This post is included  as part of a series related to social media training efforts underway at Cisco.  I sat down with Mark Traphagen  and Phil Buckley of Virante to ask a few specific questions around social media and how social media interacts with search engine  marketing and optimization.  This is the first of two parts for this interview.  

HAK51746What impact does Social Media have on Search Engines?

The first search engines were little more than human-fed directories.  As the web took off, trying to human index it became unworkable, for obvious reasons.  By far the most obvious and dramatic effect is seen in the growing personalization of search results. Since at least 2007, Google results have been influenced more and more by the searcher’s location, past search history, and how she interacts with web sites, among other factors. With Google’s introduction of Search Plus Your World in early 2011, social network influence came front and center.

Now by default if a searcher is logged in to Google while searching, her results are heavily influenced by Google contacts, including Gmail contacts and people circled on Google+.  Bing has begun a similar effort incorporating a user’s Facebook friends. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google, revolutionized web search with their invention of the PageRank algorithm, which counts links between sites as “votes” and weighs those votes by relative authority.  When the social web emerged, Google and other search engines realized that social interactions online could provide a new source of signals, a way to diversify the signal set and augment or confirm the signals being sent by links.  Since then, they have been slowly increasing the amount of effect that social signals have on search results.

But what about overall, non-personalized results? How much of an effect do social signals have at that level?

This is harder to pin down, as the major search engines are understandably vague about the exact mix that goes into their algorithms. The independent testing data we have is all correlative, but the correlations are strong between active social presence and engagement and high rankings in the search engines.  At the end of the day we can say two things with a high degree of certainty:  social signals make sense as a valuable input for search engines and therefore are very likely being incorporated into results, but social’s effect on personalized search is clear and undeniable.

What is the best thing you can do to optimize your social efforts for search?

While there are myriad strategies and tactics that can potentially build your power in search through your social efforts, the single most important thing is to be real. Think of your entry into the social media world like walking into a cocktail party or convention hallway full of people you want to meet who might either become future customers or recommend you to others.   First, you’d want to come in knowing your “stuff” and having something worth sharing. That’s your great content that exhibits your expertise and authority.

Then politely begin to “work the room.” Watch out for people standing on the sidelines with a lonely or bewildered look. Be the one to draw them into conversation and help answer their questions. Watch for lively conversations already in progress, and listen first so you can enter intelligently and in the flow.  Leverage existing or new relationships gained to get introductions into new conversations. Be the person to whom, when a question comes up about your field, everyone else in the room points to and says, “You need to go talk to her!”

At the end of the day, effective social media networking isn’t very different from “real life” networking; it’s just vastly more powerful in its potential reach. And doing the things that great real life networkers do in your social networkers will build up that positive buzz that over time lets the search engines know that you’re worth promoting.

Join us live for Cisco’s Social Media for Savvy Marketers Event – April 18 & 19, 2013 at Cisco HQ in San Jose, CA.  Get session information and register for this FREE event today! http://cs.co/SMevent.

Webcast registration:  http://cs.co/SMEventWebcast