Social Doesn’t Help SEO, and That’s OK

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There’s a lot of buzz in SEO about social media and its impact on SEO. True, some sites, like LinkedIn get indexed in Google’s search engine. That’s because Google is allowed to crawl LinkedIn’s discussion boards and Q&A section and index the stuff it finds there. Great. It’s a hidden benefit if you are willing to spend a little time optimizing post titles and your profile.

Notice that none of that, though, is being “social.” When you try optimizing post titles for SEO purposes, you typically end up thinking “what would Google like?” instead of “how do I contribute to this conversation (or, alternatively, how to I start an engaging conversation?)?” Posting good SEO titles doesn’t always equate to posting good conversation starters.

The two could potentially find a crossover point, but often you won’t see that. Unless the person is knowledgeable about online marketing, he isn’t worrying about keyword density in his post.

So, many times in life you end up seeing these wonky posts that were clearly written for the search engines and not readers. Think about how people start a conversation online—in a social context. They typically either say something that they’re passionate about, share something that’s funny or inspirational, or they start by asking questions. How many times have you seen funny pictures of cats being shared on Facebook? How about the number of times you’ve seen business questions being asked on LinkedIn?

OK, now think about the number of times you’ve seen conversations like this: “Cheap Insurance Rates!” Those were promotional, weren’t they? There’s not much there to discuss, is there? Yet, this kind of headline is rich with obvious keywords that any good marketer would love to rank well for. Since LinkedIn gets indexed by Google, there’s a chance this kind of headline might do well in Google’s search results. But this isn’t “social.”

Being social means engaging the audience. Often times, at titles like “should I bother with paying for marketing at this stage?” isn’t likely to garner much Google love, but it’s likely to get noticed on-site and generate a discussion. That’s a good thing.

Click-through traffic is a lost art. In the old days, before the Internet, marketers had to rely on stimulating peoples’ imaginations. They did this through the strength of a headline. A headline like “What Julie Becker Can Teach You About Increasing Your CTR” might earn you some click-throughs.

Writing good headlines is an important skill, especially since search engines can’t currently crawl and index social media accounts. It’s true that Yahoo and Google will soon index public forum comments that utilize Facebook’s integrated commenting system, but those search giants still won’t be getting into Facebook itself to index all of the many, many posts that are on-site only.

Do You Really Need to Worry about Your Rank on a Social Site?

A lot of rookie marketers are loosing sight of what actually happens on social networking sites. They’re still chasing the #1 spot on Google. Hello, you have an audience right there in front of you. Speak directly to them. Forget about where you rank for a second. Write compelling non-SEO headlines that grab the users’ attention.

At the end of the day, referral traffic coming straight from a social networking site is just as good as—perhaps even better than—search engine traffic. Think about it: If someone bothers to click through a link you post, they’re interested in what you have to say.

Federico Einhorn
Founder and CEO at FullTraffic. Passionate about Search Engine Marketing and Optimization, regular writer for the FullTraffic Blog. Since 2005, FullTraffic has evolved to become one of the most important Traffic providers worldwide for small to medium sized businesses.
Federico Einhorn
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  • Paris

    Hey this is a great post Federico. I have to say I am guilty of some of your points. I am working on fixing that issue, lol. I’ll be back for more.

  • James Boyd

    This is probably the best post I’ve read today. I confess, I’m one of those people who make use of keyword-rich titles but the suggestions were like a breath of fresh air.

  • Patrick Williams

    You make some excellent post. Engaging your audience or your followers is very important. Using your social media platforms effectively will drive traffic to your website, and thus improve your rankings in the long run.

  • Jeff Swan

    Unfortunately marketers have been taught for the past 5 years to “Optimize, Optimize, Optimize”! It’s only since Google and other search engines have so diligently limited the effectiveness from traditional SEO techniques that they’re starting to develop real compelling website and advertising copy. We’re slowly ushering in a new era of marketing that speaks to the consumer and not the search engines and consumers are better off for it.

  • Alex

    Hard to disagree with this post, especially if it works – would not want to read seo over-optimized SEJ titles. 🙂 However the content needs to be found, so SEO still is important? Correct me, if i am wrong.

    And what about “social signal” and stories about how Search Engines love content sharing and backlinks from social sites? In my experience FB likes had no effect on a web page postitons in SERP… Or is this “social signal” works just with +1?

  • Mark

    It sounds like you are trying to say that SEO doesn’t help social and not the other way around.

