In Social Signals We Trust

Posted By on June 28, 2012

Signaling Thumbs Up © 2012 dmattt

Who do you turn to for recommendations about movies, the best foodie blogs, or which water heater to buy (mine recently burst)? Friends and family, obviously! Connecting with those people online is the force behind the magnitude 8.0 social-media earthquake.

And now it seems that everywhere we turn online, someone is recommending something to us based on a five-star review by someone we know, and also based on our own previous choices—what we search for, read online, bookmark, share, snack on at midnight …

Socialize That

That’s because search has gotten personal. Google and Bing (and others) now shape results based in part on “social signals”—all those interactions and things we do online, especially the recommendations we make. If the signals are flashing to and from our networks, Google and Bing’s latest search algorithms tag them as trustworthy.

And that’s a big switcheroo from how search engines previously established trust—by counting up how many sites linked to you, and of those, which had high authority. A link from the New York Times food section to your cooking blog could have meant a book deal. Think Julie and Julia to understand the importance of backlinks back then.

Now think about how many times a day you Like, tweet, or share a link, or check out what your friends are liking, tweeting, and so on. Search engines tally those thousands of mini-recommendations as votes for which sites or people to trust. A human thumbs-up is, after all, a better measure of authority than a hyperlink.

‘Bots Love Affair

With social search, then, the quality of content matters even more. If people like what you write, your content gets more high-fives, and more high-fives boost it to the top of search results. But wait—it isn’t quite that simple. If the New York Times tweets about you, it’s the New York Times. It means more when a site or person with mega-authority votes for you, it’s like stuffing the ballot box. You win. Your content is on its way to earning a Girl Scout badge for being honorable, upright, and honest—that is, trustworthy.

But getting the New York Times to recognize you online still happens in the same way it does offline: by working on your writing and by making connections in the world one person at a time. (And that’s also basically how you build a social media following.)

Case in Point

My tweeting-genius partner, Cynthia Hartwig, struck up a Twitter conversation about social media with @speechwriterguy, aka Guy Bergstrom, the writer behind the Red Pen of Doom blog, who lives in Olympia, Washington. Cynthia happened to visit Olympia and asked him to coffee. More friendship ensued. When Cynthia wrote a cool post on a rapper’s grammar tip, @speechwriterguy blasted it to his following. Why? Because he trusts her and the quality of her writing.

If you want to learn more about how to write content that amplifies your signal, check out this presentation on “Balancing Sticky Content with SEO,” which I gave at the last Content Strategy Seattle Meetup. (If you live in Seattle, come and say hi next time.) If you like the content, send us your social signal and we’ll like you back.