Social Media and Search Engine Optimization: is there a connection between the two?

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Social Media and Search Engine Optimization: is there a connection between the two?

If your business is consistently active on social media, will you have better search engine results?

Back in 2013, the State of Search Marketing Report shared that 74% of companies believed that there was a connection between social media & search engine optimization (via Econsultancy.) The Searchmetrics ‘2016 Rebooting Ranking Factors White Paper’ reported that, “The correlation between social signals and ranking position is extremely high, and the number of social signals per landing page has remained constant when compared to with the values from last year’s white paper. The top-ranked websites in Google’s rankings displays vastly more social signals than all other pages.This is primarily due to the overlap between brand websites performing strongly in social networks and being allocated top positions by Google.”

This week on Casual Coffee and Social Media Questions with Kat we unpacked whether there is actually a connection between search engine optimization and social media.

What is Social Media?

Form of electronic communication via apps and websites that enable users to comment, create, share and engage in real-time in two-way conversation. Popular forms of social media include (but are not limited to) Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Reddit, Quora, g+ etc.

What is Search Engine Optimization?

Search Engine Optimization is the process of amplifying the amount of free/organic traffic to a website by ensuring that the site appears high on the list of search engine results. (via Search Engine Journal)

What is a Search Engine?  Google, Bing, Ask, Yahoo.

How do Search Engines Work? Search Engines rely on bots, spiders or crawlers (all the same thing, just different names.) Search engines find your website through a link on another website.  When the crawlers find a page, they download the page data and go on to find links to other pages on your site. All of the data is downloaded to their respective servers (*keep in mind that they don’t necessarily index every single page of a website; you can see which pages have been indexed by visiting webmaster tools.) But in the simplest terms, Search Engines take a snapshot of a website at a specific time and save it to the search engine database. So when you use a search engines such as Google, to look for something specific (e.g.: best bakery in SW Calgary) you actually access data that’s a snapshot, rather than ‘live’ search.

In order to return relevant search results for users, Search Engines rely on algorithms.

What is an algorithm? An algorithm is a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations. (via Oxford Dictionary.) In relation to search engines, the algorithm is a computer process applied to webpages to determine their relevance and assign ranking in SERPS (search engine results pages). What this really means is whether your webpage is relevant enough to land on Page One of Google or Page Ten in relation to the query a user has asked a search engine. {FYI: Search Engine algorithm tweaks happen daily.}

The algorithm is made up of ranking signals. A ranking signal is a characteristic of a website that search engine algorithms may consider when calculating rankings. (via Springboard SEO)

Well known search engine ranking signals (there are 200+) :

  • Page Rank (how authoritative a page is deemed to be)
  • Anchor Text Relevance (anchor text is clickable text in a hyperlink and should be relevant to the page)
  • HTML title tag (this is the title of the page; should be relevant.)
  • Link Scores (how strong are the links? where do they come from?)
  • Page Speed (how fast do your webpages load?)
  • Mobile Friendly (is your site mobile friendly?)
  • User Experience (CTR; do your visitors stay on the site and look at more than one page?)

Traditionally, SEO focused on one keyword. So if you went to Google and searched for a bakery, it would bring up anything that ranked for the keyword “bakery” (whether it was relevant to you or not.) Today, SEO focuses on the intent of the user and how they search and instead of one keyword, there’s a focus on long tail searches. For example: bakery in SW Calgary.

According to John Mueller (Google): “The algorithms try to show relevant & awesome results to users’ queries. Everything else varies. Opt’ing for factors is short-term thinking.”

What he implied is that focusing on individual factors won’t return a benefit in the long run. (Make sure you’re focused on delivering quality information to your audience via your website, rather than quantity.)

How does social media fit into search engine optimization?

Search Engines + Social (from Danny Sullivan’s article):
In 2010, Danny Sullivan wrote an article about Facebook, Twitter and Search Engine Optimization based on interviews with Google and Bing. Bing confirmed that they took into consideration how often a link had been tweeted or retweeted, as well as the authority of the Twitter users that shared the link. Google confirmed that they used that type of data in limited situations but not in all web search.

Following that article, Matt Cutts (former head of Google’s webspam team) released a video response in December 2010 to a question about Google using Twitter and Facebook links as a ranking signal as described by Danny Sullivan. [e.g.: link to your website shared via a tweet or Facebook post etc.] Cutts confirmed that they were using Twitter and Facebook links in ranking and that they were also trying to find out about the reputation of an author or creator on Twitter or Facebook.

But then in 2014 Cutts was asked a similar question: “Are Facebook and Twitter signals part of the ranking algorithm? How much do they matter?”

And he responded that: “Facebook and Twitter pages are treated like any other pages in our web index. 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. But as far as doing special, specific work to sort of say, ‘Oh you 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”

Cutts confirmed that Google used signal in real-time search only, but were looking at potentially using it more broadly. If they are able to obtain data, they can rank it (however, social media websites were used relatively lightly.) My understanding is that it depends entirely on relevance. Cutts also reiterated that if they can’t call a page, they can’t assign page rank and cautioned that no one should just go after likes and follows because Google was focused on quality. Quality followers meant not just bots and software (e.g.: buying fans on Fiverr!)

In September 2017, John Mueller and Gary Illyes weighed in on ranking signals during a random Twitter conversation. Mueller confirmed that they use many factors for ranking; they rely on links but much more. Gary also responded by saying that ranking depended on the query and the results and which signals count more.

