Do social signals help to improve search rankings?

Do social signals help to improve search rankings?

22nd July 2016 in SEO

One of the questions we are most often asked by prospective clients is whether social media will improve their search rankings. As with many SEO-related queries the answer is not straightforward - in fact, both ‘no’ and ‘yes’ could be said to be correct responses.

That many people are confused is hardly surprising given the number of different opinions expressed about the influence of social signals (likes, retweets, comments, shares etc) on search results.

Respected industry sources Moz and Searchmetrics have both published studies that identified a positive correlation between social signals and rankings, but other commentators have suggested Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and Pinterest activity has no influence on search.

Unusually, Google has said something concrete on the issue. Questioned about whether social media is a ranking factor, Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller gave a definitive ‘no’  (with a clarification that it could still have some indirect benefits for search), as you can see in the video below.

So if social isn’t a ranking factor, why have researchers found a positive correlation between volume of social signals and high ranking in Google search results? The more cynical of you may conclude that it’s because the brands that spend most on social also have the biggest SEO and digital marketing budgets, but there are ways in which social activity can definitely influence known factors in the Google algorithm.

  • High-quality content. The best business social accounts are packed with links to website content that followers want to share. To persuade your followers to share, it needs to be good quality content - and Google has long aimed to rank high-quality content above less useful web pages.
  • Brand strength. An important ranking factor that often gets overlooked is brand strength and among the ways Google calculates this is number of mentions. Having your company name mentioned in multiple places across the internet (and in particular on websites that Google regards as authoritative) is a real positive as far as search engines are concerned, even if they are not accompanied by a backlink. Using social media to distribute content that is useful to your target market and to let people know about your company’s products and services is a simple way to earn these brand mentions (which are sometimes referred to as implied links).
  • Shares / links. Links on social media feeds are not counted as backlinks for the purposes of search rankings, but when they are shared it means more people see your content. This in turn increases the chances of people linking to your high-quality content from their websites.
  • Visitors. Ex-Google employees have revealed that the search engine uses data from Chrome as part of its ranking process, so factors such as number of visits, time spent on site and bounce rate are likely to influence position in search results. Having people click through from Facebook, Twitter etc on to useful content on your website and remain on the page for a few minutes could help your rankings.

The short version of all the above is: social signals have no direct impact on search rankings, but how followers respond to your social media activity may have a small beneficial effect on your position in search results.

Is social media time well spent for your business?

As social media activity does not have a direct influence on search position, you may wonder whether it is really worth you spending time and money persevering with Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Google+, Instagram etc.

If your digital marketing activity has a very narrow focus and improved Google rankings are your sole aim, then it really isn’t worth bothering with social media. But if you take a broader approach in which engagement (and the enquiries and sales that should result from it) is your priority, there are a host of good reasons to get posting.

  • Your business becomes more visible to potential customers. Many people spend hours every day on Facebook or Twitter, and seem incapable of going more than an hour without checking their phones for updates. So, they are as likely to look first for companies on their preferred social channel as they are to go to Google - and if you aren’t on there interacting with people, they won’t find your business. This is particularly important if your target market is local consumers.
  • It’s easy for customers to review you. In an ideal world your customers would review your business on Google and you’d benefit from those precious star ratings in search results. Unfortunately, the Google review process is not particularly user friendly and social media users generally take the easy option of posting their opinions via their existing accounts. A few five-star reviews on your company Facebook page or a positive tweet with your company’s username included from a customer to their 85 local followers can do wonders for your firm’s reputation.  
  • Brand building. Social media can be a cost-effective way to build your brand online. Whether you are a bakery posting images of your delicious cakes on Instagram or a high-end consultancy posting links to thought leadership articles on Linkedin, content that is visually appealing and/or useful to your target audience will be shared, spreading your name and bolstering your reputation.
  • Talk to your customers. Good business social media involves conversation with customers and prospects, rather than simply bombarding them with marketing messages. It’s an opportunity to receive feedback on your services, respond to complaints in a timely fashion, answer specific questions from people making buying decisions, build your reputation and even close the occasional sale. And contrary to what you may have heard, most social media users are fairly polite.  

None of those benefits are instant or easy to achieve. You’ll need to persevere and monitor your results to find out what works for your business (don’t become one of those firms that posts one tweet to zero followers, is surprised when orders don’t come rolling in and then immediately gives up).

You should also think about which social channels are most appropriate for your business - can you really promote cup cakes to customers in your town via Linkedin or complex engineering products on Instagram? Focus your efforts on the ones where people in your target market are most likely to spend their time - and that could include subject or location-specific web forums, as well as Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and Pinterest.

At Applied Digital Marketing, we can handle every aspect of your B2B or B2C social media activity, from identifying the most appropriate channels to producing striking visual assets and engaging written content, all the way through to analysing outcomes and adjusting activity accordingly.

Get in touch to find out how we can deliver results from social media for your business as part of a wider digital marketing strategy.


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