Just how important is it for your business to be active on social media? Is it essential for SEO purposes to have a presence on all the major platforms or are there platforms that are more important than others? Can you overlook social media altogether if it doesn’t feel like the right fit for your business?
How social media signals work as ranking factors seems to divide expert opinion. Certainly, the answers are not as cut and dried as we might imagine.
Indexing social media sites poses challenges for search engines
Back in January 2014, Google’s Matt Cutts said in a video on the Google Webmasters YouTube Channel that you can have “this many followers on Twitter or this 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”.
In the video, Matt Cutts explained that Google is already attempting to crawl an imperfect web and that there would be issues with collecting data from platforms such as Twitter and Facebook because they’re fast moving and liable to change. To use Matt Cutts’ example, imagine Google indexed a Facebook page right before a wife blocked her abusive husband from viewing it and yet suddenly she found her page being returned in search engine results pages (SERPs) for him to still see. Google would have no way of knowing her data had changed until it next indexed her profile; this presents major challenges around identity.
Google would also be hesitant about adapting its algorithms to cope with the complexities of indexing a major social media site when it could potentially be blocked from crawling the site at a later date.
So, as things stand, it would appear that Google does not use the popularity of your profiles or individual posts on a specific social media platform as a direct ranking factor.
Pages with social media likes tend to rank higher
In the 2014 Moz local overall search ranking signals survey, participants said that social signals account for 5.8% of the overall general ranking signals that affect where a website appears in SERPs. These ranking signals included Google+ authority, Facebook likes and Twitter followers as three examples.
Similarly, in the 2013 Moz Search Ranking Factors study, which is carried out once every two years, the results suggested that website pages with Google+ likes, Facebook likes, comments and shares, and Tweets tended to rank higher in SERPs.
But are these social interactions the direct cause? Not exactly. Instead, Google looks at them as a clue that a page has good content.
Forget search engine optimisation when building social reputation
It helps to take search engine optimisation out of the equation and look at social media and social reputation from a different perspective. Ultimately, ‘social’ media is just that: social. For all its pros and cons, when used properly social media platforms are about making human connections, sharing things about which you’re passionate and that other people will want to see. Get that right and people will want to spread the news.
If you know your stuff and share that knowledge, you can raise your profile as someone who is influential, respected and an authority in their field.
When creating content, think about what would add value for your potential customers:
- What do they want to know about?
- What keeps them awake at night?
- How can you make their lives better in some way?
- What can you share?
- How can you reassure or uplift them?
- What do they care about?
- What is their driving force and how can you support that?
If your web pages and blog articles answer these questions and people connect with them on an emotional level, the chances are they’ll tell their friends about it on social media – in the form of likes, comments, shares, pins, tweets and +1s via the social media sharing options on your page – or by linking back to a specific page from their own website.
In turn, this activity will drive more traffic to your website from a variety of sources and the search engines will notice this increase in virtual footfall. Also, if your content is good and people want to read what you have to say, they’ll spend more time on your site.
The search engines take this information and reason that you must be providing high quality content because people are staying on your site and visiting other pages while they’re there instead of bouncing away in a matter of seconds. This means that your page is likely to be featured more highly in subsequent SERPs because, as I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, the search engines are in the business of returning to most relevant and high quality results.
Links to your site act as recommendations from influencers
I mentioned briefly above that if you create content that people connect with, they’re more likely to talk about it – with a link to the appropriate page – on their own website or on one or more social media platforms.
If someone who has a popular, high authority domain and a large social media presence is prepared to share what you do with their audience, the search engines take this as a vote of confidence or recommendation from an influencer. Just as you’re more likely to secure an interview if you come with a personal recommendation from someone respected in your field, you’re more likely to be taken seriously by Google if high authority domains are shouting about your content.
This is why the quality of backlinks matter far more than the quantity.
Your presence on Google+
As Google+ and YouTube are Google products, it’s likely Google does take your presence on these platforms into account. In the 2014 Moz local overall search ranking signals survey I mentioned above, the authority of shares on Google+ is listed as factor 46 out of 50 localised ranking factors.
What the survey also shows us is that the mismanagement of your Google My Business page might have more of an impact in terms of negative ranking factors. Things such as listing a false address, the wrong business category, having multiple pages with the same business number, your account being associated with supressed listings, keyword and location stuffing the content of your page, and negative reviews are just a few of the factors that are harming SEO efforts in the US since the rollout of Google Pigeon. Experts are recommending that people in other countries, including here in the UK, get their Google My Business pages in order before they’re affected by Google Pigeon too.
Be real and authentic
My conclusion is that if you build your social media presence in a real and authentic way it can only ever help your SEO efforts.
To answer the questions at the beginning of this article, I think it is important to be active on social media in order to grow your audience and engage with potential and existing customers. Of course, if your customers aren’t using social media, then this might be less pressing.
An infographic by Search Engine Journal at the end of 2013 showed that 72% of all internet users are active on social media. More recent figures from Browser Media, Socialnomics and MacWorld in July 2014 suggest that 11% of the Earth’s population is on Facebook and that 98% of 18-24-year-olds regularly use social media. Even 43% of silver surfers aged 65+ are using social media. If you plan on finding your customers online, it seems foolhardy to ignore social media altogether.
However, I don’t think you have to be everywhere all the time. The best thing you can do is to work out where your customers are hanging out and what sort of content would appeal to them and be an active participant in their online community.
If you feel like your business isn’t a good fit for a specific platform, then it probably isn’t. To be on the safe side though, just as you use Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools to track your SEO efforts, I’d always recommend using the insights provided by the social media platforms. This will show you which posts are popular, what’s being shared and talked about, and what your customers can’t get enough of when it comes to your content.
Is social media an important part of your marketing strategy? Have you noticed your social media efforts improving your rankings? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the Comments section below.