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Simon Heseltine heads up SEO at AOL. That now that includes Huffington Post, which added lots of Social credibility to AOL’s search statistics. I caught up with him in Tampa, Florida, where he shared some social insight and how it affects organic search.

Firstly, some headline AOL stats:

  • 23% of social media messages include links to content, which equates to 27 million links to content every day.
  • Huffington post is getting the same traffic from Facebook that it gets from Google according to Hitwise.

This latter statistic was really interesting to see. Most people think that Google is by far the largest referrer of traffic to a web site. Because the Huffington Post has integrated social so much into its business marketing, Facebook is just as powerful for them as a traffic provider. But that integration has – as we’ll see – also improved their organic traffic.

Their Social integration techniques include:

  • Of course, social +1 like style buttons
  • Really high comment engagement with buttons to letting users become fans of the commenter.
  • Gives users different types of badges – when the user gets a level 2 networker, their comments start appearing in red.
  • Use community to help police the comments. Eventually, users get the ability to delete comments themselves.
  • 9000 people have blogged for the Huffington Post.

So users get differentiated in various ways. This helps users to aspire to engage. Huffington Post has 1.2 million twitter followers, but then also has another handle for HuffpostPolitics, Another for "HuffPost WeirdNnews" (4,000 followers). This helps them to segment their social graph into more natural groups and can instantly communicate to people in a targeted manners.

 

The Huffington Post has different pages on Facebook too for different sectors of its business.

The Guage:

This is a simple daily poll, with "I agree" or "I disagree" options. The Guage goes into Facebook too, and when a user votes, the Guage appears on that user’s wall.The Guage is very visual – two pictures with questions side by side – representing both sides of an argument.

 

What Do We Know that Social can do for SEO?

Here are seven really useful obsevations and tips from Simon, which demonstrate just how Social is affecting Organic today – at least for the Huffington Post:

  1. There is a high correlation between the social traffic and SEO traffic patterns on Huffington post… But on a less newsy site, (like Joystiq) the correlation is much poorer.
  2. Bing and Google have both said that they use Retweets as a signal for news and fresh content.
  3. Bing leverages Twitter data with Facebook data to improve this signal. Google only uses Facebook as a standard link (they have no internal data)
  4. Social media heavily influences Google Personalized search results (which is increasingly the default). If you are friends with the user on Google, you will influence their results directly, because "friends name likes this" will appear directly in the results – sometimes as a new result compared to non-personalized results.
  5. Similarly on Bing… Facebook shows friends that "like" a result. These are shown and inserted into organic SERPs results.
  6. Bing is also Integrating real time (Twitter) results into the right side of the search results.
  7. Google News is now part of the Social Division within Google and moving forward, Socia and Google News will be intertwined for Google.

Thanks to Simon for his advice. If you want, you can follow him on Twitter