The Impact of Social Media on SEO

social media impact seo

Back in 2013, the Econsultancy State of Search Marketing Report told us that 74% of companies and 82% of agencies surveyed said that social media played a role in their SEO strategy; for some it was a somewhat large role.

Not more than two months later, Matt Cutts stated on one of his videos that social signals, such as the number of followers an account has, has no affect on Google’s search rankings. Just recently, this was reaffirmed on Twitter. When PR News tweeted “Some controversy over whether Google takes social into account for SEO — perhaps Louis Gray will settle this in our next session! #social16” Google’s Gary Illyes replied, “The short version is, no, we don’t” and posted a link to Matt’s video.

On the surface, it’s easy to write off social media as a ranking factor based on what Google’s people have said. But if we look at it a bit more closely, are they really saying that social media in no way helps with SEO? Not exactly.

Links still matter

While there is no need to rehash the history of link building as it pertains to SEO, we all know that Google still relies on high-authority, quality links to determine a page’s relevance and authority. Relevance is measured on how well a page represents the intent of the search query and authority measures how trustworthy a page is. So if a web page is able to attract a large number of high quality links from other relevant pages that are of high quality, it will rise in the search engine results.

[ctt template=”3″ link=”9x3f4″ via=”no” ]Relevance is measured on how well a page represents the intent of the search query. #mattcutts #google http://ctt.ec/9x3f4+[/ctt]

So now let’s look back at Cutts’ video. He states that “Facebook and Twitter pages are treated like any other pages in our web index, and so if something occurs on Twitter or occurs on Facebook and we’re able to crawl it then we can return that in our search results.” So each tweet or post on a social channel is technically a page. So if that page contains a link to your page it should help right? After all, Facebook and Twitter are both authority sites.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. With so many variables to consider, the search engines can’t give more credit to a link posted by one account over another. Add to this the fact that there are over half a billion tweets sent each day and even more Facebook posts and it’s easy to see that even Google can’t possibly crawl this many pages efficiently enough for them to have a significant impact on your rankings.

But there is data that says differently right?

So what about the correlations that show pages with a high number of shares or retweets ranking well? Cutts explains that shared content is usually “something awesome” so in addition to the well respected social signals it also does well with the true ranking factors. Good content likely has links from other authoritative sites to help its position in the SERPs. It would make sense that high ranking pages also get a lot of social shares because of its ability to provide people with information and answers.

So do we just scrap social media when it comes to SEO? Absolutely not. For starters, there is a chance that your post or tweet might be crawled by Google; and as time goes on that chance gets even greater. So while social media may not give your SEO a quick boost it will help in the long run.

Another area where social media can help with your SEO efforts is by driving qualified traffic to your site. People arrive because their friend or another trusted source linked to you. If they find your page helpful they too may link to your site, and that link may come from something other than their social media account.

Finally, as Neil Patel of Quicksprout says, social is the new SEO. Just like online shoppers turn to Amazon and eBay to search for products, people turn to their favorite social media sites to search for content they are interested in. Search for a topic on Facebook and you get the Top Public Posts as well as a list of posts shared by your friends on that topic. Twitter too has a search feature that allows people to find content.

There are a number of marketing professionals that provide reasonable arguments that social media does, in fact, affect SEO. Given Google’s penchant for secrecy when it comes to what influences their rankings and Illyes’ short version answer it doesn’t hurt to maintain a strong social media marketing campaign. In the end, you will still drive qualified traffic towards your site and help boost your community of followers, which can sometimes be even more beneficial than certain SEO strategies that are constantly changing.

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Tim Clarke

Research Manager at Clutch
Tim Clarke is the Research Manager with Clutch. Clutch identifies leading software and professional services firms that deliver results for their clients. Tim heads the SEO and PPC research at Clutch. You can follow Clutch at @clutch_co.
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