  • Rob Gelhausen

    I have to disagree. It is a well written post and you do make some good points, but Google’s Chief Anti-Spam Engineer, Matt Cutts disagrees with you. In this video, which comes from Google Official Webmasters channel he confirms that Google does use use data from social sites in rankings.

    • Eric Scism

      I agree with you Rob that social definitely helps SEO as far as ranking goes. However, what Federico is saying I think is more philosophical. If you’re engaging on social media, do it to foster communication, not just as means to get higher rankings. Social media can and will help your rankings, but don’t use it to game the search engines. Use it to reach your current market in the social sphere.

      • Morgan Westerman

        The point Rob is making is that the title of this post is, “Social Doesn’t Help SEO…” and that’s absolutely proven false and flies in the face of hard data and sources like Google themselves. Most people who know what they’re doing in both SEO and Social Media know that social signals improve the rankings on their website. They’re not trying to rank their social profiles or the latest update on Facebook, they’re using social media to drastically boost their website rankings.

  • Felician Tarcomnicu

    I noticed that facebook comments are the ones that can improve sites rankings. Google gives a lot of value to sites that have lot of comments on social networks.

  • Ron Stewart

    I agree to some of your points but not at all. You may have experience of writings since 2006 but it does not mean that you are absolutely right. You have described well but you can’t say that as you are saying is absolutely right. Social media can make your site more valuable as said Google’s masterminds. It is one of the best ways where you can get more traffic to your site. Mostly people go to the required sites from social media. And i think that this is not a black hat marketing if you give a strong information to the users via social media.

  • Gareth Parkin

    I think you are not far wrong in this post, it clearly makes sense to directly communicate with your potential clients through social media, and any website that has a significant amount of this going off down the line, then I am sure that Google will recognise and reward this. Google has to keep evolving and cannot ignore social signals in terms of rankings, maybe they are not there today but I think in time they will be, so it is better to be ahead of the game than chasing the pack in this respect.

  • Rodger @getsocialpr

    I would seem to me this is a simple reminder here. First, Google isn’t indexing some social sites, so why worry about optimizing one’s content for search in those networks. Instead focus on engagement and create content that will generate a click through. Once those networks allow Google to craw them, then incorporate SEO practices into the content created and shared in those network. But I think a larger and more important point is made here. And that is to engage. We need to be writing for people first and Google second. So, focusing on good title writing, for example is more important that writing a keyword rich title. The trick is to incorporate both. Weave keywords into one’s title without sacrificing readability for people.

  • George Stevens

    Great points. Using social media for SEO can never be a good idea since social media is for real people, and SEO techniques here can’t be a good. Concentrate on the real people, forget about SEO, and in the end your website ranking will be improved anyway.

  • Paul Coulter

    Nice article. I do very much agree that the new SEO is all about usability and engagement. Forgot the keywords / backlinks. Search engines will now be measuring how helpful you are to your audience. And with attribution playing a bigger role, I believe that search engines will reward you based on your social following (which comes directly from engaging / helping your audience). The title of the post is a little misleading though as I definitely believe that social signals play a role in organic search ranking.

    • Alex

      Usability and engagement is important, no doubt. But then I analyze most of the high competition keywords for my business – first pages (if not all 10) in Google top 10, are filled with keywords, have tonns of backlinks from spammy low-quality sites and are not very user friendly. I would be happy to see “new SEO” in action, as far as i see it, seo spammers still rule 🙁

  • Gus

    Yeah you definitely do not want to “over” optimize these days… even though that makes no sense LOL. I mean, you really don’t want to make it look like your just creating your site just for search engine traffic. I usually don’t even begin to create my site until about a week after I’ve purchased the domain. I then install WordPress and wait another few days to a week. Then I begin customizing and posting. It seems to work pretty well. The same thing goes for when you’re creating blog backlinks. I start a blogger blog and do at least 3 or 4 relevant posts without any links to my site. Then I wait a week and do another post with on link pointing to my website, and I will also link out to other relevant sites (preferably with a high PR because that makes your site look trust worthy as well).

  • allan schlar

    I disagree. Google applies a lot of “Google Juice” to companies active in social media )in their algorithm) and we have seen clients jump up in search just based on participating in Social Media. I did not look at the other posts that also disagreed with the author and the one that attached a video to back up their point.

  • Jamak Golshani

    Good post! A point to keep in mind is that the impact of being the available solution exactly when Simeon is LOOKING for it is very powerful. Social media engagement is much more casual. In other words, there is less intent.
    Also, how do they find you in the first place if you don’t rank? I have to say I think Google is moving in the right direction though. Thanks for the post.