Research Social

Social in the SERPs: How the Social Networks Appear in the Search Results for the World’s 500 Top Tech Writers

A version of this article originally appeared in Search Engine Watch on February 28th, 2012.

Considerable attention has recently been paid in the search industry to Google’s Search Plus Your World’. The release, which went live January 10th, has shaken up the SERPs, as Google has begun mixing in Google + results with greater frequency.  If much of the coverage is to be taken at face value, brand queries (both corporate and personal) have been among those most impacted by the change, presumably because Google has ‘deeper Google+ knowledge’ of brands than it does for other queries.

The discussion around the increased emphasis of Google+ in the SERPs has also brought with it some controversy around other social networks in the SERPs (such as Twitter and Facebook), and questions as to what Google does and does not have crawler access to.

To get a better sense of how Google treats all social networks in the SERPs for personal brand queries, we analyzed the search rankings for Robert Scoble’s five hundred most influential technology blog writers.  And, let’s be honest, we were also curious to see how social networks appear in the SERPs for a group of well-known writers in the tech community.

For those not familiar with Robert Scoble, he is the Startup Liaison Officer at hosting and cloud computing provider, Rackspace.  His job entails closely following the startup tech industry, as he has vociferously done – since his time as a blogger and then as Microsoft’s Technology Evangelist from 2003-2006. Scoble is widely considered to be an authoritative voice in the technology industry.

Social Network Appearances in the SERPs Tracked

In February of 2012, we extracted Scoble’s list from Twitter and entered 465 names into Conductor’s SEO Platform. The balance did not have their real name listed on their Twitter account and we could not determine their identity from their Twitter handle.  (A cautionary tale for personal brand development—if you are a tech personality who benefits from having your name out there, make sure your social media accounts are clearly identifiable.)

We asked two things of the platform. First, using the tech blogger names as keywords, we measured the appearance of social networks in the search results.

We looked at the following social networks:

  • Facebook
  • Google+
  • LinkedIn
  • Myspace
  • Pinterest
  • Quora
  • Twitter
  • Youtube

We then tracked the tech blogger names in terms of appearances in the SERPs, looking for domains that appear most often.

Google+ on Page One 1/3rd of the Time, Rarely in Prime Visibility Positions

Twitter showed up on page one of the search results most often, appearing there for 91 percent of the tech writers we analyzed.  The caveat is that Scoble published the top 500 tech writers as a Twitter list of usernames, suggesting that those that made his top 500 list had a Twitter account.  Yet, despite something of a self-selection bias for our sample group, its members having a Twitter account is no guarantor of where in the SERPs we can expect to see Twitter appear.

Our analysis showed Twitter held prime visibility positions for our group with 6 out of 10 (62%) of Twitter’s page one showings were prime visibility positions (position 1-3), the most of any of the social networks analyzed.

When it came to Google+, while we cannot say for certain what percentage of the group did or did not have a Google+ account, Google’s fledgling social network appeared on page one for one-third (33%) of writers analyzed, yet only 5 percent of those appearances were in position 1-3. (Our data was collected as a ‘logged out Google user’.  Searchers who are logged-in may, of course,  see different results tailored to their own social networks, but based on industry reports of visits that are ‘[not provided]’  ~75% of users are still surfing the web while logged out.)

Interestingly, and perhaps surprisingly for some readers, while not a pure social network, question-answer site Quora had more page one appearances than Google + (37%) and far more of their appearances were in position 1-3 (36%). While 52 percent of authors had a Facebook result on page one, only a slightly greater percentage than Google + (8%) were in position 1-3

Readers may also be surprised to discover despite its lack of social media mindshare, if our group is any indicator, MySpace is still hanging on in the search results for personal brand queries, appearing on page one for nearly 20 percent of tech writers analyzed.

Despite the considerable editorial ink many of the writers have themselves given to Pinterest, few are using it, or Google is not surfacing it to page one as our analysis showed it does not appear on page one at all.

Social Networks Appearing on Page One of Google Search

No Sites Dominate the SERPs, New York Times and Tech News Sites Appear Most Often

When we remove social networks from the equation and analyze the tech writers’ appearances in the top five search positions, no one site or group of sites dominated the search results: there was no site that appeared in the top five positions more than 10 percent of the time.  Analysis of the sites shows the New York Times leading, with 8 percent of tech writer names in which they are in the top five, and the remainder of the sites comprised of tech sites we’d expect to see rank consistently for top tech writers – such as Techcrunch, ZDnet and Mashable.

(Note: Not shown: Wikipedia 33%)

authors domains appearing in top 5

Conclusion: Twitter and LinkedIn Highly Visible for Personal Brand Queries; Google + Moderate Visibility

If our sample group of today’s top tech writers is any indication, Twitter and LinkedIn are the social networks grabbing the most visibility in the SERPs when it comes to personal brand queries—both in terms of page one appearances and in terms of top visibility positions on the page.  While we don’t know for certain what percentage of our group have signed up for a Google+ account, the data suggests that for non-logged-in users, Google+ results are not dominating the SERPs for personal brand queries both in terms of frequency and position on page one.  It will be interesting to see if, over time, other social networks such as Google + and the white-hot Pinterest become increasingly visible for personal brand searches in the SERPs.

Banner image via The Drum

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