Does social media really influence SEO?

Oct 7, 2016 by
Does social media really influence SEO?

Google’s core ranking algorithms are a closely guarded secret, and for good reason – if everyone knew exactly how to propel their sites up the rankings, people would be focusing more on gamesmanship rather than producing high quality content which warrants high visibility and large amounts of traffic.

There are thought to be around 200 contributing factors. Brian Dean of Backlinko produced this excellent post theorising 205 factors. Some of the factors were pure speculation based on comments made by Google employees, while others (such as the average length of content on a site) were backed by evidence. Out of all the potential ranking factors, one is discussed more frequently than any other: social media signals.

Many social media aficionados claim that SEO is significantly impacted by social media. In some cases, it’s claimed that social media is the only ranking factor that truly matters! In reality, however, these claims are tenuous at best. Google have consistently asserted that they do not use any signals from social media for rankings, and although it’s often worth taking Google’s official line with a big pinch of salt, this time it may hold water.

Engagement matters

Social sharesIn an excellent post by Larry Kim, writing for Moz, the theory that high social shares result in high organic rankings is dispelled. Instead, Kim concludes that it’s not the number of shares that matters – it’s the engagement rate.

By comparing social engagement rates with normalised organic click-through rates (CTR) for 1,000 pages, Kim was able to look deeper into the correlation between social shares and organic rankings. He did this by downloading sharing and engagement data from Facebook, CTR and ranking data from Google, and then matched up the data. While his study found that social post engagement and organic CTR correlated strongly, he determined that this was because:

The same emotions that make people share things also make people click on those things in the SERPs. This is particularly true for headlines with unusually high CTRs.

In other words, there is bound to be some correlation between a post that does well on social and one that does well in search, but, as ever, correlation is not the same thing as causation.

Key takeaways

Just because social media shares don’t directly affect your site’s ranking doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother with social media. Far from it.

Chloe Mason Gray, writing for Kissmetrics, states:

Your social profiles definitely influence the content of your search results. In fact, social media profiles are often amongst the top results in search listings for brand names.

Social media is an excellent way to demonstrate the personality of your company to the web. More often than not, a person looking to find out about your brand is likely to search for you on social media and see what kind of content you’re putting out. Social media is instrumental for communicating to your audience, promoting blog content and building your brand online.

Excellent content warrants excellent engagement, so if you’re receiving high amounts of engagement for your social posts, turn that into content for your site and vice versa. As always, it’s best to concern yourself with producing high quality, actionable content which helps your audience rather than worrying about gaming the search engines. In 2016, content truly is king.