How Social Signals Affect Your SEO

SMS Text
social-authority

For the past several years, the entire Google team has been pretty tight-lipped about the value and importance of social signals for SEO. We just can’t seem to get a straight answer from them!

In early 2014 they opened up enough to admit that social signals are NOT an active part of their ranking algorithms. Which was the complete opposite of what Google said in 2010. What gives?

We all definitely know social is a large part of most digital marketing efforts. And, social has the power to drive traffic, both organically and via paid channels.

So, what real impact do social signals have on our SEO efforts in 2015 and beyond?

Increased Traffic

Traffic is the best place to start this discussion, but let’s back up a bit. In the wake of Penguin, many social sites changed all of their outbound links to no-follow.

Naturally, this worried some SEOs and webmasters. However, those no-follow links still drive traffic. In fact, they may be more valuable than ever.

Traffic stemming from social signals is what Google likes to see, and those no-follow links from your social media profiles can be a real asset. Social signals let Google know your site is being talked about, and hopefully, there’s a live human managing your social channels to keep the engagement high.

It’s when those social signals (tweets and likes) turn into social shares that the real value comes into play. If your content is good, people will share…then people will (might) link to your content.

It’s here where social signals can turn into links, and then social becomes a huge win for our SEO efforts.

Social Link Building

Social Link BuildingLet’s dive in further to the idea of social as a link-building channel. First, links from social channels have a long way to go before they carry the weight of an editorial link or citation.

Traditional link building has taken quite a few knocks over the last couple of years, especially with guest posting. But we’re all over that now, and authority link building should be a very large part of any serious SEO strategy. Natural links will always matter, even as they become more difficult to earn and leverage.

However, your social links have an inherent authority, particularly if they stem from trusted social media platforms. They can be leveraged to drive traffic and improve your online visibility, as mentioned above.

To take full advantage of those links, you need to be prepared. You need to make sure that your landing pages are fully optimized to catch, and track, any traffic coming in from social channels. Take a good hard look at your social profiles and bios, and make sure they’re optimized for optimal results with links back to your main website.

Have a YouTube video? Link back to your website in the description. Using Twitter? Add a link in your profile. This optimization of your social media accounts is another win for our SEO efforts.

Increased Domain Authority

There is no hard data to support social signals as a driving force in a site’s domain authority. However, if we look at Backlinko’s Ranking Factors, we can see a section dedicated to social signals and that it “may increase a site’s overall authority.”

That being said, I have tested the idea of social signals to raise domain authority and found it to work very well. This is only correlation, but it does suggest that social signals do have some impact on a site’s domain authority. Which only makes sense.

As more traffic is directed to your site from trusted social channels, it must reinforce your site’s perceived value and authority. What is more likely happening is that Google is recognizing these social signals as “brand signals,” which they love.

Tapping Into the Social Chatter

The increased importance of social signals towards the SEO end-game should prompt you to step up your social media presence everywhere. The major social players will continue to make strides into the SERPs, as seen by Google’s recent firehose access to Twitter.

Sites like Reddit, StumbleUpon, and Tumblr are starting to again increase in impact when it comes to SERPs. These social media sites have millions of regular users, and that’s a resource primed to be tapped.

Concentrate on creating share-worthy content, whether it be an infographic, article, video, or survey, and use it to gain attention and traction on your social media outlets. Creating socially targeted share-worthy content will help drive traffic to your site, and will pass on some much-needed social authority.

Keep in mind, you also need to remain engaged with your social media contacts. Commenting on social media posts and industry forums will drive links to your social assets even further, increasing momentum for the loop of SEO effort/benefit.

Google may not be telling us the true value of social signals, but there’s no doubt it plays a large part in SEO. It should be clear that social has a significant role to play when it comes to launching and maintaining a successful SEO strategy.

Ramp up or continue to make the most out of your social links and leverage your social media presence to drive traffic and pass on authority to your websites.