Why don’t social signals currently weigh more heavily in web search ranking algorithms?

  • Some search engines have been blocked from crawling certain social channels. As Cutts mentioned previously, just because there are signals on Facebook or Twitter doesn’t mean that search engines can necessarily access them. They might be blocked or have ‘nofollow’ on links. (e.g.: Twitter uses what’s called a “nofollow” tag that prevents tweeted links from getting credit. Wikipedia is similar. This is typically because they have so many users contributing to the site that they cannot verify the relevance nor the accuracy of the information.)
  • Search engines crawl the web; as they crawl, they sample the web at finite periods of time. As they fetch a particular webpage they have to rely on the data available at that moment in time. But something on that page could change and they wouldn’t know it changed (because they don’t necessarily crawl all the time.) A problematic example could be fetching information from a Facebook business page. If you change locations after the page has been indexed, the search results could still bring up the old snapshot, with old information. This information is no longer relevant or accurate. (via Matt Cutts)

Loose connection between Social Media & Search Engine Optimization

Potential for Links
When you create unique content, that is valuable and highly shared there is potential to trigger other search engine signals.(e.g.: increased traffic, time on page, etc.) Links are built by creating original content that are shared across networks.

Social Media Profiles Can Rank in Search Engines
As both Google and Bing indicated, search engines will fetch data from websites they have access to. Have you ever noticed that when you do a brand search for your business (or yourself) that LinkedIn will typically pop up first? Followed by other social sites and hopefully your website as well. I noticed that if I search for a specific long-tail term, any social site I may have used that term comes up in the SERPs (e.g.: Facebook events, posts, LinkedIn, Medium, Quora etc.)

Social Channels Can Act As Search Engines
Think about how users now use social media sites. We know that many access the news via Facebook, for example. It is only fair to speculate that in the future, users will continue to grow their dependence on social sites for search.

Brand Awareness/Authority/Influence
If you’re trying to build awareness, authority and influence for your business or brand, there’s perhaps no better place than social media. As a company or personal brand, you have the opportunity to participate in very valuable two-way communication. Additionally, you can build up your authority and influence by delivering value to the audience who chooses to follow you.

Social Sharing from your Website
Do you have social share buttons on your website? Meaning, if someone visits your blog can they easily share to social networks like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook etc.? Though we’re unsure whether this may currently be used in ranking, it could be in the future. The fact that Google tracks this information in Google Analytics may be an indication that it could be used as a signal.

Social Media isn’t going away and just because it’s not a heavy ranking factor today doesn’t mean it won’t be in the future (especially if search engines are focused on the behaviour of the user.) The problem will be in terms of sophistication; how will crawlers delineate between legitimate likes, shares, comments and fake ones? Or engagement?

Since there’s no clear direction on how social media fits into search engine optimization, my recommendation would be to make sure you’re social media sites are optimized (just in case!)

Social Media Optimization: 

Make sure everything on your social channels are consistent. Whether you’re a small business or a big brand, make sure you’re using the same colours, logos, tone, etc. so it’s easy to identify you. [Learn more about personal branding.]

Get your vanity URLs and report name squatters. With all the hullabaloo over at Twitter about the blue check mark being pulled back from some accounts, now is the perfect time to make sure you don’t have anyone squatting on your business or brand name. Also a good time to secure vanity URLs if you haven’t already done so (even on sites you may not be interested in just yet!) [Learn more about name squatting.]

Clean up duplicate social channel/site accounts. Sometimes we forget about social accounts and set up new ones. Or sometimes you’ll join a company and find out that they’ve set up multiple accounts for the company on the same site. If you’re responsible for duplicate accounts, clean them up! Delete old accounts and freshen everything up to keep them consistent.

Participate on relevant platforms. The desire to be everywhere can be overwhelming – FOMO (fear of missing out!) But you don’t need to be everywhere; you need to be where your people are. Most importantly, you need to stick with social sites where you’ll consistently show it. It is no good if you set up a bunch of channels and cease to show. [Learn how to choose social media channels for your business.]

Create and Optimize content shared via social. To become a ‘go to’ resource for your audience, or snag that top-of-mind position, you need to build authority. Building authority takes time; you must consistently show up with unique content that is valuable to your audience. When creating content, make sure that it uses keywords you want to rank for (but don’t keyword pack!) As Mueller mentioned, search engines are looking at quality which means you randomly posting tons of junk to Facebook won’t help either! [Learn more about Social Media Management.]

Encourage sharing. Being shared widely across networks can be helpful, though in one case study that have 130,000 shares and shot up in rankings — it was actually the links that helped and people linking out and not the actual shares. social media not only provides a place to distribute and share content, the more people see the content. (Link building)

Do you need help getting started with Social Media and Digital Marketing? Get in touch! 🙂



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Kat Macaulay, BA ADdPR BnC
Kat Macaulay, BA ADdPR BnC
Kat Macaulay is a Marketing Strategist, Writer + Speaker known for her no-nonsense approach to pretty much everything. Using data insights, she helps organizations market more effectively to get results that matter. She's also a high-scoring instructor at Mount Royal University, where she teaches Social Media Analytics and Google Analytics + Marketing Measurement. She holds certifications from Google, as well as Facebook and is currently working toward a specialization in Marketing Analytics and a certificate in Data Science from IBM. When she’s not busy juggling kids, volunteering + work, she’s busy planning her retirement to Cape Breton.