Any company that invests time and resources into creating a web presence without make a parallel effort on developing social networks is seriously undermining its search engine ranking.

That’s because Google and Bing now serve search results on a per-person basis depending on the searcher’s social connections. So, if someone ‘likes’ a company Facebook page or follows its Twitter profile, that company’s site will feature higher in searches conducted by that person.

This development is a game changer in online marketing . Social networks are no longer focused purely on word of mouth marketing, they actually influence Google rankings. Gaining high ranking for any particular search term is now less important because results are influenced by the searcher’s social network connections and results will be different for each individual.

Now more than ever before, it’s imperative for brands and businesses to build large networks among target customer groups. Connecting with customers via as many networks as possible will significantly improve organic search among warm target audiences.

I ran my own test. I searched for ‘PR podcasts’ once logged into Google and then logged out. Logged in, For Immediate Release and Inside PR both ranked significantly higher, presumably because I follow the hosts of both shows on Twitter and am connected to them on Facebook.

The bottomline is this: social networks have now taken centre stage and should be now fully integrated into all marketing and communication strategies. Social networking is no longer just ‘nice to have’.