 

Image Credits

Featured Image: Rawpixel/Shutterstock.com
In-Post Photo: Tai11/Shutterstock.com

Dario Zadro

Dario Zadro

Web Strategist at Zadro Web
Dario Zadro, is an SEO enthusiast, entrepreneur, and passionate web developer. To reach him, feel free to DM @dariozadro or visit Zadro Web for more insights and great tips.
Dario Zadro
Dario Zadro

Latest posts by Dario Zadro (see all)

Get the latest news from Search Engine Journal!
We value your privacy! See our policy here.
  • R.Rogerson

    I am sorry Dario.
    It’s not just you – it’s a lot of SEOs. It just so happens you’re the most recent …………

    “… Google may not be telling us the true value of social signals …”
    *sigh*

    So what “values” are they hiding from us Dario?
    What “truths” are they omitting?
    What “secrets of Social” are being kept from us?

    Please – do tell us.
    Straight up.
    No dancing.
    What is it that you think G aren’t telling us when they blatantly, clearly and unambiguously state that they do not use Social Signals to directly influence a pages rankings?

    Lets see …. could it be all those posts that aren’t accessible to googlebot on facebook?
    How about all the shorthand messages on twitter?
    Or the huge number of nofollowed links?
    Maybe it’s the “brand” mentions?
    Or … or… maybe that whole “we need to see your CSS and JS” is so that they can see the social approval (tweets/likes/shares/pluses) a page has and use them?

    G did try to use Social.
    And failed.
    (Actually, I think they may have tried twice…)
    The idea is nice, but it is far to noisey. Do you realise the sheer number of reasons for someone to hit “like” or “+1”?
    Acceptance, Agreement, Approval, Sympathy, Empathy, Apologies, as a Thank you … and more than 50 other reasons.
    Then there’s sharing – and again, a huge number of reasons (such as sharing an article and pointing it out so your colleagues can have a darn good laugh at it).

    At present, there is only 1 social approval signal of influence … and that’s indirect.
    The Google +1 button. It generates a link on the persons profile, and passes (or passed, haven’t checked in a while) PR.
    The only other Social activity that holds direct ranking influence is posts with PR passing Links in them (and some platforms block that).
    That would be no different than normal links on normal sites with normal pages.

    And here’s the real rub … you haven’t really listed a single social signal above, have you?
    All you have talked about is Social Media Marketing and Utilising Social Media for Link Generation.
    That’s not the same as Social Signals – is it!

    What really gets me … is the utter lack of real thought the general SEO community gives to Social.
    Have you actually looked at some Social Graphs?
    Have you looked at time lapsed interaction snapshots?
    Have you looked at the patterns and meshes of Social profile activities?
    Have you compared such things to the more standard Link Graphs and Interlinking nets?
    Have you looked at the similarities between Popular Sites and Popular Profiles?
    Or noted the strong ties between the profiles of popular sites?
    Have you monitored the effects of social interaction on a sites link activity, (including acquisition rates, destination and depth etc.)?

    I have to ask … because these “SEO Pro’s” I see and read banging on about Social never seem to reference any of it!

    There’s also no real Theorising or Postulation.
    It’s all “it’s this” or “it’s that”.
    Where’s the deep thinking or putting forward ideas?
    How about the idea that G could utilise social activity to vet link profiles? Do you not think it far more likely for G to let a large number of links through the net if it see’s a lot of social activity and interaction?
    How about identifying relationships between profiles, and judging links based on the sites those profiles are associated with?
    How about weighting the value of links based on the topical authority (author rank!) of the linking profile (or the associated site)?
    How about using sentiment analysis on social posts to decide if some of those links should be counted (JC Penny!), or even if a domain should be impacted due to mass dislike?
    Honestly, there’s a dozen different ways G could use Social to Indirectly influence rankings, or to modify existing ranking signals … but no one really looks at it, do they?

    No.

    It’s far quicker, easier and simpler to jump on that Social Signal bandwagon without the baggage of research or thought.
    Why reference real Social Signals, when instead we reference links and call them social signals.

    So … I’ll finish as I started – with an apology.
    I know you just got both barrels … but it isn’t aimed at you, just in that general direction.
    People need to see more brains and less bandwagons.

