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SEO predictions for 2012 – The impact of social signals on rankings

by Tug Agency | 16.01.2012
Hello world of search!

This is my first blog post here at Tug. I’ve read quite a lot of SEO predictions for 2012, the most common being “Change of the search engine’s algorithm in favour of social signals”.

In my opinion this is a fairly safe prediction with Google heavily pushing their own social network Google+ (“Search Plus Your World”) and both Google and Bing having already confirmed that they take social signal into account. Even though we don’t know for sure how/if social signals have a direct impact on rankings there has been confirmation by some research that social signals have a correlation with higher rankings (but remember: correlation ? causation… There are some fairly plausible reasons why websites that are being liked, tweeted, +1ed etc. rank better even if those signal aren’t an offical ranking factor (e.g. they are usually updated more frequently). It would be interesting to measure this correlation and see if it increases over time.

So what will happen if social signals have more of an impact on SERPs? That probably depends on how big that impact actually is. Let’s just imagine that in 2013 Panda had devaluated most low-quality links and it has become harder obtain links that push the rankings. Social signals have become the new ‘link gold and all webmasters and SEOs put their efforts into getting those social signals to improve their rankings. Would this put a stop to SPAM like Google hopes? I doubt it, I think it would just take on another form. There will always be ways that those who chose to wear dark headgear will try to manipulate rankings by spamming. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a hunt for likes, +1s, comments etc. for rankings. Whilst this would not necessarily be a bad thing, just as some ways of link building are not (link bait, high quality directories, links earned by giving free stuff away or donating to charity etc.) there is always room for abuse. We already see competitions that can be entered by tweeting, liking etc. and I’m sure we will see more of that – much more. Whilst this will certainly be considered white hat, I don’t see why some people wouldn’t try to “buy” those signals from influential people in their industry (I assume authority will measure the value of those signals. No doubt if it happens we will get the benefit of many more tools and rankings that measure social signals)…

Another possibility I could see is that certain websites only allow you to access certain content of their site if you give like, +1, tweet (…) them, just as with paid for ‘pro’ content. In that case it might become hard to participate in a lot of stuff on the web for those who decide to not sign up on social networks (I’m sure there are still a lot of people who don’t like them for privacy or other reasons. Certainly not many people in the SEO industry but I’m thinking of the average Internet user).

It used to be keyword stuffing and then link spam that black hat used to manipulate their rankings. Of course I don’t know, but predictions are fun when you look back to them after a year and see what actually happened – whether you were right or wrong…