Conflicting statements from Google as to whether or not social media affects SEO has caused much confusion.
In 2010, the head of Google’s Web spam team Matt Cutts had said that a company’s social media standing does affect how the search engine ranks it. He pointed us to a Search Engine Land article which confirmed that. The article quotes both Google and Bing as saying that the popularity and credibility of a business on social media affects website ranking, which means your social authority is taken into consideration when ranking your business.
In 2014, however, Cutts contradicted himself. Google, it turns out, does not take into consideration “social signals”, such as the number of likes or followers that a business or an individual may have on social media, when it comes to ranking their website. He further stated that pages from social media, even if wildly popular, are not ranked any differently than other Web pages.
This left companies who invested heavily in social as part of their overall SEO and content marketing strategy nonplussed.
The question then remains – does social media matter to SEO? Does it impact your search rankings in any way? If it doesn’t, have your efforts been in vain?
In this post, we make the case that social media is indeed relevant to SEO.
Page quality and social proof matters to Google
This is spelled out in as many words by Google in its guidelines issued for human quality raters whom it pays to manually “evaluate the quality of search results returned by Google.”
Google advises quality raters to independently determine the reputation of businesses/websites in the following manner:
“Use reputation research to find out what real users, as well as experts, think about a website. Look for reviews, references, recommendations by experts, news articles, and other credible information created/written by individuals.”
“Customer reviews can be helpful for assessing the reputation of a store or business…. When interpreting customer reviews, try to find as many as possible. Any store or website can get a few negative reviews. This is completely normal and expected… It is also important to read the reviews because the content of the reviews matter, not just the number.”
This is proof positive that how your business is perceived on social media, in the form of reviews and overall credibility, constitutes a large part of your company reputation. This impacts the page quality ranking that Google assigns to your website.
E.A.T. – Expertise/Authoritativeness/Trustworthiness
Essentially, this is what “high quality” means to Google. The pages of your website need to convey a certain level of expertise and useful information. This expertise is verified through independent sources, who are likely to share opinions on social media.
Google crawls social sites
Often, when we enter the name of a business in a search engine, we encounter their social media profiles among the top results.
People tend to check the Facebook page of a business to find out if it’s in their vicinity, read reviews and to learn of the upcoming events or promotions.
The number of positive reviews a business gathers on social sites will directly impact the number of prospects and potential customers that visit its website.
Google+ deserves a special mention here since pages on this network are mined by Google for search rankings. Moz found in a 2014 experiment that “after Page Authority, a URL’s number of Google +1s is more highly correlated with search rankings than any other factor.”
Social networks have their own search engines
Whether it’s Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook, people are increasingly using their native search functions to discover new content. If your social sites are optimized, your audience will find you on social and click on your content. This translates to more website visits.
Sharing content on social helps you gain quality backlinks
If the number and quality of backlinks affects the ranking of a website, then links generated via content shared widely on social media make a positive difference. Keep your content creation focus where it should be – on high quality blog posts and resources.
If SEO and social media had a relationship status it would be “It’s Complicated”. It’s difficult to state the exact relationship between social media and SEO because we are not privy to the details of how Google’s algorithm functions, but one can make a case, as have we, that social media does help in driving traffic to your website and improving its visibility online.
An established social presence adds to a company’s social proof, thus attracting more prospects. There may not be a direct correlation between social media and SEO, but there does seem to be a positive impact of one on the other.
We recommend continuing with your social media marketing efforts because your social standing helps you find leads. This ultimately leads to increased traffic to your website, which is the whole point of SEO.