  • I think social signals has some affects on SEO, but it is very time consuming. To gain social trust, we first need to create high quality content and share them on social sites. Yes of course social sites can help to increase referral traffic.

    Thanks for the article Dario Zadro.

  • I believe, Google said that social signals do not have any direct relationship with organic ranking, but they indeed influence the ranking indirectly. I completely agree on each of the points you mentioned here Dario Zadro. Finally a business must focus on quality asset building on their niche, web traffic and conversion, and social media can help on all these.

  • Ok let’s put it this way. If a website is getting huge social media exposure, I’m sure a lot of people like what the particular blog or website is sharing. When huge amount of audience engaged with the website, why won’t you rank it up within the search engine. Though there is no evidence whether social signal influence search engine ranking, still when it comes to driving traffic social media plays an important role.

  • RiaanD

    Social media is a platform that is good for sharing content that *might* result in a link or two.

    That is where the *hard* relationship to SEO begins and ends. If done well, you will benefit from a *possible* byproduct, often by accident.

    There are numerous high profile SEO’s that were selling social SEO services last year, claiming some miraculous, wondrous link. They charged people a lot of money. They are mostly *very* quiet on this topic now. When asked about proof, they had examples. But these were always based on causation, not correlation.

  • Matthew Boley

    After about 75 different case studies I feel that social media is a 100% waste of money for SEO purposes. I ranked both low comp and very high comp keywords like CRM to rank 1 for SugarCRM. Social has such a short term impact on SEO that the money spent is better placed into 1 solid press release syndication through prweb or better.

    Now does this mean SMM is a waste? No it’s not a waste at all. For many websites you can drive a lot of traffic to your site for a very cheap return on investment. As for the type of websites, well if you are a service based company like a plumber you can throw your ROI right out the window. If you own a product of some sort then there is a good chance you can get some decent traffic. P.S please forgive my mispells am sick texting I’m bed today lol. Have a great day everyone.

    • R.Rogerson

      I think it depends on the SMM style/methods, and the platform.
      For the sake of clarity and accuracy, I’m talking Links and SEO. I’m not going to twaddle out rubbish about Social Signals (I’ll leave that to the author :D).

      Platform is obviously a key factor. If the general content is not crawlable, there’s no value to be gained. If the links are nofollowed, the chances of value is slim (I don’t think anyone has proven G can pass value through yet?).
      Obviously only platforms that are crawlable and provide normal links are going to hold any SEO value.

      You can generate worth while links, if the campaign is done right.
      The problem is that most people use SMM for the end-consumer.
      1) Most B2C end consumers don’t have websites
      2) Most B2B end consumers don’t link to their suppliers
      3) Most people with sites don’t put up pages about Social Posts

      Rather than targeting the end-consumer, for links, you want to target Peers. This in the same/related industries, or those that use a subset of the skills/tools (such as lots of businesses use SpreadSheets).
      If the Social Post is good enough, it will get shares, and if your post had a link in it, depending on the platform, that link will pass value and be replicated.
      There’s also the promotion method. The sole purpose of the SMM is to get people to the page. If it’s the right type of page, people will reference it (I hate to say it … but “link bait” works, or stats/data (inc. infographics)).

      The other problem is the same one as ranking blog pages – the links “move” from prominent position to obscurity fairly quickly, so the PR flow tends to dwindle rapidly (they go from the main profile page to being buried either further pages in (if paginated), or further down the page (and G does seem to alter the link value based on occurrence order?)).

      Or there’s the drip effect. You get links back to your posts, which slowly increase your social profiles value – and you of course link from your social profile to your own site. This generally improves the initial/prominent pages a little, but tends to do nothing of note for deeper pages (unless your profile has links to deeper pages).

      Basically, the only way to get links of worth through Social is to target your own industry (and sibling/cousins).
      Just targeting consumers generally results in little linkage (even if it gets 500+ shares).

  • Vikas

    Hi Dario,
    Very true. Our most traffice comes from Facebook & Twitter. If you do it properly you surely see the results.
    Thanks for article.

