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John Schulenburg’s Thoughts On The Future Of Social For Google Search

I recently wrote a blog post about a made-up Google search update called Parakeet, the focus of the update would be to encourage site owners to create quality social interactions to mimic the social interaction that occurs in blogging communities, social networks and forums.

If you will, social outreach to customers, community members and influencers by site owners would be rewarded, where the discussion about a topic or keyword phrase occurs.

This process is already happening with social media monitoring companies, they enable organizations to find the most important conversations related to a keyword phrase, and brand, and the most important influencers on a topic. 

I’ve been asking a few people in the land of SEO about the Parakeet update, and John Schulenburg of Redbricks Media was kind enough to answer my questions, here’s the interview result:

John Cass:  what method Google would use to build a mechanism to make the Parakeet update possible?

John Schulenburg: I don’t specifically know how Google would facilitate updating their Algo to include social engagement as a strong factor in search engine rankings, but it’s certainly headed in that direction already with the inclusion of G+ in the SERPS and Google specifically stating that social signals will ultimately start having a greater effect on search rankings. You are right in the sense that, unfortunately, it’s all about the links still and Google doesn’t fundamentally understand what it’s like for a SMB to try and compete within search.  Quality content is very long term and very slow.  Volume based/low quality links are very fast and more cost effective.  That’s why we at RBM are trying to do a balance of both, instead of just low quality which we’ve only done in the past.  Content Marketing is more prevalent than ever for SEO.

When I say balance of both, I mean specifically, we think not only about the long term content marketing process and building links through engagement, outreach and content production, but also ways that we can acquire good quality links in the short term that help increase authority and relevance immediately.  Good quality links don’t always have to come in the form of an embedded link within a content piece.  There are many ways we can ACTIVELY build links without violating Google’s quality standards.  I think with the craze of content marketing has also come an “either or” mentality, that if you’re not building content marketing links and engagement links exclusively through a purely organic process, you must be violating Google’s quality guidelines and therefore putting your clients at risk.

Throughout all the major updates (Panda, Vince, Penguin, etc) in the last 3 years, none of our clients have taken a hit in traffic or rankings, but in fact have continued to improve and win in their niches and I think that says a lot about our strategic approach and delivery of service.

John Cass:  Just to circle back, we’d give extra points for a company gaining links for social engagement outreach. If you spammed a lot of blogs to get links, Google would be able to register your activity and you'd get dinged, but if links stayed, and were related to a topic, you'd get an advantage. How precisely would a Parakeet algo change work with regards to linking, but still retain the advantage of links?

John Schulenburg: Google’s moving in the right direction I think but it’s going to take a long time to undo/change the fundamentals of their search algo. A simple update like Penguin or Panda won’t do the job.

This is a question for a Google engineer and I’m probably just as curious as you on that topic. Unfortunately, I have no insight to how/what they may be thinking.  I know in theory that we’d like to see social signals and a more in depth algo with regards to engagement, but from an engineering perspective, that’s a really complicated question on the mechanics. 

Linking is deeply engrained in the search algorithm and basing rankings on social/engagement data versus link metrics is tantamount to rewriting the algo from the ground up.  Just my opinion. What we’re talking about is a total upending of the basic structure of search algo (structuring rankings based on engagement  and social signals rather than quality/quantity of links), and I totally agree that we need it, but Google is still a long way from this.  I remember specifically grilling our Google reps and engineers on this very topic at a recent Google summit in their SF offices.

The algo is fundamentally built around links so A LOT would have to change.  Another problem with Google is the exclusion of any social signals (twitter/facebook) other than Google+. At this time, I think the fact that we don’t have a true ORGANIC approach to measuring social in search (only measuring G+ signals), it presents an interesting opportunity/vacuum for someone else, maybe Bing, to fill in the coming years.