SEO is one topic that is not black and white and research and best practices are always evolving and changing. You literally have to be on top of the latest trends and read industry news on a daily basis in order to REALLY understand SEO.

I say this because I know firsthand how easy it is to get caught in the confusion, especially when attempting to determine the effectiveness of social signals on your current SEO campaigns. Our SEO Company has received numerous requests & calls from clients asking us to clear up the confusion about whether or not social media has an influence on SEO.

social world

What are Social Signals?

Social signals can be defined as any activity taken on by users to advance web content across social networks. Facebook likes and shares, Twitter retweets and favorites as wells Pins and repins are examples of social signals.

Both experts and novices thought that these signals could help them boost their SEO rankings. But the rush to get more likes and +1s etc. on social media sites has proven to be unnecessary.  Unfortunately, a social signal is not a serious factor when it comes SEO rankings, despite the assertions and beliefs. This trend is unlikely to change anytime soon.

Why is There Confusion?

Unfortunately, not all webmasters got the message. Despite the fact that Google is not currently using social signals in its algorithms, some content marketers are arguing that there is a correlation between the number of shares and its SEO rankings.

Matt Cutts, the former Google Head of The Web Spam team, is the main source of the confusion. In 2010, he released a video confirming that Facebook and Twitter links were at the time used as signals:

In 2011, Google launched its own social network, Google+, and announced Google authorship markup as a way to connect authors to their content. These changes allowed for direct access to a social media site by Google and were an established step to identifying influencers.  Online Marketers were all hyped up believing that social media, especially Google+, was going to influence their rankings.

In 2012, Matt Cutts retracted his 2010 statement and stated at the question/answer panel at SES San Franscisco: “We continue to experiment. I wouldn’t put a lot of weight on plus ones quite yet.”

What Do the Experts Have to Say?

Last year, Eric Enge & Mark Traphegan of Stone Temple Consulting led a study on the impact of social signals and Google authorship on SEO rankings. In the study, Enge set out to measure the direct impact of Google+ shares on Google’s rankings and confirmed that links and shares from social networks (Google+ and Facebook) behaved like tradition web based links.

The research was rebuked by Matt Cutts, which led to a big debate between Cutts, Enge and Danny Sullivan from Search Engine Land. The debate concluded with Enge agreeing to repeat the study, this time including Cutts’ suggestions on how to improve it.  This time around it focused on the impact that Google+ shares had on discovery, indexing and rankings of content from non-personalized results.

Eric pointed out that there is room for error in the study, and admited that not everyone agreed with his findings. However, from the study he concluded that:

  • Google+ “shares” do drive discovery
  • Google+ “shares” probably drive indexing
  • Google+ “shares” do not drive ranking
[Source: Stone Temple Consulting] Another study was led by Stone Temple Consulting which measured the impact of Facebook activity on SEO. It concluded:

  • Google does not use “Like” data for consideration in search rankings
  • Google does not index all shares even on the prominent profiles
  • Google does not use Facebook as a discovery, indexing or ranking factor.

“When you Like a web page it does not show up on your profile. Google has no access to see what you have Liked. This means that Google cannot tell when a respected authority has endorsed something via a Like or not [Tweet This]. They can, of course, execute the Javascript for Like buttons on a page, but once again, they can’t tell who has Liked the page. In other words, a Like purchased from Fiverr looks just the same to Google as a Like by the pre-eminent authority on a topic.

So while Google can load the total number of Likes a page has, it cannot evaluate the quality of those Likes, making the information useless. In fact, every single one of those Likes could have been purchased on Fiverr.”

[Source: Stone Temple Consulting]

Conclusion

Though social media may not help you with SEO rankings, it will help you gain awareness and exposure for your brand, products or services.

Social Media Marketing (SMM) is similar to Search Engine Optimization in that it involves creating and publishing unique and engaging content. The focus, however, is on customer enjoyment and engagement rather than algorithm-pleasing tactics. The goal of SMM is to produce content that users will want to share across social networks, giving you more traffic from alternative sources.

In other words, once people start sharing your content, your website will be generating a buzz and this will cause referral links to start coming in. All this will lead to strong social signals which will maximize your visibility online.

About iRISEmedia

iRISEmedia.com is a Toronto digital media agency specializing in Website Design and Development, Social Media, Online PR and SEO. We service clients in Toronto, Ontario, the GTA and throughout Canada as well as globally.