The two worlds of search engine optimisation (SEO) and social media started out as completely separate entities. One was a key tool utilised to drive traffic to websites through clever and canny techniques that only the smartest of professionals could master. The other was social media.
Yet as the passing of time has occurred, there has been a blurring of the lines between SEO and what the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube can offer online marketers. The tide was always going to turn away from traditional means of brand awareness, but it took some enterprises longer than others to act on this transition.
In the most basic of terms, the sheer scope and popularity of social media has driven search engines such as Google to change their internal systems and scaling of priorities. Just as public libraries did with introducing WiFi for customers, there is a need to adapt to a new landscape rather than sticking to a static mode of operation.
Given the millions of domestic users and billions globally tapping into their social media apps on an hourly basis, it was imperative that this traffic was classified as organic rather than manufactured. Clicks from Facebook posts and tweets were once considered secondary, but the people had spoken – this was how content was going to be shared and consumed from this point forward.
The knock-on effect created a symbiotic relationship between the two – seeing the two internet giants Google and Facebook working on strategies to enhance their reach and set user guidelines for the future. It is no coincidence that SEO and social media today go hand-in-hand with each other as algorithm changes continue to tie the bond.
So how has this practically born itself out? Just how has social media managed to leave a lasting imprint on our search engine optimisation practices and what lessons can we learn from this ongoing development?
Here we will explore the exact influence of social media on SEO.
The ease of linking
One of the central pillars that underpinned the entire concept of SEO was authoritative backlinks. By creating hyperlinks from respected and authorised sources, search engines could then verify that your domain was tapped into the trends and recognised authorities within a segment of the market.
For social media, linking was a by-product of sharing information. From Facebook posts to tweets, Instagram and YouTube links – these were the modes of pushing external content to the masses.
Now we have established a scenario whereby sites are ranked more by the amount of shares they can achieve as opposed to the likes and follows, an indication that the backlinking philosophy that began the SEO excursion has been mimicked by social media agents.
Put simply, online marketers strive daily to score clicks from links to boost their ranking. The size of the social media landscape is too vast to ignore and an incredibly efficient means of gaining that all important traffic.
With 1.57 billion active monthly users and over 30 million daily users, it is any wonder that YouTube stands head and shoulders above any other online video streaming service. To go above and beyond that niche, this brand is in the upper echelon for social media platforms given their subscription and user rates around the globe.
Why YouTube is a standalone entity when we are talking about social media’s impact on SEO is the element of the search engine. While it is the least commercial in terms of keywords to focus more on the entertainment angle, it is a valuable asset in helping to engage traffic with branded content.
Google and Bing recognise the power of video over plain text and YouTube stands out as a vehicle for enterprises to make clever messaging targeted at their particular consumer base. Sites that can pack together videos as part of their campaign rank higher for their inclusion of multimedia content, giving the crawlers added avenues to locate keywords and target their social signals.
Bottom line – YouTube integration is a win-win for companies that want to have customers finding and staying on their site longer, all the while boosting their search engine rankings.
Pages/profiles are communities
Before the dawn of social media, how could companies contact their current customers? Email, home calls, texts and letters were the only real avenues organisations could utilise to communicate a sale, an update or a message to their base. Emails are still well and truly worth their weight in gold for particular niches, yet they don’t incorporate the wider landscape in 2018.
Today, social media pages provide an active extension of this same principle. Leveraging the 15 million active monthly Facebook users in Australia with the 15 million for YouTube, 4.2 million for LinkedIn and 3 million for Twitter, brands have to go and push their message proactively where the people are. It is not good enough to garner an aesthetically pleasing, user-friendly website and expect the traffic to come stopping by in their droves.
What a social media page/account can curate is a community of people who are either regular customers, prospective customers, competitors and curious onlookers who are all tapping into your content. From blog posts to news articles, polls, give away’s and sales, podcasts, testimonials, how-to guides, PDFs, interviews and more – you are feeding into a cycle that builds on your brand awareness and scores hits from a source who you know to be interested in the product.
What’s more, social media applications have followed in the footsteps of inventions like Google Analytics to enable brands to alter their content depending on the traffic habits of their base. Facebook Insights is a great example of this, showcasing up-to-the-minute data on followers for their click-through rates, age and geographic information and capacity to share.
The great challenge of SEO marketers is to balance two key strategies:
- Tick the boxes that are tracked by search engines on metrics including keywords, multimedia usage, quality links etc.
- Garner an increasing amount of traffic from trusted and organic sources
Social media proves to be number one on the second agenda item, delivering a crowd of users who are constantly tapping into their smartphones and checking their timelines.
Consider any logo or brand name in the world. What comes to mind first? It will be those that make themselves most visible and known to the general public through any and all means possible.
Take note of Apple, Starbucks, Samsung, Toyota, Nike, Bunnings, Just Jeans and Dolce & Gabbana – all prominent and aggressive in pushing their agenda, message and brand.
This is what we talk about when the term “brand awareness” emerges. It sounds simple, but that is because the principles that make it effective are basic in their application.
Social media hubs are therefore able to facilitate locations and popular hotspots that feeds into this phenomenon. By having a presence across a variety of platforms, they suddenly create multiple indexes that we recognise as brand awareness, but search engines consider them as portals to crawl for on an SEO basis.
A hair stylist based in Surry Hills for example can garner followers on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Rather than being ranked on pure numbers of followers and likes, it is the consistency of the on-brand messaging that drives SEO performance.
In that respect, Google is a lot like us. They respond to brands that stay on message and create marketing campaigns that cut-through their own niche. There are few better outlets to achieve this target than social media.
Local SEO boom
Earlier we identified a symbiotic relationship between Google and Facebook where algorithms have been mirrored each other to meet the demands of the modern marketplace. The same can be said of smartphones, seeing search engine behaviour, social media apps and mobiles all merge through a variety of interactions.
In this respect, the historical context does not matter. Whether the chicken (social media) came before the egg (smartphone) or vice versa in the popularity stakes, the drive towards handheld devices and away from standard desktops has changed how society interacts with their searching activity.
As many decried the decrease in the organic local economy towards globalised entities that accumulated all the business, now the smartphone has given the power back to corner stores and rural postcodes.
The active searchers on Google are more active and far likelier to walk into a store and make a purchase than their desktop counterparts. The rise in local searches has since switched the game for Google, who alterations in prioritising mobile searches has boosted the status of local brands.
The role of social media is no coincidence. Facebook and Instagram’s location tool has been integral to their operating system for years. Building on this momentum is the rise in user-generated sites like Yelp and shared economy apps including Airbnb and Uber – each one ensuring that search engines are categorising their SERPs (search engine results pages) based on local SEO.
Social media does not have a direct correlation to SEO performance. The amount of likes and shares are pointless in the context of the click-through rate, with this being the central metric to boosting your Google rank.
What we can deduce is the indirect benefits of social media pages driving a strong consumer base and accelerating the necessity of generating traffic from an organic source.
That is just examining this topic purely from the perspective of Google and the SEO lens. Some new marketers on the scene who swear by the power of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube believe that social media is a powerful enough marketing entity in its own right, relegating the search engine ranking to a secondary priority.
This is not a widely held belief, but it illustrates just how influential social media has become in the business world.