3 Steps to Using Social Media to Improve Your SEO

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There’s no doubt now that your social media presence influences your rankings within the search engine results pages.  However, what is up for debate is the specific mechanisms by which social media signals influence your site’s SEO.

In lieu of a definitive answer from Google (which we’re not exactly crossing our fingers for!), we’ve compiled the existing research on the role of social media in SEO to come up with three overall recommendations.  Following these steps should help your website take advantage of the power of social media marketing, no matter how these markers are being weighted in the algorithms.

Step #1 – Increase Social Shares

According to Eric Enge, writing for Search Engine Watch, social shares are a “noisy” signal:

“Likes, +1s, and social links are still a noisy signal, which affects their use by search engines.  The bottom line is that you need to focus on authority, your own, as well as relationships with other authorities.”

By “noisy”, Enge means that existing social signals – including Facebook “likes”, Twitter “tweets” and Google “+1s” – still have some serious weaknesses.

First of all, they can be gamed.  A simple glance at sites like Fiverr shows a booming business for providers who will automatically send these social signals your way in exchange for a small fee.  If SERPs rankings were determined exclusively by the number of social signals it earned, the highest positions in the search results would all be held by the people with the biggest budgets for buying social influence.

At the same time, these social signals aren’t representative of human behavior as a whole.  Although roughly half of the US is on Facebook, only 4.8% of the population rates as “active users” of social networks, according to additional research cited by Enge.  Adjusting the SERPs based on the behaviors of such a small percentage of the overall population isn’t likely something that would appeal to Google, whose goal is to provide the best possible search results for everyone (not just a small group of active users).

But despite these limitations, there’s no doubt that social signals like these do play a small role in the SERPs rankings, as representatives from Google and Bing both confirmed the practice as early as December 2010.  In an interview with Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan, representatives from both engines gave the following responses in reply to a question about whether or not their algorithms assigned any value to the relative authority of Twitter users and the links they shared in their tweets:

From Bing:

“We do look at the social authority of a user. We look at how many people you follow, how many follow you, and this can add a little weight to a listing in regular search results.”

And from Google:

“Yes, we do use [tweeted links and RTs] as a signal. It is used as a signal in our organic and news rankings. We also use it to enhance our news universal by marking how many people shared an article.”

The bottom line is this.  Social signals do matter from an SEO standpoint, but they aren’t strong enough to justify artificially padding your Facebook “likes”, Twitter “tweets” and Google “+1s.”  Instead, providing your website readers with social tools that make sharing your content on social networks easy to do and encouraging them to share articles they enjoy on social networking sites should be enough to grow your social signals profile in an effective and sustainable way.

Step #2 – Grow Your Audience to Build Authority

When looking at how your social networking presence influences your site’s SEO, increasing your total number of social shares is only part of the picture.  In fact, using the power of social networking sites to build your brand and grow your perceived authority is a much more useful way to take advantage of these community-based sites.

As both Google and Bing hinted at in their responses above, the relative authority of social networking users is considered in the ranking algorithms alongside the total number of shares each site receives.   The natural conclusion that can be drawn from this is that being regarded as an authority figure within your industry’s social media space could have a positive influence on your site’s SERPs rankings now and in the future.

Of course, the value of having a well-established brand isn’t just limited to how this may influence your search engine rankings.  From a business standpoint, you’ll  likely find that you’re able to make more sales and influence more people as an established industry leader than you are as a “no name” blogger with little more than a website and a loose social networking following.

So how can you go about building an authority on these sites?  Power blogger Chris Garrett shares this great diagram for envisioning how your digital presence should be built:

In this digital age, it’s important to remember that everything you say and do contributes to the overall perception people have about you.

Say you build up a strong industry blog and participate actively in community discussions on Twitter and Facebook, where you’re regarded as being a helpful authority figure.  Now, imagine that these same community members do a Google search for your name and alongside these carefully cultivated resources, an unfortunate “What stays in

Vegas didn’t stay in Vegas” photo album on Flickr appears.  What do you think this will do to your overall branding and authority?

To truly cultivate an effective online presence in order to improve your business results and your natural search rankings, invest time into all of the elements featured above in order to portray the image that you want associated with your brand.

Step #3 – Engage with Authority Users

Finally, while social networking can be extremely useful in terms of building your own branded authority within your industry, an even more powerful way to use social networking from an SEO standpoint is to “piggy back” of the authority of others.

Social networking sites provide an unprecedented opportunity to connect with thought leaders within your industry – something that never could have occurred even a few years ago, when industry-specific celebrities were considered to be aloof and unreachable.

But while connecting with these authority users may have significant value for your business and personal growth, getting these “power figures” to lend their perceived authority and share your content on social networking sites could be an even bigger benefit to your site’s SEO.  In the Eric Enge article referenced earlier, the author goes on to say:

“If you want to be a significant player in your industry than social media needs to be an important part of your mix.  However, getting an authoritative person in your space to share your content will probably be a big win, and this is an excellent goal for your social media campaigns.”

For this reason, it’s a great idea to use social networking sites to reach out to and connect with authority figures within your industry.  Don’t demand that they share your content right away; instead, allow these relationships to develop over time.  If you offer good value over time, some of these authority users may be willing to pass on a link to your site, representing a potentially huge impact for your site’s SEO.

