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Facebook and Google – who influences who?

30 August 2011 BY

This is a guest post by Marcus Tober, co-founder and CTO of Searchmetrics, the world leader in search analytics software. As the company’s CTO, he is responsible for advanced technology research, product development, and SEO consulting programs. 

The link between the main social networks and Google rankings is a complicated one. For example, do pages with lots of shares and likes in Facebook rank better in search engines or is it the other way round? Earlier this year Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz analyzed various data points that did show a correlation between Facebook Shares, Likes and Comments. This led him to conclude that Facebook could indeed be impacting Google’s SERPs.

We wanted to look at this in more detail so we checked our own Searchmetrics data from Germany. First we looked at the 20,000 most important keywords (based on different weighting factors like for example search volume) in Google Germany’s index. From that we analyzed the top 30 URLs on each keyword – what was the Facebook activity in terms of Shares, Likes and Comments on these pages?

The chart below shows the correlations, starting with the link between Facebook and Google ranking data:

The x-axis shows the Google ranking (from position 1 to30) for URLs corresponding to the keyword sets we analyzed (the top 100 to the top 20,000 most highly searched words). The y-axis shows the percentage of Facebook activities, including all likes, shares and comments, for these URLs. You can see an obvious and direct correlation, with the most highly ranked URLs for each set of keywords also having the highest numbers of shares or likes. In fact, we calculated that 50% of all URLs in the top 10 positions have shares, likes or comments – and this significantly drops off for URLs ranked in lower Google positions for all the keyword sets we looked at.

Drilling deeper into the differences between the number of likes compared to shares and comments, you find even greater gaps. 93% of all measured URLs in position 1 have at least one share, like or comment with approximately 76% having likes. This drops off dramatically through the rest of the top 10.

Making ‘Liking’ difficult

This correlation is despite the fact that many popular website pages (such as Wikipedia or the home pages of some newspapers) don’t have Facebook Like buttons. So, users are often sharing manually – think how many more Likes these pages might accumulate if site owners included the automatic Like buttons?

Who is affecting who?

Having said all this we still can’t categorically answer the question whether Facebook affects Google. Is it just a correlation as highly ranked URLs for popular keywords can be expected to receive more Facebook activity – or is Google taking account of Facebook activities in its algorithm to rank these URLs higher (for example by taking Facebook data from channels such as the Chrome browser or Google Toolbar)? This is just one of many questions concerning the dynamic between Google and Facebook. And certainly, it would be possible for Google to find a way of accessing and measuring the relevant Facebook data – after all, if we at Searchmetrics are able to do this, then Google can for sure.

From our research it’s clear that this Chicken and Egg point – ie which came first – will be an ongoing discussion when it comes to Google rankings and Facebook activity. And with so many variables, the answers will continuously change. However we do feel that sooner or later the search algorithms need to take user behavior into consideration, and this has to include Facebook shares, likes and comments. But of course, this will always be just ONE of the many ranking factors for Google.

About the author:

Marcus Tober is co-founder and CTO of Searchmetrics, the world leader in search analytics software. As the company’s CTO, he is responsible for advanced technology research, product development, and SEO consulting programs. While studying media design and computer science in Berlin, Marcus was already focused on search engine optimization, and he quickly became one of the leading SEO experts in Germany. Marcus wrote his graduate thesis on the origin of linkvendor.com, the well-known platform for free SEO tools. He began his professional career in SEO at Idealo. Seeing the need for an integrated and professional SEO software solution led Marcus to found Searchmetrics GmbH jointly with Holtzbrinck eLab in 2007. In addition to his work in the SEO field, Marcus has built a number of successful commercial web ventures.
He can be reached at: m.tober@searchmetrics.com.

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