long-term strategy at this point in the game. If you're operating search and social strategies in silos, it's time to rethink your approach and combine some of your efforts.

Where are you taking your search and social strategies? Have you found any tactics or synergies in utilizing social media within your SEO strategy that have worked particularly well? As always, I invite you to share your thoughts in the comments below.

The Growing Overlap of Search and Social Media

Overlap between search and social mediaThere's always been a relationship between social media and search engine optimization (SEO). For as long as there have been people gathering to create and share content, there have been search engines organizing and helping us find it all. And new evidence points to a growing overlap between search and social media, signalling the importance of a strategic relationship between the two online marketing channels. Are your search and social media efforts as coordinated as they could be?

Search and Social Media Successes

Success in search often looks different than success in social media. Social media blogging success can mean someone influential re-tweeting or liking links to your content, which creates brief, yet pronounced inflows of new visitors to your blog. Blog posts that succeed in the search engines build a semi-permanent trickle of visitors over time for certain keywords. While these successes can be exciting enough on their own, it's been often wondered if the two were related as well.

Search and Social Media Synergies

It's been much rumored over the last year that Google and Bing are using social signals from places like Twitter to better inform their search engine results. Recently Danny Sullivan over at Search Engine Land posted the most detailed explanation of how Google and Bing use data from Twitter and Facebook to adjust their search results. And it turns out that being popular in social media can help you in Google too.

Sullivan's interview revealed that search engines are now paying even more attention to how we share content on our social networks. Search engines originally used only links between websites as proxies for what we think is relevant and popular on the web. Now Google and Bing have all the links in our tweets as well, meaning that going viral on Twitter, Facebook and Digg will directly help your SEO efforts. And popularity of links is only one of many potential implications of Facebook and Twitter's influence on search.

Search and Social Media overlap

Search and Social Media Reviews

Story number two that illustrates the growing overlap between search and social media comes from the fallout of the New York Times story, "A Bully Finds a Pulpit on the Web." It was reported that an online retailer selling designer eyewear actually improved in search engine rankings when its customers left negative reviews on the customer feedback site, Get Satisfaction. 

Google responded stating that it was actually all the "link juice" from publicity like the New York Times story that was helping the retailer to rank, not the negative reviews. They went on to explain that they'd gone the extra mile and tweaked their algorithm to look at the negative reviews for a vendor and factor them into how that retailer ranks in the search engine rankings moving forward. At this point I believe the retailer in the story is suffering from a serious lack of search engine traffic. The message is clear: there is no long-term business model that supports being a jerk on the web.

Baking in Search and Social Media

How have you been using search and social media together? What benefits have you seen from coordinating your efforts together when it comes to SEO and social media? What new tactics will you be testing as a result of the recent evidence showing the growing overlap of search and social media? I'd love to hear your thoughts on search and social media in the comments below.

Exploring Social Media ROI with PostRank Analytics

Explore social media ROI with PostRankAs a blogger, have you ever wondered about the value of a single blog post? Sure, Google Analytics allows you to track event such as engagement, comments and contacts, but then there's social media. How much value is added by a Tweet on Twitter, a Like on Facebook or a reader's comment? Today we examine a web-based tool called PostRank Analytics that attempts to answer these questions and explore the social media ROI of your blog.

I was immediately intrigued when I first heard about PostRank Analytics while reading an Avinash blog post about quantitative and qualitative web analytics tools a few weeks ago. Measuring social media ROI is the mission of the three-year-old Ontario data and analytics services company. PostRank Analytics monitors and collects any social interaction between your blog and major social networks. PostRank then assigns a value to these interactions and creates reports to put everything into perspective. Let's take a look at a few ways you could use PostRank Analytics on your blog.

Your Social Engagement Dashboard

PostRank Analytics Overview dashboard provides a summary of social engagement with your blog. I like this view because it provides a history of several different types of engagement. You can link PostRank to your Google Analytics account to see web analytics metrics such as pageviews and time on page. But then you can also see the social interactions down to the individual Tweets and Likes that reference your content. The two types of information together provide a richer story of how people are interacting with your content than by just looking at pageviews alone.

PostRank Analytics OverviewThe Overview shows summary and detail social interactions next to web analytics data.

Which Social Networks Work Best for You?

You may have many social media accounts across the web, but which ones are working? PostRank Analytics' Engagement Sources report in the Trends tab provides a breakdown of your most active audiences among your social network accounts. This report may influence how you choose to spend your time on each of these hubs.

PostRank Social Media Engagement SourcesIt's clear I'm more of a Twitter guy than a Facebook fella.

Who are Your Biggest Advocates?

Sometimes you can get a huge spike of traffic, RTs and new followers when someone important in your niche shares your content. The Optimize tab of PostRank Analytics helps you identify the most influential people among those that share your content on social media. Find out who these people are and look for new ways to connect with them and to create content that appeals to them.

Find your social media influencersHere are some of my new BFFs on Twitter. Hi friends!

Which of Your Blog Posts are Most Engaging?

Have you ever wondered which of your blog posts have the highest social media value? PostRank Analytics' Analyze tab provides insights into each of your blog posts. This section is probably my favorite because it takes many different engagement signals - tweets, comments, diggs, likes, etc. -- and aggregates them into a single metric: engagement points It then lets you assign a dollar value to your engagement points to come up with a rough idea of your social media ROI. It may not be a perfect metric, but it's a really good something.

PostRank Analytics detailed social media ROIObjective measurement and trending of all social interactions. Now we're getting somewhere.

Brave New World of Social Media ROI

I don't think anyone has developed the perfect way to measure social media ROI, but I do like what PostRank has done so far with their social media analytics tools. What tools are you using to measure interactions between your blog and the social web? What measurements carry the most meaning? I'd love to hear your thoughts on PostRank or any other social media analytics tool in the comments below. Or if you choose to tweet your thoughts, I look forward to seeing them in PostRank Analytics.