Here’s How Social Media Affects Your SEO

by Dennis Seymour October 30, 2015
The truth about social media signals and SEO

We hear a lot of confusing things about SEO nowadays.

Here’s the problem, in brief: there’s more crap now than ever before.

It accumulates and somehow multiplies.  Old articles still float around that aren’t applicable anymore.  Outdated eBooks that are still considered “epic” resources.  Forums with people still preaching the same things from 8 years ago.  Old courses on Clickbank (and other affiliate networks) that are still being pushed by affiliate marketers to those new to Internet marketing.

I talk to a lot of my readers and in most cases where we do discuss SEO, I’m shocked to hear about the myths that they actually think are true because some guru said it.  Why did the guru say it, is what I want to hear next.  And of course, when he said it, because that matters just as much in this age.

Still, I totally understand how easy it is to fall into these traps.  Because it’s not you, really: it’s the Internet!

It’s not your fault!

I came from the same place. I had to learn most of it on my own.

Trials and errors, getting penalty after penalty.

I had to test things and work my way up to know what I know today about SEO.  Let me tell you: a lot of what I know now isn’t what I initially believed.  All those myths, like I said.  Those claims floating around the space.

Today’s post is about one of the most common of these claims nowadays. It’s about the statement that SEO isn’t really affected by social shares.

I call baloney.

Here’s why…

The Truth About The Impact of Social Media as a Major “Ranking Factor”

I’m sure a lot of people will refer to Matt Cutt’s video about how it isn’t part of the ranking algorithm.

Well, remember what I said earlier about how there’s different pieces of content out there that can cause confusion? Check out this next video, for example.

Yeah, besides Matt looking younger in that video (darn employers overworking him), he practically said what seems to be the opposite from the first video, even if it’s some years apart.

Both of these videos are still floating around the webspace.  That’s why a lot of people are confused about SEO facts.

Some see the new video, some see the old one. Some see both. Include the other stuff you see when you search in Google…

Confusion ensues.

I remember seeing a post by Brent Carnduff back then. He said something along the lines of this:

“Search is rarely cut and dry, but this (topic) seems to be especially confusing and misunderstood.”

What he said is damn true. This is really one of those things that keeps on getting debated.

So, let’s put it to rest today. I want to make things crystal clear. Let’s get this out of the way already:

Social media shares, be they Tweets, Likes, +1’s, or Pins are NOT part of the ranking algorithm.

But it doesn’t mean that social media sharing won’t affect your rankings.

Actually, it has very good and pretty obvious indirect effects.

To explain why, let’s start with this: as you probably know, SEO is still link-reliant.  We can optimize up to a certain point, but the rest of the way, it’s mostly powered by links. That’s why we still obsess over link building,  how to do it and how not to do it.

But nowadays, “engagement” is also a major factor and we’ve gotten more advanced over time in terms of tracking factors for it.

That’s a change.  Things are still changing.  The climate is getting wonky, same-sex marriages are now allowed and Bruce Jenner is suddenly revered after all those years of people crapping about him on the show. (I’m P.C.!)

And social media? It will just keep blowing up and keep on getting bigger.  It’s simply impossible to ignore it, even if you are a billion-dollar company like Google.

“Engagement” is the name of the game nowadays.

In most modern search engines, engagement already plays a big factor.

Heck, Facebook wants you to use them as a search engine now and they rely on engagement heavily. Ever wondered why nobody sees your posts on your Facebook Page or those from your own Facebook profile? Now you know.

On your webpage, you always want people to take action, right?

People can click on a link to your other pages, they can leave a comment and yes, they can share the link to their feed.

That’s engagement we’re talking about and it’s why social media shares can (indirectly) help your rankings.  Social media signals can give search engines useful real-time data because we all know that Google can crawl them by now.  The search engine can see the “engagement” on your page based on those shares, which I know & believe is a factor of a sort.

Let me make that clear: it’s used as a signal and NOT as a direct ranking factor.

But how about those who fake their social shares, you might ask.  Wouldn’t what they’re doing diminish the value of the social share as a signal to the search engine providers?

Well, I’m pretty sure they already have filters to deal with that possibility. It’s relatively easy to identify spam accounts and shares today.  With Twitter being integrated with Google again, I’m pretty sure that they also have more accurate data than they ever did (“more accurate”, not “perfect”!).

If you still aren’t sold, then you can at least believe that social media sharing can indirectly affect rankings, right?

What’s the other big “indirect” effect? Of course, it’s about the links.

The more people share your content, the higher the chance your content will get seen by the right people that can eventually link to you.

It’s also a great indication of success that helps your chances on getting your content republished on the big sites that can send you tons of traffic and even more links.

 

A Quick Experiment

“Hey, Dennis, you’re just spewing out a bunch o’ crap. You can’t prove any of these.”

