Correlation is not causation. You’ve read it and seen it everywhere when trying to understand how social media impacts SEO. To summarise what it means; there is a connection between social media presence and the ranking of your website from Google’s algorithm, however it is not the cause for said ranking.
The reason why something is popular on both platforms is because of the content itself rather than the ranking on social media in terms of likes and/or tweets.
This has been confirmed numerous amounts of times from Google employees but was actually stated by the former head of the web spam team at Google, Matt Cutts. He stated that “Google treats Facebook and Twitter like any other website in terms of search but not as a ranking factor”.
People love asking this question to Google employees over and over. Two years later, one of Google’s webmaster trends analyst’s, Gary Illyes was asked the same question. His reply simply retweeted Cutt’s video with the caption; the short version is no.
So then how does social media impact SEO? Google may have stated that their algorithm and social signals aren’t linked but social media still has many benefits for improving a company’s SEO.
Traffic and links
According to Moz the most important factor in Google’s algorithm is inbound links. The more links you have to your website the more credible it appears and in turn your ranking is higher.
With social media you have the option to share, like and comment on posts. These don’t correlate directly but the traffic does. The more shares on social media it has, the more likely people are to see it and then link back to your website. If you have created quality content that is popular and then shared, many other websites are most likely to link and share it as well.
Social media acts as a traffic controller that directs incoming traffic to your official website. When bloggers and journalists are looking at your article they will reference your actual website rather than your social media post. This influx of traffic improves your organic search ranking which leads to greater credibility from search engines.
To fully utilise traffic and links, you need to produce your own quality content. Having a blog on your own website does amazing things for the search engine optimisation of your website alone. If it is high quality content that is shared onto other platforms such as social media, you are more likely to have it linked by others and to attract more attention.
Audience and awareness
Social media is great at capturing an audience and developing brand awareness. During the second quarter of 2016 alone just under a quarter of the total world’s population was an active user on Facebook. The raw number of people is enough to get any business onto the platform.
The worldwide reach and simplicity of sharing makes social media a strong starting point to gain brand awareness and create an audience. Due to the numbers and how easy it is, there is a lot of competition so you need to be active if you want to out rank the millions of sites out there.
Building an audience and having strong brand awareness also helps with your click through rate on Google’s search results. If you were to search Google for surf brands you would be given a huge list of results. However you are more likely to click on the website that you are more familiar with such as Quicksilver over other less known brands.
It may seem snobby but it is what consumers do. Having a strong brand awareness and audience through social media will affect your click through rate and then in turn your SEO ranking.
Search engine results
When searching for a particular product or service you are hit with a number of results on the SERP (Search Engine Results Page). If you have an established social media presence that is visited frequently it can also appear on the SERP. This is huge advantage over competitors as you take up potential spaces that they could have.
Say you have a potential client that is looking for a service that your brand specialises in. Rather than having multiple brands appear, the consumer is instead greeted with your brand multiple times with links to all your social media pages across different platforms. This gives you a large control of the market if your brand awareness and social media presence is there.
When people are searching for new brands they tend to go to their social media pages first for a more genuine feeling. Taking this into consideration can vastly affect your standings. Having your brand familiar across all social media channels gives it the greatest chance in gaining more traffic and to beat out the competition.
The search engine
When people think about SEO they go straight to Google and their algorithm. However there are other search engines with a share in the market.
Worldwide market control of top 4 search engines:
- Google 92%
- Bing 3%
- Yahoo 2%
- Baidu 2%
This data accounts for worldwide usage across all devices. Tailoring your social media and SEO to your region’s most used search engine is vital. For example Baidu has a 2% market control worldwide but in China has 70% of the market. Efforts focused for Google in China are less effective than other means.
Tailoring your efforts to multiple search engines has added benefits. As previously mentioned, Google doesn’t take into social signals for its ranking system, however Bing does. Half of the world’s population are currently users on the internet. Appealing to Bing’s 2% is roughly 72 million people. That is an obscene amount of people who can be influenced by your social media presence directly.
Just because social signals are only correlated with Google, they are actual causation with Bing. When you start your social media marketing strategy it won’t limited to just one search engine. It takes all of the potential engines into consideration, giving the benefits that all offer.
Google says that social signals mean nothing for them now but that may change in the future. As social media continues to grow and shows no sign of slowing down, Google may soon adopt social signals. Brands and companies that already have strong social media presence will become stronger due to their SEO.
In that sense social media presence can be seen as an investment. It still is working and beneficial for other search engines, but if Google adopts it you could end up with a huge pay out.
Non-traditional search engines
As the internet changes so does our SEO attempts. Companies and brands are now urged to take into consideration social search engines when developing any strategies or plans.
Before taking to traditional search engines such as Google and Bing, they check out reviews and videos from Facebook and YouTube first.
Branching out into multiple platforms has already been recommended but where exactly should you focus your efforts? Finding the right platform for you is essential in the first steps of social media marketing.
Users in millions of top social media sites as of September 2017:
- Facebook 2,061
- YouTube 1,500
- Instagram 700
- Twitter 328
The users and search results that social media pages process is higher than most search engines. Expanding your concept of SEO past traditional search engines can pay off dividend down the track. Being equipped to answer questions and queries for your clients through social media can make SEO a breeze.
How location is shaping social media searches
A common practice for a lot of people is to check businesses in their vicinity. You may have seen this yourself when you search for a restaurant and “near me” appears as a suggestive search. This arises as search engines have noticed the influx of geographical searches and now use it in their rankings as well.
A platform that prioritises location is the review platform Yelp. It is a database of reviews for restaurants that categorises location over anything else. With many people reviewing and talking about your services, it is more likely to appear in search results. With location being added to the equation, more geographical based SERPs will appear for businesses in the area.
To ensure that your business is best equipped for this trend, make sure that all location information is up to date across all platforms and is correct. Irregular data for multiple addresses and phone numbers can be penalised giving you less entries on the SERP.
To summarise, Cutt’s statement that social signals don’t affect Google rankings shouldn’t be seen as an excuse to not have a social media strategy in place when addressing SEO. Rather marketers and businesses alike should broaden their concept of SEO and the role that social media can have when determining your websites traffic and ranking.
Social media only brings benefits to businesses with more traffic, larger brand awareness and an increase in the audience reached and created. The platform is showing no signs of slowing down either so it’s only up from here.
Who knows where the future will take social media and SEO but as other search engines take social signals into their rankings the real question to ask is when Google will finally jump on the growing trend.
What do you think about just how much social media impacts SEO? Let us know in the comments section below, we would love to hear from you!
Kieran is the Social Media Manager and SEO Expert at SEO Shark. He is an expert in Social Media, link building, PPC and of course SEO. In his time off work Kieran enjoys reading and playing rugby, as well as following all kinds of sports! You can read some more of his articles here.