If you want to see two Search Engine Optimization experts argue, ask them about the effects of social media on SEO. In 2010, Google and Bing both admitted they use social signals when ranking search results. Four years later, Matt Cutts claimed that Google no longer uses signals such as Twitter retweets or Facebook likes.
The stated reason is that social platforms like Twitter can (and did) block Google’s crawlers, making it an unreliable signal. However, mounting evidence shows that social media can help increase visibility on different search engines. The impact of social media on SEO is one of the most discussed topics in the marketing industry. Specifically, whether social media really helps your SEO efforts.
The short answer to the question of whether social media helps SEO is yes, but not in the ways you imagine. However, for the most part, SEO experts talk past each other with respect to social media. This is because there are several types of relationships between social media platforms and search engine optimization. Each helps SEO in a different way.
1. Social Signals
The most commonly discussed relationship is social signals such as Facebook “likes” or “shares” and Google Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) rankings. Time and time again, correlational studies have shown a strong connection between the two. However, correlational studies cannot show that social signals caused the rise in rankings.
What social signals can do is increase the visibility of a blog on a social media platform. As social signals accumulate, more and more people will have the chance to click through to the web page.
According to Google, traffic itself is not a ranking factor. However, backlinks from other websites are one of the most important ranking factors. This is important because there is only one way for your website to gain backlinks: a website owner or blogger must know the article exists (assuming you aren’t engaged in guest posting or other outreach link building methods).
Increasing traffic heightens the chances that one of these owners or bloggers will find your article and then create their own blog, which includes a backlink to you.
2. Social Profiles
Have you noticed that some of your recent Google searches have resulted in the appearance of social media profiles? This is because, as Matt Cut mentions in the video above, that Google crawls social media sites the way Google crawls regular sites.
This creates a chance for what is known as “SERP domination.”
Instead of taking up one place on the first page of Google rankings with your blog, social media profiles present the possibility of ranking for both your blog and your social profile. This makes it more likely that a user will click through to a page that is related to your business.
3. Social Backlinks
The importance of social backlinks to SEO is another area of contention. On one side, SEOs point to the fact that backlinks boost rankings and social media sites are crawled the same way that other sites are crawled.
Other SEOs point to the fact that social media backlinks are automatically considered “No Follow” by Google. Links with a “No Follow” attribute will not contribute PageRank to a website. The response to this is that social backlinks may contribute to other ranking factors such as brand signals.
At the same time, social backlinks create more avenues for traffic to flow to your blog. As mentioned earlier, this increases the chances of earning backlinks that do contribute “link juice” in the form of PageRank and other backlink-related factors.
4. Brand Signals
As early as 2012, Moz spokesman Rand Fishkin uncovered a potential ranking signal known as “co-citation.” Co-citation occurs when the same brand is mentioned on two different websites, but there is no hyperlink between them. Instead, both websites link to a third website, which does not mention the brand.
Beyond co-citation, recognizable brands get preferential treatment on SERPs. Search Engine Journal found that when a SERP returns similar results, 70% of people choose the website with the most recognizable, authoritative brand.
Social profiles help establish a brand identity and makes the brand more visible across the web. Fishkin goes as far as to say that strong brand signals such as owning social media profiles may be a ranking factor. However, no studies, correlational or otherwise, are provided to back this up.
Search Engine Optimization for Social Media
Finally, it’s important to note that search engine optimization goes beyond Google. All social media platforms have their own search engines, and profiles can be optimized for those search engines.
When it comes to Google, little evidence exists directly linking social signals, links, or profiles to the ranking of a website. That may change in the coming years. What is known is that the traffic results in better brand recognition and more exposure to individuals who might give backlinks from their own blog.