Are you a little confused about why social media matters to your SEO strategy?
Well, if you are, you’re not alone. I certainly was for a long time.
Social media, however, has become much more important in recent years. And when I say “much more important,” I mean it.
But there’s a problem: the relationship between social media and SEO isn’t clear cut. Social media DOES affect Google page ranking, but only indirectly. It amplifies to your existing social media strategies but is not a ranking factor in its own right.
What does Google say?
Don’t believe me? Just take a look at what Google’s SEO expert, Matt Cutts says on the matter.
“But as far as doing, special specific work to 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 website ranking algorithms.”
You can, however, see the indirect effect of social signals on page rank if you plot one against the other. There is a correlation between the presence that an entity has on social media and its rank. Pages with the highest position have a higher number of shares, comments, and likes on social networking sites than those lower down the pecking order.
But wait, I hear you say. Just because there’s a correlation doesn’t mean that there’s causation. Perhaps there’s a third factor driving this relationship.
Indeed, you’re right. Correlation doesn’t equal causation, but that isn’t the end of the matter. As far as I can tell, the story goes something like this: Google doesn’t care about social media engagement directly. But what the company DOES care about is links. Social media engagement might not factor into the firm’s ranking algorithms, but link building does. Big time.
Think about it this way. If you create content and lots of people share it on your social media channels, there’s a much higher chance that others will also link to it. Social media marketing drives engagement, which, in turn, starts to incentivise people to link. The more links you have, the higher the value of your pages. It’s that simple.
Why doesn’t Google measure social media engagement directly? Again, we don’t have an awful lot of information to go on. The evidence (and a bit of common sense thinking) tells us that Google doesn’t think too highly of social media engagement as a quality ranking signal. The signal is weak, and it can be misleading.
The main problem is that it’s hard for search engines to evaluate the authority of a social profile or post. It might have a lot of engagement, but it could also be pretty meaningless or a false shop front.
There’s also the issue that engagement often has nothing to do with authority. People might like and share a post, but that doesn’t mean that the entity behind it has any long-term value to offer. It could just be a fluke.
What does Bing say?
Bing schming. Who cares about Microsoft’s search engine. Nobody uses it, right?
If you do a little digging around for statistics on how many people use Bing, you’ll be surprised. Not only is the search engine good, but it’s also the default option for Windows. This fact means that it has a large slice of the desktop market automatically.
Google handles around 65% of the global search volume. That’s a lot. But Bing is still very substantial, with more than 25%t of the worldwide market and rising.
And here’s the interesting bit: Bing does use social media engagement to rank pages. The world of search is bigger than just Google (although not by much). And that means that simply targeting social media for its own sake can help you rank better with the only other significant non-Google search engine. It is, therefore, not a total waste of time.
How to use social media to boost page rankings
If you want to use social media to boost page rankings then, just like everything else in SEO, you need to follow the optimal formula. But how do you go about doing it well? Take a look at some of these tips on how to use social media to bolster your SEO strategy.
Link to content on social media
There are volumes of valuable content on the internet that could fill the library of Alexandria dozens of times over on the web. Companies all over the world have vast amounts of wisdom to impart to their users.
Often just by chance, you’ll stumble across an incredible article buried on page ten of Google search results, which changes the way you see the world.
What’s weird, though, is how so many of these articles never get promoted on social media. How are people supposed to link to them if they can’t find them?
I can see why a lot of organisations don’t use social media to promote content. You’re relying wholly on the notion that other people will derive benefits from your work and create links to the source material without prompting from you. You need to have a lot of trust in the unseen actions of others for it to feel like a viable strategy.
The good news is that feelings are often wrong. If you share on social media, people will pick up on your content marketing and link to it if they feel that it’s valuable.
So what can you do?
Share your content that is evergreen regularly, making updates and tweaks as the years pass by.
Create a plan for each new piece of content you create to ensure that you maximise social sharing and likes on social media.
Develop a promotion strategy, ensuring that you choose social media platforms which complement your brand and content.
Seek out brand mention opportunities
Google (and other search engines) know that one off brand name mentions are pretty insignificant. The name could be anything, even a typo.
If, however, the company notices the same name cropping up over and over again, then it might start to consider it an entity. A thing. A real company.
