Does Social Media Influence Search Engine Rankings?

Google Social Analytics Graphic - The Social RelationshipThere are days where I wish I could turn off my brain and stop thinking about all of the nuances associated with search engine optimization and social media marketing, but I can’t.  For me, the two subjects are almost equally interesting and the interplay between them is downright fascinating.

There’s a lot of debate within the SEO community around the value of links generated through social media and whether or not social signals are fact or fiction.  What’s interesting is that there is no debate within the SMM community that SEO is important, in fact they talk about it a lot.

Personally I find it amazing that so many SEO professionals are absent in the social space.  The fact that some people seem determined to be ‘incognito’ indicates to me that they don’t believe there is a relationship between SEO and SMM and that if you have a good search engine optimization strategy there’s no need to ‘play’ in social media.

I could be wrong, but I think they’re missing the boat.

Ok, so let’s talk about the real question – does social media influence search rankings?  The simple, but not so simple answer is yes.

How does social media help SEO?

1. Inbound links to your website 

I cringe every time I hear someone say you should get lots of links to your website from sites like Pinterest because they’re good for SEO without explaining why they’re good and how/why they help.

  • All links are not created equal – there are ‘do-follow’ links which are the kind of link that Google follows from one website to another as it’s indexing pages and determining relevancy; these links are like a ‘vote’ for your page, the more votes the better.  Then there are ‘no-follow’ links, Google doesn’t follow these links and they do not count as a vote; links from most social platforms are no-follow.
  • No-follow links have value – it’s about driving traffic to your website, so who really cares if it’s a do-follow or a no-follow link?
  • Likes and shares are a relevancy factor – If you’re signed into Google and search on something, content that your connections have tweeted, shared, or +1’d will be higher in the results than content that hasn’t been given a stamp of approval. Facebook has similar functionality.  The concept is that people trust people   As a side note, this is a good reason to choose the people you follow carefully, when you follow someone you’re telling that social network that you consider that person to be a resource you trust.

 2. Social Signals matter to search – Hints from Google & Bing

A social signal is an influence measurement. Every time someone comments on, votes for, or shares your content it sends a positive signal that you are creating stuff that’s worthwhile.  It’s an indication of your ability to create and share content that’s engaging, has value,  and motivates people to share it with their networks.

  • Google has been paying attention to social signals since 2010 –  check out this Webmaster video in which Matt Cutts speaks to social signals for confirmation.
  • Google outlines how to get more detailed reports about social interaction through Social Analytics – call me crazy, but it seems unlikely that Google is going to create an interface to track something it doesn’t think is important.
  • Bing is becoming a Klout network – it doesn’t matter which side of the fence you’re on when it comes to Klout, the fact that Bing is finding ways to integrate Klout into search results is a huge indicator that social signals impact search results.

Social Media and SEO are interdependent and while we still don’t know the degree of impact, there’s no denying the fact that there’s a correlation between the two.  When you stop to think about combining a strong social media strategy, one that’s centered around building trust and relationships, with a great search engine optimization plan there is a huge potential upside for increasing both traffic and conversion.

 What are your thoughts on SEO and SMM?  Are social signals fact or fiction?