Image: hanspoldoja


Sujan Patel
Sujan Patel has over 12 years of digital marketing experience and has helped hundreds of clients increase web traffic, boost user acquisition, and grow their... Read Full Bio
Sujan Patel
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  • Nick Stamoulis

    Site owners shouldn’t worry about padding the amount of Facebook Likes, retweets or +1s their content gets. Great content is going to get shared–you don’t have to force it. If you really want your social media to help your SEO, you have to pump out great content that keeps your social network engaged and interested.

    • Gwen Morrison

      You nailed it, Nick! “Great content is going to get shared — you don’t have to force it.” If only people realized how much content mattered. Not sure why it’s so difficult for business owners to understand that content — quality content that provides value to their target audience — matters! They’re often too busy trying to be cute and clever and providing little value — or incentive for shares.

      • Lyka Winnett

        Agree. The more compelling title and informative content you share, the more likes, shared, retweets, plus 1’s it will get. Your content will naturally go viral if you provide something that your readers may find interesting and useful.

  • Dali Burgado

    Hi Sujan,

    Excellent article. For me, building those relationships with authorities in my industry is key, as that’s where you’re going to get the most exposure. Google+ has been instrumental for me in this regard lately, and to a lesser extent, Twitter.

  • James Gurd

    Hi Sujan,
    Thanks for the article and distilling a lot of research/blogs etc into 3 simple steps.
    I think that gaming social sentiment by paying people to like you actually dilutes your brand position and it most certainly screws with analytics data. How do you know what content is genuinely liked by genuine customers, if you keep getting spammy +1s and Likes?
    If you churn out lots of gamed social links, it’s more likely you’ll drive low quality traffic to your website. In these situations, your web analytics data will show low engagement and conversion. How can a CRO or e-commerce manager then do intelligent analysis?
    I still believe that the marketers who use social to contribute to their overall customer communications program by adding value to their customers, will get the greatest long term gains. I would rather have 100 people who really love my brand talking about me and influencing their social circles than 1,000 spammy links that nobody gives a monkey about but which might nudge my webpages up by a position of two on Google. There is more to life than Google after all:)
    Quality is a long-term goal and I certainly advise my clients to think long-term and think about the customer instead of obsessing over how many Likes they can get.

  • Sarah Tharp

    Agreed. More than ever, two facets of online marketing are merging. Social media and SEO are no longer two isolated services, but services that need to be performed in conjunction with one another to ensure utmost success.

    Dali, building relationship with authorities within your industry is imperative, I agree. There’s definitely a correlation between how high an authority figure is and the amount of importance a tweet carries. For services that offer “100 tweets from multiple Twitter accounts about your brand for $5” – the return you get will be worth $5 – if that. One tweet about your brand from a influential person in your niche who has a large following will be worth exponentially more.

  • Doug Caywood

    Great article. I agree, primarily, with Step #2 and would add “Targeted”. Focusing on your target market will, by default, make achieving #1 & #3 more effective.

  • Navneet

    Thank you for sharing such a useful tips for social media strategy for SEO. I found a great help from this step by step tricks. Thanks once again….!!!

  • Graeme Whyte

    Thanks very much for this. At last it feels OK to continue doing what I always have, ie use the knowledge and expertise I have in my niche properly, by writing and sharing meaningful content to people who genuinely want to read it! What’s the point of doing anything other than that!

  • Rob Morgan

    “Great content” and “Relationships with authority figures” is the way to go without question….However, does anyone have specific views about how best to do this….

    I am sure there is great content out there which has not caught on. Equally, I am sure people have built relationships with authority figures yet have not seen results from doing such…..

    If we look at YouTube for example, there are very good videos with great content which have very few views, yet at the same time there is total rubbish (not even quirky funny clips of dogs rollerblading) which have 500,000+ views….

  • dotjenna

    I hear you say, “according to the number of shares a site receives,” what do you mean? Are you talking overall shares of docs from the sites? I assume you are…

  • Aaron Eden

    I love that you point out this item: Engage with Authority Users. I guess, the real challenge here is not really on saying hi and hello to these influencers; but on how to influence them. So, we’re seeing a hybrid of SEO+ social media marketing these days. Do you think we’ll soon see the end of black hat SEO and the likes?

  • julie

    Thanks for this great post, just started my own business and find this information VERY important. Thanks again.

  • Pat Gunning

    Social Media Marketing and Social Relationships are the name of the game online today for creating the credibility necessary to succeed… great article!

  • Steve Bonin

    Hi Sujan,
    Thanks for this. the article is short, to the point and informative.
    I will also agree with Nick on 26 March, in the end, content is king. Google’s prime goal is to provide a meaningful experience for their users, and that means to bring the best content to specific subject. Google will always find a way to provide that and all other SE’s will follow. Not only that, but, if you provide something worth reading, people will read it, it just happens! Thanks

  • Saanvi

    High search ranking, which is the use of SEO, increases traffic for your site, enhances probabilities of conversion and thus boosts business. But SEO professionals truly do know that a few of the important search algorithms are content relevance, backlinks from relevant as well as authority websites as well as domain authority. One more factor is at this point emerging as important search algorithm – social media.