  • Hey Everyone, some interesting discussions going on here…that’s great! We all know that Google has clearly stated that social signals do NOT cause increased rankings, which I’ve mentioned above. However, there is a very strong correlation. Sites like SEJ have a massive social presence, which undoubtedly increases there visibility in the SERPs. I’ve seen domain authority raise upwards of 3+ points from social alone. Of course, that’s with using domain authority stacking and other methods of social type sites. But nonetheless, using social signals alone in our experiments. There have been other well-known SEOs that state even billboards can indirectly create an increased organic presence. Yes billboards. How? Google loves to see “brands” and awards them with more exposure. Social is just one way to engage your brand followers, and any of the increased SEO byproducts are icing on the cake. Thanks for all your comments!

    • R.Rogerson

      “… We all know that Google has clearly stated that social signals do NOT cause increased rankings, which I’ve mentioned above. …

      And yet you entitle the piece : “How social signals affect SEO”, and use the term repeatedly in the piece, implying that G wants to see the Social Signals???

      Correlations?
      Domain Authority?
      Oh please!
      One of the worst things to ever happen to SEO was for the C word to be used!
      All it tells us is that there is a Chance of a relationship. It is not absolute. It does Not tell you the direction of the relationship, nor if it is mutual, unidirectional, composite, accumulative etc. etc. etc.
      Maybe if the SEO’s playing with the big book of science words bothered to read it properly, they’d understand that after identifying a correlation, you have to investigate it further using comparative and exclusion tests!

      Just admit it – you wrote a bait piece, full of fluff, smoke and little else.

      • With your 3 comments now, there are correlations to you being unnecessarily angry, just plain negative, and more than likely upset that your SEO doesn’t work. Otherwise, why comment anonymously? However, you can be rest assured that I will spend ZERO time investigating this hypothesis further, per your comparative and exclusion test “rules” above.

        Social signals absolutely and 100% “indirectly” affect SEO. I suggest you take the time to read the article in full, follow the supportive links, and try to add value to this great SEJ community. The team here is amazing, and I’m sure they and all of us would love to see your “expert” contribution on social signals.

      • R.Rogerson

        You don’t get it, do you?

        You keep on saying “Social Signals”.
        But that is Not what your piece was about.
        What you described was basically Social Media Marketing and utilising Social Platforms for promotion.

        Social Signals are something completely different.
        They range from things like Approvals (likes/+1’s etc.), through to shares, volume of followers through to the topical authority of the poster/followers, posting frequency and consistency, volume and degree of interaction, and the sentiment of such interactions, duration of initial activity on a post and whether there is any secondary activity etc. etc. etc. You know, all the technical and analytical stuff that you didn’t cover.

        I’m not disputing that social activity has it’s benefits (such as authority and reputation building – something you missed out), nor that you can garner links from peers more than public consumers (again, missed that), or that you can use it for audience examination and focus research (missed that too), or that if your have profiled accurately, conversion rates from Social Platforms can massively outperform most SE driven traffic (another miss) … and the list goes on and on.

        + Anonymous?
        Yes. Intentionally so.
        That way no one can accuse me of posting and attempting to benefit from it. There’s no personal nor professional gain for me this way. No ulterior motives, no bias.
        As there is no link, no profile, no advantage – anything I post is far more reliable.
        As for knowledge … if you cannot see the depth of my knowledge from the comments above, try looking at my comments elsewhere. I clearly prove I know what I’m talking about!

        + SEJ.
        I am sorry – but this is the worst thing I’ve read on here. It’s compounded by the authors inability to admit fault.
        If in doubt, please, feel free to anonymously ask some authoritative SEOs. I’d suggest people like Dan Petrovic or AJ Kohn, or even anonymously posting on forum like Google’s webmaster help (I’m sure some of those people would have a field day with this piece :D).
        (Alternatively, as we are talking social … you can see the Shares, yes? Can you see a single noteworthy SEO sharing this (that isn’t associated with the author)? Likely not – which says a lot, yes?)

  • Awesome job with this post, Dario.

