Ways Social Media Impacts SEO

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Local SEO has been all the rage for local businesses for some time now. Most SEOs are very skilled at optimizing a website for local using on-page, backlink anchor text, and Google Places pages.

At the same time, Social Media has become a critical piece of the overall SEO puzzle. Shares, likes, follows, and +1’s are all known to positively impact overall ranking for a website.

With the two disciplines now permanently intertwined, it is important to consider how social impacts local SEO. Let’s review the main pivot points where the two provide collective momentum for locally-targeted websites and companies.

Geotagged Content: Check Ins and Media

Check Ins are important indicators of your physical location

Both Foursquare and Facebook offer the ability to check in from the business. Similar to how Google uses Web citations of your physical address for verifying location on Google Places and for local organic ranking, check ins have become a key part of their algorithm.

Geotagged media is also key to verifying location

Most smartphones automatically geotag photos when they are taken. The vast majority of users either don’t know how to turn this feature off or simply don’t care. When they upload images to Flickr or videos to YouTube, it includes metadata about the time, date, and location of when the media was created.

Especially if the media appears on your website or Google Places page, it serves to further confirm that your physical location is actually where you say it is.

Google+ Adds/Shares and +1s

Make no bones about it—Google+ is here to stay. Google+ activity and +1’s, as a whole, have been shown to be positively correlated to improved rankings on Google. Well, it has the same impact on local SEO.

Google looks at multiple dimensions of Google+ and +1 activities:

  • Adds and/or Shares on Google+: Location of the individual making the adds or shares on Google+ is important, but some of the tried and true factors from overall SEO are also at play. Specifically, Google looks at the number of shares, the authority of the people doing the sharing, and the speed (acceleration or deceleration) of sharing. If these all work in your favor, your website will benefit.
  • +1’s on your Website itself: It is absolutely important to earn +1’s on your website. Not only do they help your site rank overall, but they hold similar weight to Google+ shares. The volume of +1’s, the authority of those doing it, and the speed at which you are earning the +1’s all play a part.

Authority Reviewers On Social Sites

Sites like Yelp and Places are great for earning reviews about your business. It is, as usual, most important to get more reviews from authoritative or influential individuals. It is also important that those individuals provide high ratings on whatever review scale the sites use.

If your location is correct on these sites and the reviews start to flow from the “elite,” it will help your site rank locally.

Twitter Followers/Mentions and Facebook Shares/Likes

Google combines your ability to influence your social network as a whole with the above to decide which sites are most important to rank in any particular locale.

They apply a similar three-dimensional measurement system for both Twitter and Facebook:

  • How many combined Followers/Mentions your business account has on Twitter and Shares/Likes you have on your Facebook page and website content
  • How authoritative the individuals are who Follow/Mention or Share/Like
  • Whether the pace of growth for Follow/Mention/Share/Like is accelerating or decelerating


SEO and Social Media are interdependent now, and that connection extends to Local SEO. Indicators like geotagged media and check ins are key to ranking based on location, but overall, social media profile health and activity also influence whether Google will rank you at the top or not.

This is still an evolving model (as are all facets of SEO), so we are sure to see new signals added, as Google works to continually improve the SERPs. Based on what we have seen to date, they are making rapid progress toward that objective.

Data Source: Local Search Ranking Factors, an annual survey of industry SEO professionals, provided by DavidMihm.com. If you are interested in Local SEO, I highly recommend you give a read to the full article.

Tommy Landry
Tommy Landry has 20 years of experience, with a deep understanding of Social SEO and Online Demand Generation. Operating out of Austin, TX, he consults... Read Full Bio
Tommy Landry
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  • Brock Murray

    Very insightful article. I have been claiming that many of these factors affect overall SERP for some time. Nice to see some documented research to that effect. Thanks, Tommy.

    • Tommy Landry

      Thanks for the feedback, Brock. Cheers!

  • Nick Stamoulis

    I don’t think that Yelp reviews have to come from influential people per se. The thing that is great about Yelp is that it is real reviews from real people, which instills trust in potential customers. Do positive reviews from leaders in your niche help? Absolutely, but don’t discredit a review from a regular person either!

