Although Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and social media both fall under the banner of digital marketing, a lot of people might think that the two activities are not very closely related. That simply isn’t true, and in this blog post we’ll look at how marketers can use social media to help with their SEO to drive more organic search traffic to their websites.
There’s a long running debate in the SEO community about whether social signals (i.e. likes, shares and comments) can improve the search engine rankings of a web page. If a link to your page gets posted on a site like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or LinkedIn, and that post gets a lot of engagement, does that have a positive effect on the SEO of the page?
In the past Google execs have said that these ‘social signals’ do not directly impact rankings. There are a few reasons this would make sense, firstly it would be too easy to game the system, because it’s still relatively easy to buy fake followers and engagement on social channels. Secondly, there have been times in the past when the social platforms have sporadically prevented Google from crawling their pages, so it makes no sense to rely on a signal that could be turned off at any point.
Seems clear, right? But it’s not quite that simple. Several SEO experts have carried out research which notes a correlation between pages that have a high level of social media visibility, and also perform well in search engine rankings. So is Google lying? Unlikely. As every first-year science student knows, correlation does not imply causation, and there’s a better explanation for what’s happening.
Most SEO consultants agree, the two most important factors in improving a page’s ranking are high quality, relevant content, and links from other websites pointing to that page.
Focus on Strong Content
The thing about great content is that people tend to share it organically, so it’s easy to see why a page that people feel compelled to post and share on social media a lot will also perform well in search engines. And because that high-quality content is getting shared a lot on social media, more people see it and there’s an increased likelihood of them posting links to it on other websites like blogs and discussion forums.
So we can say that a web page being widely shared on social media does have an indirect, positive effect on SEO, but it’s not accurate to claim that search engines include signals from social media platforms in their ranking algorithms.
Bear in mind, however, that there’s strong evidence to suggest that social media timeline algorithms penalise accounts that post a lot of external links rather than native content, so if you want your social channels to drive plenty of engagement it’s important to keep a balance. If you only ever post external links on your brand’s social media profiles, you can expect your organic reach to suffer.
Another factor to consider is how frequently a website is indexed by search engines. If you’re regularly adding new content, you want search engines to include that in their rankings as soon as possible. To understand how social media can help with this it’s important to first understand that search engines treat public pages on social platforms (e.g. Twitter and LinkedIn profiles, but not private Facebook pages) just like any other page on a website, in that they will periodically analyse and index their content.
So if the Google spider scans a Twitter profile page and finds a link to a web page, it will then consider that page for indexing. If a particular link is showing up more frequently as the spider scans billions of pages, then that will signal to the algorithm that there is something worth looking at on that page. If a link gets shared a lot on social media, that won’t necessarily improve its rankings, but it probably does persuade the search engines to index its content more frequently.
We asked Darryl Sparey, an SEO and PR specialist currently working as the Business Development Director at global comms agency, Hotwire, for his thoughts on SEO and social media:
Social media profiles appear in search engine results pages and help give you a strong “page one” for your brand. Most companies, particularly those in the earlier stages of growth and development, want to have a strong page one for their brand, which features their website, recent news about the business, a knowledge pack, Glassdoor ratings, Wikipedia page and, ideally, social media profiles for LinkedIn and Twitter, for example.
Consumer brands would also want Facebook and Instagram there, too. And, ideally, no negative comments, reviews or news stories. Strong, regularly updated and engaged with social media accounts help to occupy a slot on page one, and give greater depth and context to your brand for people looking for you online. And help push anything potentially negative further down or off of page one.
Brand Mentions Matter
There’s a somewhat more oblique way that social media can help with SEO and, while it’s tricky to conclusively prove, a lot of experts are backing the idea that if your brand frequently features in online discussions, even without links to your site, that will now have a positive impact on your site’s ranking. The SEO terminology for this idea is “linkless mentions” and there’s plenty of evidence that it carries some weight.
What this means is that there are potential benefits in people talking about your brand, even if they’re not linking directly to your website, and encouraging those kinds of conversations is at the very heart of what social media marketing and community management is all about.
People often ask social media managers what value there is in people simply talking about their brands, and now we know that those conversations can help increase the visibility of our website. The only problem is that it’s difficult to measure this conclusively, beyond tracking brand mentions in social and trying to find a correlating increase in organic search traffic.
The final area where social media can help with SEO is in content planning. As we’ve already discussed, high quality, relevant content is key to a good SEO strategy, and social media provides a great opportunity to understand what topics your audience is really interested in.
Social listening and analytics tools, like Meltwater Social, make it easy to tap into the conversations taking place on social channels around your brand and industry, and this can prove to be goldmine. What questions are people asking, and what problems are they trying to solve? Produce great content that answers those questions and you’ll be on the path to SEO success.
Social Media for SEO Tips
- Make sure all new web content is promoted on your social media networks and include social-sharing buttons on all pages to make it easy for people to share them.
- Regularly re-share your older evergreen content to continue building backlinks.
- Make sure to promote your social channels prominently on your website, to increase your following.
- Use social analytics to discover the questions and challenges of your customers and create web content that provides answers.
- Monitor social mentions of competitors to learn what their customers are discussing, and use that in your content strategy.
Analyze your competitors digital strategy with our Digital Marketing Insights Reports. Benchmark their search traffic, web visits, news and editorial coverage, social, and ad-spend data against your own, for deeper insight.