How Do Social Media Signals Affect SEO?

At one time, keywords were pretty much the main component of a webpage that boosted SEO (and in a lot of ways, this remains true). However, Google and other search engines are constantly striving to make searches as relevant as possible for their web users, and to do this, they frequently add new elements to their respective ranking algorithms.

Many marketers were—and still are—confident that one such feature of this mystical algorithm takes into account signals from social media. However, former head of Google’s Web Spam Team, Matt Cutts, put the kibosh on this theory in a Google Webmasters video back in 2014. The essence of his statement was this: metrics such as Facebook likes and Twitter followers don’t actually affect SEO.

Then again, he also started out by noting, “Facebook and Twitter pages are treated like any other pages in our web index, and so if something occurs on Twitter or occurs on Facebook and we’re able to crawl it, then we can return that in our search results.”

This contradiction confused many marketing gurus, and rightfully so, especially when data consistently shows a correlation between high performing content on social media, site traffic, and often search ranking. To the disappointment of many, Cutts wrapped up the video by expressing, “This is correlation, not causation… The better content you make, the more people are going to like it not only in Google, but in Twitter and Facebook as well.”

Mixed Signals

For years, marketers and advertisers have been operating under the assumption that their search ranking could be improved by producing high-quality social media content. Even Cutts himself said in an earlier video from 2010, “We do use Twitter and Facebook links in ranking as we always have in our web search rankings.”

So what the hell is going on here? Is Google just hitting the on and off switch on social signals?

Here is where we believe the miscommunication is happening: Google crawls websites in finite periods of time. This means that when Google crawls websites, content is indexed in that current form until the page is crawled again.

This gap between what is, and what was on a individual’s or business’s profile is precisely why search engine developers are weary of using social signals as an indicator of ranking. The real problem arises when it comes to accurately identifying the information on a profile when it’s changing so frequently and precisely following that user’s latest privacy settings, such as blocking someone, untagging oneself from photos and statuses, or changing a relationship status. Because of this issue, Google has avoided fully integrating social media signals as a direct component of their search ranking.

Moreover, when Google does crawl and index a specific post, the link included within that content will be assigned a “nofollow” attribute which instructs search engines to omit this hyperlink when determining a site’s ranking value. There are reasons for omission.

Think about this for a moment: on September 30, 2017 Facebook mentioned they hit 2.07 billion monthly active users. Moreover, Facebook kicked off 2017 with a staggering 65 million local business pages, according to Geo Marketing. Essentially, this means that there is a lot of information being produced, profile changes being made, and links to analyze.

This is not to say, however, that posting on social media doesn’t indirectly help boost your site’s authority or that Google won’t add social posts to their ranking down the line. For instance, on February 4, 2015, Bloomberg broke the news about a new deal struck between Google and Twitter, which gave Google the ability to list tweets in search results.

So Is It Possible to Boost SEO with Social Media?

Ethos Search Results.JPG

We’re confident social media can indirectly boost your SEO for several reasons. First, as stated above, Google is indexing tweets and listing them in search results. While this indexation is limited (research from Stone Temple found that only 3.4% of tweets were indexed in a seven day period) and followers seem to have a significant impact on what percentage of your tweets get indexed (profiles with a million followers have about five times more tweets indexed than those with less than ten thousand followers), the fact that this content can appear in search results is reason enough to keep your Twitter account up to date.

Secondly, if someone searches for your name directly in Google, your social media profiles will often appear in the search results. This will allow your business to take up significantly more real estate on page one.

Third, you can increase the amount of unique visitors to your website when you post on social media. Both Moz and Cognitive SEO did some preliminary research to see if site traffic volume made a difference in SEO and the results showed positive gains. Although the longevity of the results was lackluster, both Rand Fishkin (Moz) and Razvan Gavrilas (Cognitive SEO) did something unique in their experiments: they asked their followers not to click a link, but to search in Google.

Basically, they asked their audience to type in a specific search term into Google. After a couple hundred hits, this direct traffic gave them a significant boost in search ranking, two to three ranks higher as a matter of fact. Though the impact was short lived, this experiment does show that exposure on social media could potentially lead to a better ranking in search results.

Build a Great Audience with Exceptional Content

While we don’t necessarily recommend that you ask your social following to search for your site directly in Google, Fishkin and Gavrilas point out something fundamental about the relationship between SEO (damn, we’re about to use a cliché): content is still king.

Remember, the better your content, the more people will like it--and not just in Google, but on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media platforms as well. Because Fishkin and Gavrilas both consistently produce exceptional content for their audience, people are willing to follow their call to action (CTA) simply because they enjoy, learn, and trust the material they post.

Right Back to Content

As of early 2018, we at Ethos Copywriting can confidently say there is no direct relationship between social media and SEO. However, there is an indirect relationship between social media metrics and search ranking that’s rooted in one simple premise: high-quality content will boost your ranking.

If social media is a part of your SEO strategy, know that it won’t hurt your marketing efforts, but you’re going to be measuring results through correlations, not causations. That being said, if people enjoy your content and appreciate your quality standard, this will only increase the likelihood of them returning to your site.

If you’re interested improving your SEO, content marketing strategy, conversion strategy, or social media presence, click the button below to contact us today. If you’re just here for a good read, leave us a comment to tell us what you thought.