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Since When Did Social Media Become So Important to SEO?

December 18th, 2008 | | Search Behavior, Social Media & SEO

We talk about it here at SEO Boy nearly every week, and it’s mentioned in practically every post, but some people are wondering, “Just when did things like video and social networking platforms become so important to my SEO?” Well, unlike many things in SEO which require debate, discussion and consideration, this one is pretty black and white—May 16, 2007. What was the significance of this day in search marketing history, you ask? Well, it’s the day that Google announced the launch of its Universal Search platform. Many of us know it, more have only heard about it, but let’s run through the basics of it so we can see very clearly that your marketing department didn’t invent your need for social media, Google did. Blame Google.

Pre-universal search, when you ran a query using Google or the other major search engines, you got what are called vertical search results—results from one category such as web results, news results, or images. If you wanted images, for example, you could select images and run a search “white poodles” and you’d just get pictures of white poodles—and maybe some ridiculous image of someone’s white-haired grandmother that they had affectionately named “grandma poodle.” The search results were all available to you, but the search engines weren’t designed to give you images, news results, video, products, white pages listings, etc., all from one search. There was some manual labor if you wanted different types of results.

Now, in May of 2007, Google announces that they’ve decided to save searchers time and give them more integrated search results. What exactly did they do, though? Let’s use our poodle example. I search “white poodles” in Google’s main web search, pre-May 2007, and I get first page of results that reads something like;

  1. American Kennel Association: Poodles,
  2. Breed – Poodle (a site describing different breeds of pet),
  3. How to Choose the Right Pet for Your Home: Standard Poodles, and so on.

These results are text-based web pages that talk about Poodles. Fine, right? Maybe. But, what if I searched “white poodle” because I had seen on TV that a white poodle had a seriously comic incident at a national dog show and relieved himself on a judge? I want to know more about that, not helpful hints on choosing a family pet. In that case, I didn’t get what I want.

If I run this same search post-May 2007 and get my universal search results, I’ve got a good chance of getting the information about the unsavory white poodle that I was looking for. My results in universal search are likely to read something like;

  1. YouTube Video: Poodle Loses Points at Nat’l Dog Show,
  2. Image: White Poodle Shows Distaste For Judge,
  3. CNN: Story About White Poodle at Nat’l Dog Show,
  4. Blog Post: Did you see that white poodle?

Basically, what universal search has done is take many of the different types of search results people typically look for (news, blog posts, local white/yellow-page listings, video, images, etc.) and incorporated results from all of them into one set of super-search result set. For more detailed examples and explanations of universal search and how it works, take a look at this article from SearchEngineLand.

Now, even though Google is the top-dog of search engines with over 70% of searches performed there, they’re not the only ones using universal search. All the major search engines are using universal, or integrated, search strategies to varying degrees. So, as Internet marketers and SEO proponents, we can’t ignore how this changes SEO and the strategies we use. And, this is where social media becomes critical.

Before universal search, all you needed to be concerned with was the ranking and placement of your web pages and site content. These were really your only chances to get into search results. Well, now that universal search has taken off, right up at the top of the first page of search results we see listings such as video, images, news, products and local search listings. That’s where everyone wants to be, and now we have to branch out to get those spots. Your relevant web page could get lost behind a few current news stories and press releases or a YouTube video because those were featured at the top of the results. These universal search results are attractive to users, some featuring images beside the results, right up at the top of the page where you want to be. Universal search results are even incorporating social networking profiles in results with blogs, Facebook profiles, LinkedIn pages and MySpace all competing for the top of the page. With lots of new competition, your SEO strategy has to adapt to compete.

It may have seemed sudden, but there is no turning back. Social media is now a vital element to your SEO strategy. It’s not the newest craze, it’s not an invention of your marketing department and no, there is no sign that it’s going away. So, go ahead, grab your camera and tape the company Christmas party and put that on YouTube, get a Facebook profile for your company or start blogging. Get started before universal search pushes you further down the search results page.

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