You can’t dig into this question without first referring to the answers provided by Matt Cutts - the former Head of the Webspam Team of one of the most popular (if not the most popular) search engines, Google.
In a 2010 video Matt Cutts answered a question (by WebSEOAnalytics) where he confirmed that social media did impact search rankings.
“Yes, I can confirm it. We do use Twitter and Facebook links in ranking as we always have in our search rankings” (Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofhwPC-5Ub4)
He goes on to say…
“We are also trying to figure out a little bit about the reputation of an author or a creator on Twitter or Facebook…”
Fast forward to 2014 and Cutts responded in a video reply to another question (by Ryan, Michigan) about the same topic and made some different, new and interesting points:
“Facebook and Twitter pages are treated like any other pages in our web index, so if something occurs on Twitter or occurs on Facebook and we are able to crawl it, then we can return that in our search results ”… “but as far as doing special, specific work to say ‘Oh, you have these many followers on Twitter or these many likes on Facebook… to the best of my knowledge we don’t currently have any signals like that in our web search ranking algorithms”
One of the reasons stated for this “change” is not being able to depend on social signals that might not be accessible tomorrow.
The above also shows that what might be considered by search engines today as a factor in their search ranking algorithm, could stop being considered as a factor or change later on.
So, in a nutshell, Google says that social media signals do not have a direct influence in search rankings.
So you might be wondering - what now? Does social media really not affect search rankings? Will it change down the road?
It is not 100% clear what is the extent of the impact that social media actually has on rankings, and whether this will change in the future. Algorithms are ever changing, as are the criteria that they base themselves on. As such, the impact of social on search engine ranking might change later on.
However, from a business standpoint and as a marketer, you have to look at the whole picture and also consider the direct and indirect effects when determining your Social Media - SEO effort.
I personally believe that, social media does help search rankings (whether directly or indirectly).
When you push rich, relevant, optimized, valuable content you will get as a result increase in visibility, interest, backlinks (sharing of your content, links to your site, etc.), social engagement, etc. which in turn will impact your web ranking (directly or indirectly).
Taking into consideration the above, I would suggest that marketers continue investing in their Social Media - SEO strategy and adjust their efforts accordingly.
2 key factors (amongst others) I would propose that they continue focusing on are:
Creating, Delivering and Optimizing Valuable Content
Valuable, engaging content is a very important factor for SEO and search rankings. Social Media (through the different available platforms) allows for your posts and content to be widely seen, shared and distributed and consequently you gain more online traction, establish content relevance, build inbound links, etc. leading to improved rankings (whether in a direct or indirect way). So optimize your content, use carefully researched and selected keywords and post regularly.
Nurturing Social Media Engagement
Engagement is a VERY important social media dynamic. Even if social media signals are not a direct factor in search rankings as stated by Google, they do show relevance, trust, and influence which as a result leads to sharing of your content resulting in increase of backlinks to your website which does play a direct role in ranking. The nurturing of engagement and interest in your content also allows for you to:
1. Establish, improve and maximize your online authority and brand awareness – adding to your online reputation.
2. Establish connections (network) and collaborations (influencers) – adding to your reach.
Also worth mentioning is the point that:
Google might be search engine driving force, yet it is not the only existing search engine (ex. Bing, Yahoo!, etc.). Different search engines have different algorithms and criteria they measure. This must also be considered in your strategy so, optimize for the different search engines accordingly.
Marketers should not dismiss social media from their business SEO strategy.
They should adapt, optimize and implement as part of their overall marketing effort and continue focusing on quality of content as it is one consistent factor (for the different search engines) that impacts rankings and keep aiming for reach, community building, social engagement, distribution and strategic collaborations through social media platforms as it delivers the necessary boost, backlinks, etc. to keep improving those rankings.
Natasha Giannopoulou is an Online and Social Media Marketing professional, content creator and blogger based in Greece who believes in and advocates for a brand’s biggest asset, people. Her interest is working with brands that want to connect the human factor with the business factor in their digital and social media marketing attempts in order to maximize their online presence (via available social media platforms) through a human-centric, customer oriented approach.