SEO and Social Media: A match made in Heaven

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In 2014, Google publicly denied that social media has any effect on a website’s search rankings.  And while they haven’t announced a change in this, it’s now 2019, and what a difference 5 years can make. Hootsuite ran an experiment called “Project Elephant” (named for the elephant in the room), and they posted 3 different groups of content to see whether or not social media had an impact on their SEO success. The control group was comprised of 30 articles that received no organic publishing or paid promotion, Group A was made up of 30 articles that were published organically to Twitter, and Group B consisted of 30 articles that were published to Twitter and then boosted for 2 days with a $100 budget.

The results? The control group ended with a 0% change in search visibility, Group A (organic only) saw a 12% improvement in visibility, and Group B (boosted group) saw a 22% improvement. You can read more about the experiment here, but the takeaway is definitely that yes, social media does have an impact on your website’s search visibility. Google still stands by their statement that social signals don’t impact SEO, and some SEO experts will argue that this improvement is because social sharing leads to more backlinks for your site (backlinks definitely impact search visibility) but there’s more to it than just promoting your content for likes and shares. Here are some ways SEO and social media work together to boost a website’s rankings and drive more traffic to the site.

1. Links shared on social media DO impact search visibility, although their domain authority does not.

Picture this scenario: you post an article on social media, let’s say Twitter, and it goes viral and is retweeted a few thousand times. Do these tweets help your rankings? The short answer is, yes. These tweets are considered backlinks, even though they’re not coming from a specific website with a measurable domain authority. Google says that it does incorporate the number of times a link has been shared into their search rank algorithm, and Bing does as well.

A website’s domain authority is a number that predicts how well a website will rank on the search results pages (SERPs), with higher numbers meaning the site is credible and trustworthy and lower numbers meaning the site is not as well known and may not be credible. This is a huge factor in SEO; if the New York Times shares a link to your content, you’ll get a much bigger boost in rankings than if your neighbor shares it on his blog. Unfortunately, something like a tweet isn’t measured in domain authority, so while a thousand retweets will improve your SEO, it doesn’t matter (to search engines) if these retweets come from Bozo the Clown or Barack Obama.

The takeaway here is that you should absolutely create meaningful content that people want to read and share, and post it to your social media platforms. If you’re lucky, the content will go viral, resulting in tons of new traffic to your site and a major boost in SERP rankings. But even if it doesn’t go viral, every time someone retweets or shares your content, it counts as a backlink that will work in your favor to improve your rankings.

2. Search Engines DO rank social media profiles.

Try searching for a branded keyword- a business name, for example, like “Taco Bell”. More than likely their business website will come up first in the SERPs, but chances are the second or third (or both!) listing(s) will be for their social media profiles. In the case of Taco Bell, it’s their Twitter handle that shows up as the second listing on Google. Oftentimes people prefer to click on a company’s social media profile as opposed to their website, especially if it’s a business they’re unfamiliar with. They’re more personal, and you’re able to get a feel for what the company is really like. And some social platforms, like Facebook, also incorporate reviews which many consumers read before making a purchase or choosing a business. And keep in mind, if your business isn’t taking up that second slot on Google, somebody else’s probably is.

In addition, because social profiles are ranked, you want to make sure all of yours are optimized. If you manage multiple social media accounts across different platforms, ensure your brand is represented consistently. You should use the same logo and colors, and similar photos, for all your social media profiles. You should also include a link, whether it be to your business site, a newsletter, or a request for information page. Your bio needs to be relevant to your business, and it doesn’t hurt to include a few keywords, when they’re relevant.

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3. Social media encourages engagement, which matters for SEO.

When you post content to your website, blog, or social media profiles, your goal should be to have your users engage with the content. Whether it’s through liking, sharing, commenting, or another action, engagement signifies that a user identifies with your content and finds it valuable in some way. Search engines notice this because content engagement IS a ranking signal for them, so if you publish a post that gets a ton of engagement, chances are your post will start ranking for that topic. A high ranking post will make people aware of your company and drive traffic to your website.

4. Social media also encourages brand awareness.

The more you publish quality content that promotes engagement on social media, the more your company’s online reputation will grow and improve. This will lead to more branded searches over time, which in itself will improve your SEO. But another benefit is that as you rank for more branded keywords, you’ll also start to rank for those more difficult, non-branded keywords. For example, the more branded searches we get for “Sip Dine Design” the more likely we are to start ranking for our other keywords like “travel” and “graphic design”, because more people will be coming specifically to our website and engaging with our content.

So why does your business need a social media presence in order to rank well on Google? It all comes down to this:

  • Social media is great for promoting content.

  • Social shares lead to backlinks.

  • Social media profiles are included in Google’s SEO algorithm.

  • Social media encourages engagement, and it’s a great place to promote your brand.

    • Both these things lead to increased search visibility.

How does social media impact your business? Do you have any tried and true ways to use social sharing to drive web traffic? We’d love to hear from you- comment in the section below!

Want more details on SEO? Be sure to check out Ali’s first post explaining SEO: your small business secret weapon!