Social Media and SEO

In 1998, the web was much easier. Google was the main search engine. Social media was new and trying to establish itself. Within a few years, everything changed. It’s no exaggeration to say Google got blindsided by social. They simply didn’t expect it would become significant.

The premise of Google is to organize information, which means there are people who seek information, people who offer information, and Google wants to be the service that indexes and delivers that information. This also allows Google to make tens of billions per year on advertising by creating an ad distribution network (ADN) for advertisers to show ads to customers.

But social didn’t bother with this model. Starting with MySpace, Hi5, and followed by Facebook and dozens of other social sites, the web changed. Social tools allow people to talk directly with each other. They don’t need search engines to find each other. Social tools form a vast (and anarchistic) town square where anyone can post and instantly (yes, within a second or two) reach a billion people. Nobody uses search engines to search Twitter; you use Twitter to search Twitter.

Here’s an example of the change. The Twitter community, on its own, began using hashtags. In fact, rejected hashtags at first. But by 2010, people used five million hashtags daily so Twitter began to index them. This never would have happened at Google, which tightly controls and keeps secret the criteria for indexing. By spring 2013, Facebook and Google+ added hashtags.

What’s so important about hashtags in SEO? You can create your own hashtag and use it instantly. There is no registration or fee. There are plenty of examples where a teen starts a hashtag at 9:35 pm in Philadelphia and within thirty minutes, twenty thousand people around the world are using it. There is nothing like this in Google. You can make up a new keyword and add it to your page, but it’s unlikely other web pages will add your keyword.

Another example highlights the difference between search engines and social media. Let’s say an earthquake happens in a remote region of China. If you search Google, it gives priority to selected official news services, such as the New York Times and so on. But it can take hours for news services to go through the process of assigning reporters, collecting information, and writing, editing, and presenting the news. In contrast, any person who happens to be in the area and has a cell phone can post a tweet with a hashtag and a photo or a video, which becomes available worldwide within a few seconds. Within a few minutes, others add additional tweets with more information. Twitter is the easiest and quickest way to learn what is happening. Many people don’t even bother to look in Google for news.

Google has been trying to understand social. They first launched Google Wave, which was a copy of Facebook, but it failed within a week. They then launched Google+, which started as another copy of Facebook. They’ve been adding social signals to their algorithm, which means they look at a page’s Facebook and Twitter traffic, comments, sentiment, and other social data. But this is a challenge because social sites can pop up and grow to tens of millions within months. In 1998, I was the webmaster at, a Silicon Valley startup that grew to 16 million users in one year, which at the time was the fastest growing website in history. Today, that would be modest growth. Vine picked up 40 million users in seven months, and it’s just one of the many video tools for Twitter. Much more is coming. China has Renren, Weibo, WeChat, and other social sites, each with several hundred million users. Some of these companies are setting up offices in Silicon Valley and beginning to add users around the world.

Social is also an SEO challenge for you. In social, there are no meta-tags, < H1 > formats, or other standard SEO issues. This means when you’re doing SEO, you can’t just use traditional SEO. You must also use social SEO.