We have been hearing it for years now. Google refused to comment on it and digital marketers keep speculating the “Does it, or doesn’t it?” question from every possible angle. The general consensus has been that social media does, to some extent, affect search rankings for a URL or brand page.
All of Google’s reluctance to feature other social networks has finally buckled with the official inclusion of Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks in their Knowledge Graph.
Google and other search engines out there purportedly pick up on “social signals” that emanate from links popular on social media, i.e. those that have been liked and shared multiple times.
According to SearchMetrics’ annual survey of the various factors that affect search, Google+ sits at number 3, one step ahead of even “large quantity of backlinks” which was once considered the holy grail of SEO. In fact, 6 out of the top 10 factors that this study found to matter the most to SEO are related to social media.
Can you, as a marketer, use your social media efforts to gain visibility in the SERPs?
Invest in Great Content
Great content is like a magnet. You don’t need to push it down users’ throats or timelines; readers get drawn to it automatically. Whether you create it yourself, outsource it, or curate from other publishers, the end goal is to associate your brand with content that is:
And of course it doesn’t always have to be on your social network. Posts that have the best chance of being shared are those you can control – and typically reside on your blog. Check out this interesting post on what the brightest and the best are doing right with their content marketing.
An extremely popular blog and strong social sharing means users trust your content. Google views this sort of enormous popularity as votes in favor of your brand, and consequently increases your authority in their algorithm, which ultimately translates to a higher ranking on searches for associated keywords.
So, great content = social media popularity = authority for your website = better search rankings.
Don’t Ignore Google+
Whenever there is a conversation about social media, the usual suspects crop up in the discussion – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, and recently, Vine. Google’s much maligned and downplayed social network Google+ rarely gets a mention when it comes to serious social media strategies.
You see, Google built Google+ with the intent of capturing social media market share. While that did not really happen in terms of monetization, Google turned it around and made Google+ a definite factor that affected search rankings for brands across the board.
Google+ is even more important if you are a local brand and local search is your raison d’etre. From creating a brand page on Google+ Local to getting users reviews from fans on your Google+ page, to posting interesting content with a local flavor, Google+ has the power to make or break your local search rankings.
If you notice the seven pack in the local search results above, every single one of the hair salons listed in it have an active Google+ account and multiple Google+ user reviews.
This means, whatever your views on Google+ may be, you better be active on the network and update it with all your business information. I’d also recommend posting content tailored to Google+ some killer content on it, if you want Google to humor those ‘social signals’ that we discussed earlier in this article.
Some of the key factors that up your SEO quotient on Google+ include:
- The number of people following your G+ page
- The authority of your followers
- The total number of +1s and shares that your posts get
- The authority of people and brands that +1 or share your content
A controversial result of search engines looking to social media to improve search results is the personalization of one’s search results. Search engines and browsers track your ID when you are signed in while performing a search.
Any results generated are matched against the results preferred by your immediate circle of friends on social media and ranked in that order. The social network primarily used by Google for this purpose is – you guessed it – Google+!
When you search while signed into Google, you’ll see an icon like the one below. This icon indicates that this particular search will whet its results against experts before taking any action
Eric Enge demonstrates the impact of social based personalization through this simple example.
Enge claims that the result that shows at spot number 2 on a search performed when he’s signed into Google shows up at #12 when the same search is performed incognito. He explains that four of his friends from Google+ like the link referred to here. Hence the enhanced search ranking for this result when Enge is signed in.
A jump from #2 to #12 is a huge shift for a URL, don’t you think?
Personalization influences not just rankings, but also inclusion in the results itself. Google stopped showing post authors’ headshots in search results after doing so for three years. But (surprise, surprise) your posts on Google+ still show up with authorship attribution to your signed-in followers. These snippets are believed to have better click-through rates.
With profiles on other social networks recently finding inclusion in Google’s Knowledge Graph, it could be a matter of time before signals from these also start finding direct attribution in the SERPs.
Image Sharing Sites Add Huge Value
Images are the lifeblood of social media. From larger images on Facebook timelines to Twitter adding images into their feeds to the explosive popularity of image curation sites like Pinterest and photo sharing sites Instagram, everything points to the voracious appetite social media users have for images.
Here’s an interesting tidbit for you: Google shows image results for 40% of all keywords searched in the universal search results. This is over and above the dedicated image results you get from an image-only search.
Image results from Flickr, Instagram, and Pinterest all get pulled for image searches made on Google, Bing, and other search engines. This is a treasure trove of ranking elements that too many brand owners completely forget to capitalize on.
The next time you share images on social media, here are some important additions you need to make:
- Make sure the images you share on social media link back to your site.
- Fill in detailed ALT text and Title tags for images on your site are destined to be shared on social media.
- An oft-ignored SEO marker is your image name. Name your image with keywords important to your brand and which also describe the contents of the image.
- Use keywords in the URL linking the image back to your site.
- Optimize for Twitter Cards and Facebook Open Graph.
What we’ve always suspected has been confirmed by search engines – social media platforms (and not just Google+) make a real difference to your SEO. Have you noticed any remarkable results connecting your social media and SEO journeys? Please share them with me in the comments!
Featured Image: Screenshot taken December 2014