While most people know that social media is a big deal in content marketing, not everyone understands how social media affects organic search results. And understandably so: the topic isn't exactly cut-and-dry. The fact of the matter is that, while social media is an important ranking factor for search results, it's likely that the process doesn't work exactly the way you think it does.
Contrary to what many people believe, Google doesn't actually take social media directly into account in its ranking algorithm, but it does look at certain social signals to decide how to rank websites. Here's what you need to know.
Google & Social Media: How Do They Play Together?
Google and social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram have had a long and complex relationship. Like Brad and Angelina, they're on-again and off-again. While social signals have long been used in Google algorithms, it's not so much actual social media accounts that affect the algorithm as it is the results of those accounts. Here's what I mean:
There are millions of social media profiles in the world and if just having one was enough to rank well in Google, everyone would be on the front page of Google's SERPs. Which would be great except for the fact that anywhere between 5%-11.2% of all Facebook profiles are fakes. This is one of the major reasons that simply having a social media profile isn't enough to rank well in Google's SERPs.
On that same token, however, there are millions of authentic social media profiles around the globe, which means that Google can't afford to overlook them completely.
Because of that, Google evaluates social signals rather than social profiles when ranking pages.
Here are a few of the things the search engine looks at:
- How many shares content created by a given brand/individual earns
- How useful, informative, and valuable the content is
- How relevant the content is to a specific base of readers
The reason that Google looks at these things rather than the simple existence of a social profile is because Google's entire mission in search is to provide users with relevant, high-quality search results.
While the existence of a social media profile for a brand or individual isn't necessarily indicative or quality or authority, the presence of plenty of highly-shared, liked, and talked-about content is.
Google+ & SEO
While there are dozens of social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, that aren't directly affiliated with Google, there's one that is: Google+.
Google+ is a social network designed by the search engine giant itself and it may count a bit more for SEO than some of the aforementioned platforms. Because Google+ pages rank within Google just like website pages, the social network is an effective way for marketers and individuals to rank for keywords and phrases contained within a post.
Google recently redesigned how their G+ appears, too, here's a screenshot taken March 2016:
The reason Google+ can be so powerful for SEO is that articles shared on the platform are subject to DoFollow links. These links boost the link equity of the website in question and facilitate the core functions of SEO. Because of this, Google+ provides slightly more SEO power than some other social media platforms.
5 Tips to Use Social Media to Improve SEO
While social media isn't the end-all-be-all of social media, it can certainly be a helpful outlet for companies who need a boost. Here are five tips to help you get started:
1. Boost your followers
While having thousands of Facebook friends may well earn you some extra SEO juice, there are some caveats to this. First of all, Google's smart enough to distinguish between legitimate followers (interested audiences trying to keep up with a brand or individual) and spam followers (purchased accounts traceable to "click farms" in India). With that in mind, purchasing hundreds of followers or having dozens of spammy, fake social media accounts following you won't ultimately help your SEO standing and may, in fact, hurt it.
Social media platforms have been cracking down on fake profiles of late. A great example was 2014's so-called "Instagram Rapture," wherein celebrities like Justin Bieber lost millions followers in a 24-hour period when the social media platform went through and purged its fake accounts. There's an important lesson to be learned from this: while having tons of followers can boost your SEO, it's important to make sure that you're focusing on quality first and quantity second.
It's also important to remember that quantity isn't something that happens overnight. Growing your follower base is a slow process but companies and individuals who put out quality content, interact with followers, and offer helpful tips will eventually get there. As your followers begin to grow, your content will enjoy a wider reach and Google will begin to realize that the popularity of your social media profiles is a good indicator of the quality of your brand as a whole.
2. Earn inbound links
While many people think about social media and search engines as separate entities, few people remember that social media is a search engine of sorts. The majority of consumers use social media to search for their favorite brands and individuals and, when they find content they love, they share it with their friends on other web-based and social media platforms.
Brands that create content that can be located through the search bars of social media platforms are setting themselves up well for plenty of external links to that content, which is one of the many ranking factors Google looks for when evaluating websites. While external inbound links are important, marketers need to remember that, once more, it's the content that counts here more than the vehicle (the social media account). By using things like hashtags to popularize content and interacting and engaging with comments and feedback the content receives, marketers can ensure that their social media content earns all of the inbound links it deserves.
3. Create "anchor" content for social media
Unless you're great at witty status updates and Tweets, it's unlikely that your profile updates are going to go viral. Companies that create "anchor" content, however, have a much better chance of being shared around the web. Anchor content is weighty, relevant content formats like infographics, videos, long-form articles, or podcasts. This content serves as the foundation for an extensive message that is valuable to many people.
By creating anchor content and distributing it on your social platforms of choice, you can drive traffic back to other sites and improve your social search signals enough to facilitate a boost in SEO.
4. Encourage sharing
Social media is meant for sharing and one of the best ways to improve your ranking is to facilitate social sharing as much as possible. Keep in mind, however, that it's not enough to simply put content out there and hope that people share it. Instead, you need to ask for shares directly. Some brands do this by offering a reward or incentive for readers who share a post and others set up social surveys in which people "like" a post if they agree with an issue at hand. As people engage with incentives like this, the content pops up on more and more news feeds and the brand behind the strategy earns more followers. This, in turn, influences social signals and helps you get the SEO boost you deserve.
5. Optimize your posts for local SEO
Social media is a powerful tool for any small, local business interested in earning more customers. When you optimize your social media profiles, posts, and pages for local SEO, you can better establish yourself in a local community while also positioning yourself correctly for enhanced local search results. Do this by linking all of your in-house marketing and promotional material to your social media profiles, inviting customers to leave a review or a comment there, and running promotions on your social media pages.
You should also ensure that the content and information you post on your social pages includes information about your company's niche and the geographical area in which you work. This will help you enhance your local search prowess and become more visible in local SERPs.
The Verdict: Social Media Does Affect SEO
While social media certainly isn't the only thing that Google looks at when deciding how to rank your site, it's one of the more important. While spammy, black-hat social media tactics like buying followers will get you nowhere, companies and individuals who build expansive, varied, relevant social media presences will enjoy an SEO boost as a result.
As is true in most of content marketing, content is the most important aspect of social media and people who create great content and succeed in getting it passed around the web will enjoy all of the SEO benefits that social media has to offer.