    I really like how you delved into a lot of the “indirect” ways that social signals can boost your rankings (especially the fact that more social signals=more brand signals for Google).

    • Thanks Brian! Much appreciated and glad you enjoyed it.

  • thanks Dario! I’m researching the use of social signals for SEO to increase PA/DA to help boost local search results. My mantra is content is king and with social its a great way to help get it out there, so even if Google doesn’t rate social signals directly the indirect value is obvious and cant be ignored for sure.

    • Completely agree, and thanks for your comment!

  • For those trying to reject the importance of social signals by saying that “google did not introduce social signals to affect rankings”

    I would like to say a couple of things here, first of all why do you always take things up in SEO’s perspective? I mean social signals are not created or introduced by google, it is created by users, a natural phenomena is when somebody calls your name somewhere in a group of people or a gathering, he is actually mentioning you, means more people know your name now. What does Google has to do with this? This is your brand being promoted socially, viral mentions are making you popular, right?

    So, now if google takes this up as a ranking factor or not. Let me explain this here too, We all know that Google considers popularity of a website as a ranking factor & don’t you think more number of social signals are actually increased popularity of a website? So, I don’t know how can you say that social signals are not important or should not be considered ranking factors, it does not make any sense.

    • R.Rogerson

      It’s taken up as an SEO topic because that’s what the title was 😀

      We can say that “Social Signals are Not ranking factors” because they are not used to directly alter the ranking of a page/site in the SERPs.
      Things like Links (in various ways) are, as are the use of relevant terms in the Title, Headings etc. Those are all Ranking Signals (on-site and off-site).

      Social Signals are things like approvals (likes/+1’s), reshares, topicality of posts, popularity (number of circlers/followers) etc. etc. etc.
      You can jump from 10 to 50K followers on Fb/Twitter/LI/G+ … it won’t change your rankings.
      You can get 500 likes on each and every blog post – it won’t change your rankings.
      You can have 200 people tweet your Brand Name – it won’t change your rankings (no one has yet proven brand-mentions).
      You can have a normal, non-linked social post shared 2K times initially, with 20K secondary shares, and three later re-surge shares over 6 months totalling 1 Million shares – it won’t change your rankings.

      No one is saying that Social isn’t important, nor are they saying it isn’t influential, useful, beneficial etc. There’s even multiple benefits listed in above comments (many missed by the author).
      You’ll also notice no one argues against secondary/indirect social ranking influence (such as +1’s generating links, social posts with links that pass PR (not a social signal in/of itself)(missed by the author!)), the increased exposure and potentially increased traffic (which may increase the chances of link acquisition).
      All of this is known, pretty obvious, common sense and the benefits of standard marketing/promotion.

      No one is arguing against the benefits of Social in the slightest.
      What has been questioned is the presentation of Social Signals affecting SEO; directly influencing rankings.
      The singular truth is Social Signals do NOT directly alter rankings.

      So you are 100% right – Social Media is important, and should be used, and has many many benefits!
      It’s just there are no direct SEO gains from it 😀

    • Hi Sarah, You’re absolutely right that brand mentions are also closely tied to social signals. Social media marketing and promotion naturally create social signals as a by-product. The more popular your “name” becomes, the more relevance it creates to boost your overall rankings for your industry. Thanks for your comment and insight!

  • As said Social media and SEO are the two tightly interlink strategies. Social channels not only gain traffic and ranking to the site, but will helps in customer engagement with quality content and with active participation. If done perfectly then sure we can expect the results.
    With social signals, brand popularity will be increased. Increase in brand reputation do affect the SEO and also business. I totally agree with Dario the way he oversees Google’s views.

  • Nice to read.. after reading this post.. i read all the comments as well you guys are rocks..

  • Hi Dario

    Overall, a well thought out article on the value of social signals. The point about “Keep in mind, you also need to remain engaged with your social media contacts” is the driving factor for me personally. I mean, sure its great as an after thought, you might pick up some authority, but the real essence of social is exactly that – being social and connecting with like minded people.

    Cheers