Yeah, no matter what I do, it’ll probably lead to another causation vs correlation debate so nobody can really “win”… unless Google actually comes out and admits it (again).  I won’t take my chances with that, though.

So let’s tackle the following:

  • Social Signals as a direct ranking factor
  • Social Signals as an indirect ranking factor

Social Signals as a Direct Ranking Factor?

Here’s something I know most of us can agree with: Facebook Likes and Twitter Tweets are practically useless compared to the weight of shares, replies and comments.

Why? Simply because the latter are harder to get and are more valuable. They also lead to better engagement, which can lead to acquiring good links.

But how about the Google +1? Well, it’s the one that’s always disputed.  A lot of people truly believe this is the social media signal most likely to affect SEO, but at the same time, even more people think that the network’s dead and have pretty much given up on it. Where’s the value in that?

Honestly, I can’t argue with the latter position.

It is pretty much dead at this point for a lot of markets (no flaming please) since I can literally see people dropping off everyday. I admire the cool people, like Ana from TGC, who have stuck with it through good times and the bad. They are the reasons I will stick around in Google+. There’s still a glimmer of hope since it’s the closest alternative we have to Facebook and I like their new direction.

Anyway, I’ve built a following there by dedicating time to it, more than all my other social profiles combined. So, I think I’m qualified to at least talk about it somehow.

One reason a lot of business owners/marketers still use it today is because they believe that “plussing” is a DIRECT ranking factor.

My take? It was, for a short while.

I experimented with it often back then, solely sharing my posts and getting +1’s from others. Those with more +1’s increased their rankings for a brief time.

Today, with all the changes they’ve done, and with fewer and fewer results connected to G+ being shown in the SERPS, I haven’t seen anything that will tell me that it’s even a factor. One thing I really wanted to keep from Google+ was authorship and I know it was a factor for rankings, but I guess they have a better way of tracking it now. Though it’s officially “removed”, you should continue to keep the authorship snippet in there, though, (Google’s Garry Illyes said so).

Going back, for the sake of “testing”, I singled out one of my posts, the SEO checklist post, from some months ago and focused on getting social shares for it. We did outreach for the first 2 months to get those shares.

I also grabbed 3 other posts that targeted easier keywords for the sake of testing purely social shares on, with nothing else to follow.

I tested each page for Tweets/Likes/+1’s/Pins for rankings, indexation and crawl rate.

Note that we did NOT do any link outreach or link building on them. It was all for social shares for the 2 months in the experiment. (To those that participated, thank you so much for sharing them on your social media feeds.)

Result: The SEO checklist was ranking at #21 only 20 days after its release. The other 3 posts barely moved, and 2 were still not showing up at all for target keywords. They were all practically even in terms of social shares after 4 days.

SEO Checklist Ranking after Social Media Shares

The differences between them were that the SEO checklist post got more engagement on the page, more “natural” shares from new visitors as influencers continued to share it over the next couple of weeks and it just flowed more naturally, almost in a “viral” pattern.

Besides the SEO checklist post, the others did not gain any sort of traction, though they got pretty good numbers for social shares.

This supports the contention that Social Share Signals are NOT a direct ranking factor.

Obviously, the actual content and its type will still have effects on how something is shared.  However, for this test, I wanted to see if purely social signals could move moderately competitive keywords.

Social Signals as an Indirect Ranking Factor

We saw that we got results with the SEO checklist post in our experiment.

We focused on highly relevant people and companies, then branched out to bloggers in the space.  At the end of 2 months, we got 37 referring domains to it even before we started reaching out for backlinks using some of our go-to link building strategies.  We got offers for reposting our content, we got cited, we got linked to from some really great and relevant sites.

Bottom line is this: we got free links!

SEO Checklist Ranking Indirectly Because of Social Media

2 Months Later…

Result: We got to page 2 for a competitive keyword. Indirect effect? Definitely. Social Signals have an indirect ranking factor when used right.

One of my fav SEO’s out there, AJ Kohn, said this in his blog post:

“It’s not the actual social activity that matters, but what happens as a result of that activity. One of the best things that can happen is if your content is seen by creators, the 1% of users who create all the content floating around the Internet.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

You need to get in front of those content creators to increase your chances of getting links.  It just so happens that one of the easiest ways to get in front of others now is to get on social media.

 

Takeaways and Actionable Steps

  • Social Signals do NOT directly affect your search rankings. Stop worrying about getting as many likes & tweets as possible from anybody you can get ahold of. Do not buy Tweets, Likes, Pins and +1’s, because they won’t return your investment appreciably.
  • Social Signals DO affect your search rankings indirectly. Focus instead on getting in front of those with audiences that have “content creators” so you can increase your potential for links.

