There is a common assumption when discussing digital marketing that Social Media directly contributes to a site’s SEO, but how true is this?
The debate about the influence of Social Media on search ranking is long-standing. However, Google has officially declared Social Media is not an element of SEO ranking with John Mueller (Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google) stating back in 2015 that social signals do not directly impact a site’s rank (Search Engine Journal). Arguably, this is likely to be because Social Media followers can be bought and likes and comments are recognised as vanity metrics.
It is important to note Social Media signals however are a key ranking factor within the Bing algorithm.
Bing states that they use social shares to understand a page’s popularity and make clear social signals are a key ranking factor (Search Engine Journal).
Google = Treats Facebook and Twitter pages like any other indexed pages.
Bing = Social signals are a key ranking factor. Search results will show you your Facebook friends’ and Twitter followers’ ratings of different businesses.
For the purpose of this blog post, we focus on the relationship between Social Media and SEO for Google since it is the most widely used search engine (between June 2019 and June 2020, Google saw 91% of the world’s search share, with Bing coming in second with 2.7% (Adzooma0).
Social Media can impact SEO but the impact happens indirectly because the links a site shares across various Social Media platforms and the practice of social sharing helps with ranking performance. Social sharing helps a brand to acquire high-quality backlinks across numerous Social Media sites and these backlinks help to boost the brand’s overall page authority (HubSpot).
Social Sharing = the practice of sharing content from a website on a social media site or application
This, therefore, means Social Media only ‘directly’ impacts a brand’s visibility in Google search when:
Both SEO and Social Media correlate through social signals and these signals strengthen the factors Google does officially consider when ranking a site (Semrush). As a result, leveraging both SEO and Social Media strategies successfully can help brands gain traffic to their site from a variety of sources.
Social Signals = refer to a webpage’s collective shares, likes and overall social media visibility
When a brand’s post is shared further this not only increases visibility, improves traffic, but also helps to generate backlinks. Such signals notify Google that the brand’s content is credible and indirectly improves search rankings (Semrush).
One trend to keep an eye out for is the impact of Influencer Marketing on SEO. Influencer Marketing has the potential to impact SEO through its strength in generating natural, high-quality backlinks to a site. We already understand that backlinks are crucial for rankings but not all kinds of backlinks can work, they need to be high-quality and this is where Influencers can really help (Wordstream).
Additionally, Social Media will help to leverage future SEO strategies through its ability to help with social listening for keyword research content ideation (Sprout Social). With voice search on the rise, natural language research is more important than ever for SEO.
Social Listening = the process of monitoring social media channels for mentions of your brand, competitors, product, and more.
Since spoken queries are much longer and harder to predict than typed queries, it’s harder for SEO experts to optimize content for voice queries. Social listening on Social Media will improve SEO experts’ understanding of voice-driven search behaviour because many Social Media users adopt a more casual tone on these platforms compared to a pre-thought search engine query.
Ex-head of Google webspam Matt Cutts clearly summarises why the relationship between both SEO and Social Media often gets muddled – it is often a case of correlation being confused with causation:
“There was an SEO that said, OK, we see a lot of links on Facebook and those are the pages that rank well. But that’s correlation. That’s not causation. Instead it’s probably that there’s something really awesome, and because there’s something awesome, then it gets a lot of likes on Facebook and a lot of people decide to link to it.” (Like Mind Media)
Therefore, the overall quality of a site’s content remains to be one of the most important search ranking factors today. Nonetheless, just because Google currently does not consider Social Media to impact or to be an official key ranking factor for the Google algorithm, this doesn’t mean that it never will! Social Media shows no signs of becoming less important and influential for both brands and users in the future.