Are Social Signals Relevant To Search Engine Optimization In 2015?

social-signals-seo-ranking-factor-2015If you are looking to have your website stand out among the rest in the huge space that is the Internet, one good method is to incorporate social signals.  The traffic that hits the popular social media sites is massive, and if you can get just a tiny piece of those visitors learning about and visiting your website, you could see a huge increase in your website visitors.

For those that are not sure what social signals are and how they might affect search, lets break it down really quick.  On a lot of sites, you may notice little icons that have images of Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, etc.  These buttons are meant for people who visit your website and want to share it with other people who might also enjoy your site.  Typically if someone were to click on the Facebook button, it would prompt the user to share the specific website or page on that persons Facebook wall.  When someone shares, your website or just a page from your website, that counts as a social signal.  The same holds true for when people share your content on other social media sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Yelp, Reddit, Pinterest, and Google+.  Other social signals include Facebook likes, Google +1’s, and Twitter re-tweets, should you have an active Twitter account.

Now that you have more of an understanding about what social signals are, I am pretty sure you can see how they can drive tons of traffic to your website.  When people like and share your content, all of their friends and followers are potentially informed about your website via social media.  If they then visit your page and like or share it, your website is then shared with all of their friends and followers.  I am sure you have seen some stuff on Facebook which has over a million shares, or a million likes.  Imagine the amount of traffic that those websites that created the viral content received just from social media traffic!

Now for the question, does social signals impact your search engine optimization results?  Will getting likes, shares, re-tweets, and pins really effect the way your site ranks in the search results?  We spoke to James Green, a Sacramento SEO consultant regarding his testing with social signals.  Mr. Green stated “Social signals is definitely a ranking factor for websites in the search results.  It is not the only ranking factor, but it does play a role in the way the algorithms are ranking sites today.”  When it comes to which social signals appear to be the strongest right now, it seems that Facebook shares, as well as certain Twitter re-tweets are making a strong impact on website rankings.  Google no doubt utilizes social signals from their own social network, Google+ when it comes to analyzing websites.  Are the Google+ social signals the end all be all though?  Our testing has shown that Google +1’s and Google+ Shares are not huge ranking factors as of yet though.  As Google+ is not as large and popular as Facebook and Twitter, it would appear that those social signals hold a bit more weight currently.  The thing to be conscious of though, Google crawls Facebook and Twitter constantly, however they can only index content that people make publicly available.  If a user has privacy enabled on their profiles and are sharing your content, the crawlers will not find it as only those who are friends or followers will be able to see the likes or shares.

If you listen to what Google and other search engines are saying, they really don’t make a reference to social signals as being a ranking factor.  In 2014, Google’s Matt Cutts stated “Facebook and Twitter pages are treated like any other pages in our web index…to the best of my knowledge we don’t currently have any signals in our search ranking algorithms.”  Whether or not you believe what Google spokesmen says or not, you can only verify the results by doing your own testing.

In the end, it is really only the geniuses who control the search engine algorithms that really know what is and what is not a ranking factor.  The search engines keep that information as confidential as possible, and you can be sure that if a spokesman for a search company comes out and says one thing, the other might actually be true.  The ranking factors are a search engines bread and butter for displaying relevant and non-manipulated results.  If the algorithms were made public, everyone would be ranking their poor websites at the top of the search engine and nobody would really find the content they were looking for.  It is in the search engines best interest to keep all of the metrics in their algorithm out of the public’s reach, even if that includes spreading misinformation.

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Huge WordPress XSS Vulnerability Discovered

Wordpress-XSS-VulnerabilityWordPress recently released version 4.2.1 to correct a huge cross site scripting (XSS) vulnerability that was discovered.  WordPress for those who are unfamiliar is a content management script that millions of people use to create websites and blogs.  The XSS vulnerability discovered could have allowed attackers to take full control of a vulnerable websites web server.  The attack code that was released was so new that it affected the latest full release of WordPress 4.2, which was released last week.

The way these XSS bugs work is that they allow an attacker to inject code into the content that is normally received by the site admins.  The two attacks that were released both embed malicious code into a vulnerable sites comment section.  By default, comments exist on all pages and posts within a WordPress site.  Once the malicious code is injected into the site, an attacker basically can become an administrator of the WordPress site.  The attacker can create new admin accounts, change passwords, and pretty much destroy the website.

What’s worse is an attacker may be able to run code against the actual web server once they have gained WordPress admin rights.  Using the build in theme editor, an attacker could change the WordPress files to execute code against the web server.  Normally an attacker would need to either get shell access or FTP access to modify files on a web server.  Due to the file editing features built into WordPress, this is no longer the case with this vulnerability.

The attack is basically a buffer overflow whereby an attacker can inject JavaScript as a comment and then add a huge amount of text exceeding the 64,000 kb buffer.  Once the comment is processed by a WordPress admin, the code is executed and the site is compromised without any warning to the site administrators.  By default someone would need to have at least one comment approved in order for the comment to go live.  It is possible to set all comments to be auto approved if an administrator so chooses.  Alternatively, an attacker can use an automated tool to post thousands of comments to sites that are generic in hopes that one of them get approved.  Once that first round of comments is submitted, the attacker can send a second wave of comments with the malicious code in which case if a previous comment was manually approved, the second comment would automatically get approved and execute the malicious script.

This site, along with many others on the Internet rely on WordPress.  As soon as WordPress 4.2.1 was made public, we were quick to update our site.  With the later released of WordPress, minor revision updates are automatically applied to WordPress sites after a short period of time.  If you are still running an older version of WordPress it is important that you update to at least version 4.2.1 to ensure that your site is not vulnerable to this recent XSS bug.