Actionable Steps:

  1. Create content that’s better than the most successful one currently out there. Use a tool like BuzzSumo or just Google your keyword and see what’s out there. Take notes and come up with a strategy on what type of content works already and do it better.
  2. Do outreach work – AKA, promote your content. Reach out to people. Most of them won’t bite! Kidding aside, people are naturally helpful and will usually do one of these things: share it, link to it or both. Plus you have a new potential relationship that you can build on. It’s a Win-Win for you.
  3. Focus on Influencers First – They are usually the ones with the biggest percentage of followers that create content about the niche you are in so put in the time to reach them. Skip the clever “Outreach Strategies” when reaching out to Influencers. Chances are, they read the same posts you did to improve outreach. Plus they get bombarded with the same outreach templates daily. “Would you mind if I send the link over to you?” – You’ve probably gotten one of those recently. Be real, be you & respect their time.
  4. Once you get a lot of social shares, start approaching big publisher sites if they haven’t approached you already. – Show them your post and numbers. They are always on the lookout for content that works and they will be happy to re-publish it for you. You’ll be visible to even more people. Don’t forget to make the most of it by building your email list.

How about you? What’s your take on social signals as part of SEO? Have you seen any direct effects? Have you tested it?

Please share your results in the comments below!

 
 
 

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26 Comments

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  • I must say, social media directly impacts your business’s search engine optimization efforts and also search engines influence your social media presence.

    You can speed up how quickly content gets indexed, you can get better ranking for social connections and followers and boost relevant keywords from shared content & your profile are some of the effects (Good effects) it can cause in your SEO. In regards to engagement, social signals play a role which is big.

    “Takeaways and Actionable Steps” has a great list of ideas we can mug upon and use in our SEO and social media efforts. The tips are easy to follow and pretty sure this will create a better production of work in every engrossed reader here in your pillar. All in all, it is a superb and insightful article to read!

    I left this comment on Kingged.com.

    Reply
    • thanks for checking it out Metz!

  • Epic post, Dennis! I agree that engagement and great content are the best to focus on to get Google love.

    Thanks for the info,
    Sue

    Reply
    • Hey Sue!

      That’s right. It’s more important than ever!

      Thank you so much for dropping by!

  • Hi Dennis,

    Great post! It is great to see you back. I’m looking forward to hearing about the startup that you are co-founding.

    Yes, there is a great deal of confusion about SEO out there! Thank you for doing such an in-depth post to clear up the confusion. I agree wholeheartedly! My experience is that social signals DO affect search rankings indirectly.

    I love your actionable steps, Dennis. Thank you for sharing this with us – and I will be sharing it 🙂

    ~ Robin

    Reply
    • Thank you so much Robin! Awesome to hear from you again!

      I’ve been away and out of touch LOL. Im pretty rusty right now. No better way than to get to writing again.

      Glad you still liked it somehow haha! 🙂

  • HI Dennis,

    I like that you mention social shares don’t “Directly” impact the SERP rankings.

    I say that because if we’re creating great content that people share, the more they share it the more exposed we become new audiences who may come and reference our content, engage with it, share it and include it in their own blog articles.

    I believe the things we do that help us are things that are not necessarily direct impacts.

    I always tell new business owners to pay attention to the little things, they add up. It’s true here in theory. I think the reality is as I shared in an SEMrush article I wrote in January 2015 is that if we network through our blogs and social media well, it will have strong and positive repercussions on how Google sees us and ranks us because we are naturally doing what they want us to do and what we should be doing for our own businesses.

    Great post Dennis.

    I hope you have an awesome week!

    ~ Don Purdum

    Reply
    • Hey Don!

      You are right on point. The little things add up to building your brand. It’s sad that a lot of people will never want to hear that. You are building a business for the long haul after all and not just for a next few months.

      Love your insights as always. Hope you have an awesome week as well!

  • Hey Dennis,

    Thanks for this post and clearing things up for us. I have to tell you that I agree with you when you said at the beginning of this post how so many people are still preaching outdated information. I still have people sharing my traffic videos from five years ago and that stuff doesn’t work anymore. They’re dated people, use your brains when sharing that. Dang! I almost want to take them all down because of this very reason.

    Now I’ve oftentimes said that I have a love/hate relationship with Google due to the fact that I felt I could never please them. Probably because of all the misguided information we kept being fed. Once I stopped focusing on it or worrying about it my content still ranked and for the reason you shared it.

    I get a lot of engagement on my posts and I do a lot of that on social media. I haven’t liked things on Facebook since they changed their algorithms over a year ago, I engage. It does matter and that’s proof right there.

    Very interesting post Dennis and I’m going to be sure to share this one as well. If you’re going to stick around the online world you need to learn and move forward or you’ll always remain standing still. No one wants that.

    ~Adrienne

    Reply
    • Hi Adrienne!

