Social media and SEO are pillars of any digital marketing strategy and crucial to a brand’s online success but the relationship between the two has always been muddy. Do Facebook shares and retweets help improve organic ranking? Digital marketers have varying opinions about the impact social media has on SEO but one thing is clear, there is a way to make the relationship between the two beneficial.
Is Social Media an SEO Ranking Factor in Google?
No, social media is not a ranking factor for Google. In 2014 a statement from the Google head of web spam team Matt Cutts said that metrics like Facebook likes, Twitter followers, and frequency of posting were not signals that could always be crawled or indexed, and to his knowledge were not part of the ranking algorithm. Should be cut and dry right? Not exactly…
While there’s nothing from Google that states a direct relationship there’s ample evidence to show the correlation between social signals and organic rankings. Bing on the other hand explicitly states that social media signals are part of their ranking algorithm. According to Bing social media signals like shares and likes demonstrate positive engagement and that your followers share your content, which in turn creates positive signals for organic positioning within Bing search results.
Correlation vs Causation
Social media signals are not a direct ranking factor for Google so how exactly do social signals impact organic ranking? There’s ample evidence to show that social activities improve organic rankings, but it’s a bit complicated.
On average sites with higher organic rankings have a stronger social presence. Cognitive SEO conducted a large study that shows a strong link between the strength of social media activity and how well a site appears in organic search.
Studies like this are common and digital marketing experts almost all end up at the same conclusion; brands who show up higher in search results have a higher social media activity.
- Searchmetrics’ whitepaper that shows “the correlation between social signals and ranking position is extremely high“
- This study by respected UK SEO Matthew Woodward shows how “Social media has a huge impact on rankings & Google will always keep quality content at the top of search results.“
- A Hootsuite experiment showed “There is a positive correlation between social engagements and change in rank.”
None of this shows an exact cause and effect relationship for SEO ranking of course but it’s solid evidence that social media has at least some sort of impact on how sites rank organically.
How to Use Social Media With SEO
Just because Google says that there’s no direct relationship between SEO and social media doesn’t mean there’s not an indirect benefit. Social media is 100% worth undertaking as part of a digital marketing strategy and done right, it can have a massive impact on your brand’s organic rankings. Here are a few tips to leverage social media for organic visibility.
1. Post Regularly
By Google’s admission, they don’t (and can’t) always index every post and update on social channels but they get quite a bit of it. These posts in turn end up in search results around branded and even sometimes unbranded searches. This does a few things for SEO.
- Recent and relevant social media posts in search results when doing branded searches can increase CTR and drive users directly to relevant content.
- Social posts appearing in search results allow for users to immediately engage with relevant content and associate your brand with that content.
- Frequent posts can lead to a higher reach, impressions, and sharing. More sharing leads to more inbound links, which in turn leads to higher organic positions.
2. Optimize your Brands' Social Profiles for Search
While every social post may not make it into search results the profiles themselves almost always do. Your brand or personal bio should be relevant to the business while still being engaging enough to drive attention. Social media biographies should also include a relevant link to your business or conversion page. A website isn’t going to rise to the top of organic rankings on social media profile links alone, but even nofollowed links from social media can have a positive impact in aggregate.
3. Keep the Quality High
The whole “content is king” mantra has been beaten to death, revived, and bludgeoned into oblivion 10x over, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Content shared on your social media channels should be relevant to your audience, have engaging headlines, and solve a problem or present a solution to a user’s problem. Why does this matter for SEO?
- Quality content=more shares, retweets, likes, and engagements
- It improves brand recognition and drives branded searches, improving CTR from search results. CTR is a not a direct ranking factor, but like social signals, it can indirectly help.
- High-quality content that is shared with new audiences can substantially improve link opportunities.
4. Make Use of Social Media Audience Metrics
One of the most underutilized tools of social media platforms is the analysis of your followers. Knowing the interests, job titles, and industries of your audience allow you to create and share content that you know will likely resonate with them. Facebook Audience Insights and LinkedIn Follower Analytics provide insight into who’s following your brand and how they’re interacting with it. Investing time into understanding who follows you opens the door to creating new content and posting schedules designed to appeal directly to specific audiences. Not only does this drive social engagement, sharing, and (fingers crossed) new links, but it can also provide new ideas for pursuing organic content ideas and rankings.
Social media isn’t going to be the “magic bullet” that turns a failing SEO program around but it can absolutely bolster overall organic efforts and should be part of any serious digital marketing strategy. The strategies and execution methods of social media marketing and SEO align closely with each other and it’s relatively easy to marry the strategies.
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