In 2017, Google’s webmaster trends analyst, Gary Illyes, told a crowd at Pubcon Pro in 2017 that the company uses only brand mentions as a ranking factor. So for instance, if Google sees a bunch of people posting about Warby Parker, it’ll start viewing that as an actual entity – something unique.
The way brand mentions on social media affect SEO is, again, a little convoluted. Warby Parker, for those of you who don’t know, is in the business of selling glasses. Google knows, therefore, that if a customer has a question about spectacles (or maybe even monocles) that it should direct them to relevant Warby Parker content.
What companies often find is that people want to consume their high-quality content, but that there are queries that they don’t rank well for.
Growing a brand and increasing positive mentions, however, tells Google that your company has the authority to answer certain types of questions. The search giant suddenly sees you as a relevant repository of information and trusts you more with its users.
Building brand mentions is, again, a tricky business on social media. You can’t force people to do it. The state-of-the-art at the moment is to offer one on one positive encouragement whenever a user mentions you. You want to incentivise people to keep looking at your brand favourably.
Ensure that people can share your content
You wouldn’t believe how many companies I see creating fabulous content and then not doing sharing basics. Once you create a link on social media to your content, you want it to be equally comfortable for people to share it with their friends.
The best way to do this is by including buttons at the top of the article. At a minimum, you want to allow people to repost your work on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. (You can either create your own links or, preferably, use template buttons from your website builder or developer).
You also want to boost the sharability of blog posts by adjusting their content. Prose is fine. But if you’re going to get people fired up, then video, images, and other forms of media can be highly valuable.
Posting regularly means different things on different social media sites. People might not expect you to post a new article on Facebook every hour, but they will want fresh Tweets that often.
Posting on social networks is a funny business, and it might seem a little far removed from SEO. But, when you think about it, you can see how it all relates.
The more often you post on social media (up to a point), the more engagement you generate. And the more engagement you generate, the higher your profile views. Creating content attracts people to your social media accounts and gets them more interested in what you’re doing. Users come to expect a continual flow of content that they can enjoy, which drives an account’s popularity.
Naturally, the more people visiting your account, the more will follow the links to your content. Higher traffic hopefully means more links to your pages over the long term which boosts SEO.
Build relationships with your fans and influencers
Let’s face it, ranking high organically is a massive challenge today. Top companies have already nailed their SEO to the point where dislodging them through traditional means is pretty tough.
Social media, however, allows you to build relationships with people and skirt around troublesome SEO ceilings.
There are all kinds of people you can engage with via social media to boost the organic rankings of your pages over time.
The first is your brand fans. There’s almost certainly something about your enterprise that people love and want to share. Allying with your fans give you a kind of amplification device for free. Brand ambassadors will go out into the world of social media, extolling your virtues and telling everyone else that they should jump on board with you.
The second group is influencers. Usually, when digital marketers talk about influencers, they’re talking about paid shills – people who say whatever the people giving them money want them to say. But that’s not what I mean here. I’m much more of a fan of organic influencers: people who aren’t just paid to say things that advertisers want them to say.
The benefits of creating partnerships with organic advertisers are enormous. You retain your authenticity with your audience: there’s no chance of damaging revelations about “paying for positive reviews” getting out. There’s also the fact that genuine influencers tend to have enormous reach and kudos with search engines. What these people say really does matter.
The last group of people you’ll want to target is your strategic partners. These are businesses who share a common interest with yours but don’t compete with you directly. Coca-Cola, for instance, might advertise its content alongside Comic Con, suggesting people drink its beverage during the event.
The trick to pulling off strategic partnerships is to ensure that both parties experience value. A mountain bike manufacturer like Specialised, for instance, could team up with a resort which offers biking holidays. You want to avoid situations where you’re just a parasite benefiting from the marketing prowess of a much more competent company. Creating your own value means that the partnership will last.
Why social media matters for SEO is becoming increasingly clear with each passing year. Social media isn’t the same as other ranking signals, at least for Google, but it does make an enormous difference, through indirect channels.
Social media is also valuable in its own right for your marketing efforts. Yes, it can make a difference for SEO, but it is also an excellent tool for reaching out to the significant numbers of people who experience the internet wholly through those platforms.
You can think of social media as a tool to amplify whatever effort you’re putting into your SEO right now. It’s part of a growing set of opportunities for companies like yours to expand their online reach and compete more effectively in the SEO space.
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