Social media, and social communication, in general, have dramatically evolved over the years. In its early days, many consider social as a different, separate, element of the ‘traditional’ internet: search engines (including Google) and websites. Nowadays, it’s no longer the case, as the internet itself has evolved to become more social, connecting everyone.
Nevertheless, the relation between social media and SEO has been one of the most debated topics in the search marketing and digital marketing worlds: will social signals help our SEO results? And vice versa.
The short answer is, fortunately, yes. But it reality it’s not that simple. In this article, we will learn about the long answer.
First, however, let us learn about the concept of ‘social signal’
What Actually Are Social Signals
In a nutshell, a social signal or social factor is any measurable activities happening on social media: a like, a share, a vote, a ‘follow’, and so on, that might be considered as a part of a ranking signal or ranking factor (factors that will affect your ranking on Google’s SERP).
In general, we can divide social signals into several different types:
- Social votes: Facebook likes, Instagram likes, LinkedIn votes, etc.
- Social mentions and posts: posts from your social media profiles and mentions from third-party accounts
- Social shares: pretty self-explanatory, shares and retweets
- Social Bookmarks: not pretty common today, but social bookmarks on sites like Digg and del.icio.us
- Comments: blog comments, YouTube comments, etc.
Whether these social signals are actually integrated and accounted for by the search engine ranking algorithms is the main subject of speculation. In the early 2010s, as social media climbed in popularity, Google basically confirmed that links from Facebook and Twitter (the popular social media networks back then) are accounted as a ranking factor.
However, more recently in 2014 and 2016, Google changed its stance and confirmed that while social is indeed accounted for SEO, social signals are not direct ranking signals. The most important thing to consider here is that social mentions and links in social media posts are not translated as ‘real’ backlinks/inbound links, while backlinks are still the most important SEO ranking factor.
Keep in mind, however, that no one really knows what’s exactly included in Google’s algorithm (unless you are a Google employee and even then, you might have signed an NDA). While Google (or to be more exact Google’s employees) has confirmed that social is not direct ranking factors, various studies have suggested that social performance still impact rankings in one way or another.
In short, pages with high numbers of social signals tend to also rank high on Google’s and other search engines’ SERPs. Why? Below we will discuss the reason.
How Social Media Helps SEO
To reiterate, links on and from social media profiles are not accounted as actual backlinks, and so we can safely answer that social signals are not a direct ranking factor. However, there are at least five ways how social media can help our SEO performance.
1. Social Media Exposure=More Potential Links
According to local SEO expert Mike, backlinks or inbound links are still the most important SEO ranking factors. However, the quality of the backlinks is now more important than quantity, and consistently getting links from high-quality, relevant sources is obviously a very difficult task.
With that being said, a good social media presence can translate to more backlinks.
The main idea is pretty simple: social media is now where people gather, with more than 3.7 billion daily active users. The more your content is being shared and circulated in social media networks, the higher the chance you’ll get linked by a relevant website.
Also, getting too many backlinks at any given time might result in a Google penalty, as Google might suspect you from doing a fraudulent link-building activity. When you get a lot of links and also get shared a lot on social media, Google can see this as a more natural phenomenon, preventing you from getting penalized.
To summarize, when someone shares your content on social media, it effectively amplifies the content’s reach and shortening the time to reach more audiences.
2. Building Your Audience and Community
You might have the best product and service out there, and you might have published the best possible content.
However, it won’t produce any significant value unless there’s an audience that actually knows about it. Today’s digital marketplace is really saturated, and simply putting a good product out there won’t cut it amidst all the noises.
On the other hand, brand prominence or brand authority is an important ranking factor: the more well-known your brand is, and the older your business is, the higher it will rank. For example, it’s fairly obvious that Apple will rank higher in any keywords related to smartphones and computers compared to a brand new computer manufacturing company.
With that being said, social media with its worldwide reach and the number of daily active users is a great place to build your online presence. With proper social media marketing, we can effectively reach out to our target audience and build a community. More social followers will also translate to a better organic click-through-rate.
3. Social Presence=Faster Indexation
Due to their popularity, it’s fairly obvious that Google and other search engines prioritized the major social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc.) really highly. Most likely, Google prioritizes these platforms higher than your own website’s crawl budget, even more, if your site is fairly new.
Ensuring your site gets crawled and indexed properly by Google (and the other search engines) is a very important aspect of SEO effort. If your site is not indexed, it won’t get ranked, period.
With that being said, if for example, we just publish a blog post on our site, sharing (posting) it on social media can allow the search engines to recognize this new content faster, so they can crawl and re-index your site accordingly.
Quicker indexation can translate to a faster climb to the top of the search engine’s SERP.
4. Improve User Engagement and Experience
Starting in 2016, Google has incorporated the use of Google Rankbrain, the AI-based algorithm. In essence, RankBain allows Google to properly measure metrics related to user engagement and user experience. As a result, UX metrics like average dwell time and bounce rate are now considered direct ranking signals.
For example, if you are already ranking fairly high on a certain keyword, but you get a low CTR, you might get demoted to a lower rank since Google will perceive that your content doesn’t meet the searcher’s search intent.
On the other hand, the longer the average user spends time on your site (longer dwell time), the more relevant and valuable your site will be perceived by Google, and thus it will rank higher.
With that being said, social media marketing allows us to reach the audience that is actually interested in our brand, product and/or service, and is more likely to invest more time with our content. This will improve dwell time, which will result in better SERP ranking.
5. Social Media to Build Relationships With Influencers
Again, we have established that the quality of the incoming backlinks is more important than quantity.
On the other hand, nowadays social media influencers—with their websites—are one of the most reliable and prominent sources to get these high-quality backlinks. Influencer marketing, as a part of social media marketing, is now one of the best approaches in getting backlinks and implementing off-page SEO optimizations in general.
Social media presence and engaging posts allow us to build lasting relationships with relevant influencers in your niche/industry. Engaging in their conversations by asking relevant questions and provide answers can be a very effective way to build relationships, while at the same time improving your social presence.
Having a proper social media strategy and exposure are necessary to build relevant relationships with influencers and get valuable backlinks in the process.
While social signals aren’t really accounted as direct ranking factors, there are still many different ways how social media performance can help SEO results, and vice versa.
Will Google include more social media signals in its ranking algorithms? Quite possibly, as social media becomes more matured, transparent and reliable.
Nevertheless, both social media and SEO are centered around one thing: content. Social media can help promote content and build an online presence, working together with SEO to achieve a similar objective.
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