SEO and Online Identities
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SEO and Online Identities

April 11th, 2011

The web has gone through profound changes in the past few years with mass adoption of social media, primarily Facebook. On the other hand, Google’s ranking algorithm fundamentals were shaped in a different time. During 1997-2000, the web was basically a collection of web pages, linking one to another. Today, the rise of the social web has created a new level of “democracy”, where people can produce, share, and like content. Previously, only website owners could influence search engine rankings — through linking to other pages and publishing content. Today, plain users affect rankings through their collective preferences.
In this short article, I’ll touch base on how this transformation of the web – and the establishment of online identities, is reshaping search engine algorithms and subsequently, SEO.


The Rise of Online Identities

Facebook’s original trick was getting people to sign up with their real identity. This was, and still is, a revolution. And this extended beyond Facebook. LinkedIn, the top business social network had people providing their CV, together with their map of business connections. As a result, companies are also now represented in LinkedIn.
Twitter offers a great representation of entities and the relationships between them. End users, public figures and businesses are usually linking their twitter account to their “base domain” (as do businesses represented in LinkedIn and Facebook), further providing a mapping of identities and the relationships between them, highly valuable information from a ranking algorithm perspective.


Individual Entities and SEO Authority

Search engines always look for authorities on subjects to determine the value of content. So if a person is posting frequent tweets, blog posts, etc. on a particular subject and in parallel is linked/followed/re-tweeted by many other entities related to this subject — this person, then, has a certain computed level of authority on this subject. Google can do a relatively good Job of identifying entities across networks, as they are usually interlinked. Even if not, a full name plus topic-focused content are a reasonably unique entity identifier. Hence links/likes/shares generated by this entity, in any outlet, carry ranking juice — correlated to the entity’s perceived authority.


Business Entities

Companies and organizations are represented as separate entities in Facebook and LinkedIn. Each of the networks allows a company to provide its website url in their public profile, accessible to search engines bots. Search engines use various signals on these networks as confirmed by Google and Bing in an interview with Danny Sullivan. The same signals described above for evaluating entities apply, plus a few additional signals such as company fan-related metrics on Facebook.
So what does it all mean for website owners?
It means that their representation as business entities in social media is increasingly important for search engine rankings. Google now looks beyond pure links into their social properties and into how popular and authoritative they are. A more holistic approach to SEO and web marketing is needed. Don’t forget that today’s organic traffic extends beyond search engine traffic.
Significant amounts of non-advertising website traffic can be generated directly through social networks, further reinforcing the importance of crafting a smart, interlinked, and holistic presence across the web and social properties.