      LOL! Yeah, that is something to consider alright but the traffic you can get from old content is hard to ignore 🙂

      I wonder why you would think that. Looking at your blog, you probably get a whole ton of organic traffic. You have a ton of great links already. If google doesnt send you that much traffic, then something “probably” happened back then. I also noticed that you could improve your meta description as well. It’s a little bit too long.

      Anyway, you can let me know if you need me to look at anything.

      Glad you liked this post! I made sure that it’s not technical and boring HA!

  • “Why? Simply because the latter are harder to get and are more valuable. They also lead to better engagement, which can lead to acquiring good links.”

    More importantly, they are harder to automate. A bot can’t do them. 100 offshore workers with different IP addresses who don’t speak English can’t fake them. Most shares and comments are real, with at least some aspect of curation and triage to them.

    Throughout history (so to speak), Google’s battle has not been with spam, but with automated spam. Something spammy here and there won’t muck up the SERPs. But anything that can be done to scale (automation) can muck up the SERPs, and that is a direct attack on Google’s customers, the searchers.

    I believe that social signals are part of the algorithm, but I agree that any signal that can just be clicked quickly by someone without even reading the post or at least the summary, is not worth anything.

    Reply
    • Got that right David. I’m sure they already have some good filters for that. Scale definitely is the one thing that they are fighting with and Im glad you brought that up. Things still go through the algorithm nowadays but it has been cleaned up significantly.

      Thanks for dropping by. Always value your insights!

  • Dennis,
    Thanks for clarifying this one for us. It does have an impact but it takes time and in a different way than we may actually think. I like the visuals you used too. I will have to try out your experiment and let you know. One question: How does one decide which influencers to target? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Hi Lisa!

      You might want to look at who responds to them when they post on social media. That’s usually a clear indication of engagement. For example, Pat Flynn’s community is very engaging while someone with the same number of followers (or more) will not even come close to it.

      Thanks for checking it out!

      • Thanks Dennis, good point, will have to check that out!

  • Hi Dennis,

    Such an informative post indeed.

    Most of the time people think about doing the better SEO for their website. I am a kind of surprised that social sharing is not the reason for ranking. It is not included in the SEO algorithm.

    But social engagement increases the traffic and influence the rank of your website. Social sharing may not be included in the SEO algorithm directly. But somehow it affects the rank.

    Thanks a lot for this post. It will help many bloggers.
    Hope you are having fun.
    ~Ravi

    Reply
    • Hi Ravi,

      Thanks for checking it out. Appreciate you dropping by!

  • Hey Dennis,

    I have to agree with you in this. I started to lose traffic in September and Beginning of October and I couldn’t figure out for the life of me.

    But once I started back engaging more (shares, comments, linking to specific sites) that’s when my traffic made a U-turn upwards. I also got the courage to allow dofollow links on my blog to a couple of higher ranking sites and saw my traffic spike after doing this.

    Although I try to focus more on sites that are a couple a notches ahead of me, I added a few my influencer sites to my routine as well. This has definite helped to propel my blog even further, so I will be revamping my spreadsheet once again.

    Thanks for sharing Dennis! Have a great day!

    Reply
    • Hey Sherman!

      Great to hear your own experiences. Would love to hear more about what you are doing to grow your traffic and how it is working in terms of conversions and optins.

      Keep up the great work!

  • Hey Dennis,

    Wow, that’s something cool to hear. In fact I wouldn’t want social signals to DIRECTLY affect SEO, because then, people will start to buy Likes and Shares!

    Now that social shares/signals indirectly affect SEO it is much easier to promote to the right people, and attract high quality traffic.

    I too still stick to Google+ (I had a feeling sometime back that Google would kill Google+ too as it was doing with its other products – but I still decided to stay a bit longer). That has paid and I’m having a quite decent following there.

    And yes the shares and plus ones and the likes are helping with faster indexing of my posts as well as attract high quality traffic.

    Thanks SO much for sharing this. Have a great day 🙂

    Cheers,
    Jane.

    Reply
    • Hi Jane!

      Thanks for stopping by! It’s been a while. Always value your input. 🙂

  • Thanks for this article. I was a little confused when I saw an article telling me that the number of likes helped you rank better in search engines. It makes sense that social signals indirectly affect the rankings by building more links to the article through shares. I have recently started using google plus to help me rank my articles better and it has been working wonders. I will soon start reaching out to influencers who may be interested on republishing my article.

    Reply
    • That’s great Lawrence. Thanks for checking it out!

      (I hate articles that claim stuff like that. Why aren’t the articles with 10,000 likes not ranking. Can’t understand why they don’t see that.)

  • Yes, it might not be directly part of ranking factor but indirectly it can give a big impact. Social media has been widely used by everyone and IMO, a good thing to do is to create a strategy on how you can engage them like by posting something catchy that can make them interested in checking out your site and be one of your prospect/lead. Posting that are not just for sake of posting, just make it relational and natural.

    Reply
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