One of the reasons that Google is the leader in the search engine provision is their ability to provide the most relevant and up to date information. They change the way they rank websites with a complex algorithm, which is continually being updated and tweaked.
So how does social media fit into this algorithm? What are ‘nofollow’ links, and can you use social media to help with the overall rankings of your website?
Why do we want links?
One of the key techniques for making your website rank highly in the search engines is to get other sites to link to yours. This adds to its ‘popularity’ or page rank. One widely used metaphor for this is "link juice": if lots of websites are linking to yours you have lots of link juice flowing into your site. Conversely if you have lots of links out of your website this link juice will flow out of your site. The aim is to keep as much of this link juice in your site to improve your page rank. Outbound links, as they are known, are not necessarily a bad thing, provided they are pointing to good quality websites which are relevant, because this is a strong indication that your own website is also of high quality - just don't have too many. You also need to make sure you have plenty of inbound links to your site as well, again, from relevant, good quality websites, as again, this indicataes that your website is an important one.
What are “nofollow” links?
These are links that webmasters use to prevent link juice flowing out of their site. It tells the search engines not to follow the link. The aim is to keep all that link juice in, and help their own rankings, rather than other people's. For this reason NOFOLLOW links are used on many of the popular social media sites.
Do Google count these ‘nofollow’ links?
There are claims and some evidence to suggest that Google have been ignoring the ‘nofollow’ tag for trusted websites such as Facebook and Wikepedia, meaning that these links may count after all. The extent of this is hard to determine without back to back scientific testing of several sites, but in Google's own words ‘In general, we don’t follow them’ definitely leaves scope for them to pick and choose the ‘nofollow’ links they will and will not count.
Private and public Facebook pages
It is important to note that any website that is password protected eg. Forums or your personal Facebook page with security settings enabled, cannot be crawled by Google. These links will not count towards rankings.
Overall, Google do use some signals from these social sites as part of their overall ranking algorithm. We recommend that you do not ignore social media and nofollow links as part of your overall ranking/link building strategy. You will be ahead of the game if you can get as many links as you can from a variety of sites, including nofollow and social media links.
When Google analyse the links pointing to your site, they are looking for natural patterns, which should include a number of ‘nofollow’ links. And whether or not they help your position in the search engine rankings, don’t discount that these links can add great value to your business by generating well targeted traffic to your site.
Where do Google fit in?
Google Analytics now also reports on social media, tracking visitors to your website across social networks including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, TripAdvisor and of course their very own Google+. So the indications are that Google are paying increasing attention to social media and are in all likelihood using this data in their algorithms to help assess a website's page ranking Undoubtedly Google+ will be a big part of this as time goes on, although for now Google insist that Google+ accounts are not prioritised over other networks.
In concllusion, given that this is Google, and that they are notorious for keeping their algorithms top secret, there is no way of telling just how influential your social media activity is on your web rankings. So all we can surmise is that, however big or small a role it plays, social media is important, and is only likely to become more so.