Sending the Right Social Media Signals

Are social media signals a real factor when it comes to SEO ranking signals? This is not an easy question to answer, even as an SEO professional. Why? Well, for starters, Google doesn’t even really know or, maybe more accurately, they can’t seem to pick a stance. Let’s start from the beginning. In 2010, Google’s beloved Matt Cutts made an announcement during one of his famous videos confirming that Facebook and Twitter links are SEO signals. Great! Problem solved! Well, not really.

Skip to 2011, Google+ launches and authorship markups become a thing. There we are again with another nod from Google making us think that social media signals are nothing to be ignored. Yet, 2012 rolls around and Matt Cutts heads to the question/answer panel at the annual SES conference in San Francisco. In regards to Google+ and the role of +1s in the search world, Cutts says, “I wouldn’t put a lot of weight on plus ones quite yet”. Hm. Confusion.

Then, just seven months ago, in January 2014, Matt Cutts gives us some insight when a specific question is asked about Facebook and Twitter being factors in the ranking algorithm. Take a look at his response:

Long story short, Google is not really using social signals for ranking, at least not directly and certainly not yet. Nevertheless, it would be very wrong to advise marketers to ignore social media marketing. So, what’s the solution? What does a well-rounded marketing strategy look like? Is social media really a small piece of the pie? Let’s take a look.

The Legit Value of Social Media

It would be tough to imagine a future where Google doesn’t rely heavily on links. Any SEO professional understands that links are the bread and butter of the algorithm, its heartbeat, and its main supply of information. While a few hiccups come along now and again, links are the tried and true backbone of what makes Google work and function so well. Social signals just don’t cut it, and they never will. Here’s a few reasons why:

  1. How can Google rely on things like Facebook and Twitter to impact the algorithm when they have no control over these platforms? What happens when Twitter decides to block the Googlebot one day? That’s not farfetched and that’s the main reason why social signals can’t determine rank.
  2. There aren’t any “takesy backsies” in social media. Yes, we got that one from the playground, but the same rules apply. Can you remove a link from your site that you don’t want to endorse anymore? Yes. Can you undo a tweet? Not really.

As SEO professionals and marketing experts, it’s difficult to ignore the hype behind the “next best thing”. Social media isn’t a trend, but there’s certain aspects about it that need to be approached with caution. While social signals may become a ranking factor in the future, they aren’t today. With that said, let’s shift focus to how we can improve the way that social media impacts what is going on today.

First and foremost, social media deserves more respect than this post has given it thus far. While no direct signals impact rankings, there are many notable indirect benefits of social media marketing. Here’s a few:

  1. Referral traffic
  2. Opportunity for brand advocacy and brand loyalty growth (tremendous growth)
  3. Shared content is free marketing
  4. Huge audience = massive brand awareness
  5. Social shares have been proven to influence rankings for certain keywords, even if it’s short-term

It’s pretty safe to say that if you take a blog post with no social shares and compare rankings to a blog post with many social shares, things happen. Whether it’s increased site traffic, a few backlinks, or even signals from the freshness of the content piece, social media does have some SEO impact.

If You Build It, They Will Come

Kevin Costner may not have been referring to social media marketing in his famous Field of Dreams quote, “if you build it, they will come”, but he does make a point. There’s an important commonality between SEO goals and general marketing goals: build a brand and increase traffic. Each of these objectives can be achieved with social media marketing. Regardless of directly versus indirectly, at the end of the day, social media has the ability to let people know a company exists, tell them a little something about said company, and, if you’re lucky, entice them enough to click on a link and head to the site.

There truly is value to social media, even if the signals don’t go straight through Google’s algorithm. No matter where it lives, link-worthy content is link-worthy content. While a link to an awesome blog post from an authoritative site is more valuable than a link on someone’s Facebook status, both can be helpful to a company’s overall marketing objectives. Social media may not live in Google’s algorithm, but it better live in your marketing strategy.

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