We recently looked at how Google and Bing use links on Twitter and Facebook for organic ranking, following an informative piece from Danny Sullivan on the matter. Google’s Matt Cutts has now addressed the subject a bit more in a new video uploaded to Googles’ Webmaster Help Channel.
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"We do use Twitter and Facebook links in ranking as we always have in our web search rankings, but in addition we’re also trying to figure out a little bit about the reputation of an author or creator on Twitter or Facebook," says Cutts. "I filmed a video back in May 2010 where I said that we didn’t use that as a signal, and at the time, we did not use that as a signal, but now, we’re taping this in December 2010, and we are using that as a signal."
Now, this doesn’t mean that suddenly Twitter and Facebook links are the main ranking factor determining where your content is showing up in organic searches. If anything, Google seems to be tiptoeing into the waters in this area.
"The web search quality team has a lot of different groups in a lot of different offices, so people including the original Blog Search team, people who worked on Realtime Search…have been working on using these sorts of things as a signal," explains Cutts. "So primarily, it has been used a little bit more in the realtime sort of search, where you might see individual tweets or other links showing up, and streaming up on the page. We’re studying how much sense it makes to use it a little more widely within our web search rankings."
To reiterate, you’ll still see this playing more of a role in realtime search, but Google is "looking at it more broadly within web search as well," according to Cutts.
"Now, there’s a few things to remember," Cutts warns. "Number one is: if we can’t crawl a page (if we can’t see a page), then we can’t really assign PageRank to it, and it doesn’t really count. So if we’re able to obtain the data, then we can use it, but if for some reason a page is forbidden for us to crawl or if we’re not able to obtain it somehow, then we wouldn’t be able to use it within our rankings."
This would appear to mean that links within Facebook will not mean a whole lot when the user isn’t sharing their updates with everyone. Many Facebook users have their privacy settings adjusted to only share with their friends. While Facebook may have far more users than Twitter, privacy settings will greatly reduce that number in terms of links that will potentially help your search rankings.
"This is something that is used relatively lightly for now, and we’ll see how much we use it over time depending on how useful it is and how robust it ends up being," says Cutts. "The one thing I would caution people about is don’t necessarily say to yourself, ‘Ha. Now I’m going to go out and get reciprocal follows, and I’m gonna get a ton of followers,’ just like people used to get a ton of links. In the same way that PageRank depends on not just the number of links, but the quality of those links, you have to think about what are the followers who mean quality. Who are the people who actually are not just bots or some software program or things like that."
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