    • Tommy Landry

      Completely agree – all reviews matter. The difference is that some matter more, but I’ll take reviews from anyone kind enough to pass along some kudos to me or my business.

  • Hannah

    Great post! I really enjoyed what you said about Google +.. even if people are not using it as a personal social network at the level of facebook (yet) it obviously affects google’s rankings so businesses should be using it without a doubt. Plus Google+ is still increasing in personal users even if it is not as popular as the book. -Hannah, BizBrag Team

    • Tommy Landry

      Thanks for commenting Hannah! Google+ is more important than many think, but more for personalized SERPs than for social interaction. For more in depth information, please take a look at a couple of the links in my response to Joe below.

  • Joe

    Matt Cutts at SES 2012 said Google doesn’t actually look at social signals as a huge indicator.

    First, he said Facebook doesn’t give Google much of a signal at all because most profiles are private. How can Google know what your friends are sharing if they can’t see the profile? Unless everyone on Facebook adds Google as a friend, the social signals from Facebook is unreliable.

    Second, Matt Cutts also said that Twitter actually blocked Google from crawling its site after their information sharing deal ended. This prompted Google to be weary of using Twitter as a signal. I’d guess that a good 15-20% of Twitter profiles are bots/fake accounts anyways. So Twitter isn’t really a good signal either.

    The only social media site that Google can rely on is their very own Google Plus. Plus isn’t nearly as popular as Twitter or Facebook so the data isn’t very good either.

    Bottom line is that social signals are impacting SEO but not as much as you think. Traditional link building is still the #1 factor in rankings.

    • Tommy Landry

      Hi Joe,

      Thanks for your input. Yes, Matt did say that, but in response to speculation that social was passing up links and site authority as a ranking factor. He was stressing to the audience that backlinks are still #1, and you and I are on the same page there.

      Regarding the other parts, Google absolutely uses publicly available Facebook information such as shares, likes, etc. as signals. They also use Twitter, but it is true that they do not have 100% view of the stream without the firehose that was turned off last year. The fact that Twitter itself has a PR of 9, and that each profile page has a unique PR value confirms that Google is crawling, indexing, and taking note of Twitter activity.

      Google Plus is presented to us as a social network, but it was not built to be merely a social network. It was built for them to finally figure out Social Search. Since they can’t get 100% view into any other major social network, they had no choice but to dive in head first, even when research told them that the market was too saturated to absorb yet another major social media service.

      Then there’s Search Plus Your World, i.e. personalized rankings based on the “standard” algorithm (omitting social) mixed with recommendations and shares from your social circles. And there’s authorship markup, which is intended to help Google go beyond on-page and backlinks to use author reputation and social relationships as ranking factors.

      For other examples indicating that social DOES impact rankings ,here are some links for you to review:

      And finally, here’s a full blog post I wrote recently that pieces it all together – links, social, technical, etc.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment,

  • Joe

    Hi Tommy,

    Thanks for your response. You make valid points.

    My only opinion is that since most of Facebook’s activity are private due to private profiles, the left over public information that Google crawls just aren’t enough to use as a ranking signal.

    I do believe Google is heavily experimenting with FB/Twitter/Plus and other smaller social sites as ranking factors. I just think that there is a general overreaction to social and SEO. I do recommend that companies take a deep look at combining social and SEO but not dump all their eggs in the social basket.

  • Colleen Hofmann

    Interesting article, Tommy. I think there’s a lot of overgeneralization surrounding the “social media influences SEO” statement. So, it was very useful and refreshing to read your commentary. While social media is still very much in its infancy, it’s fascinating to watch how it continues to factor into search and evolve as time goes on.

    • Tommy Landry

      Thank you for the feedback Colleen. There are very specific areas where the two overlap, and we are just not getting our arms around the true impact. While Social is still only a small piece of ranking, it is growing by the day. Feel free to email or ping me on social media if you would like to discuss further.

  • Paul Tagent

    Good post and obviously lots of opinions around SEO and Social Media,
    To me, the important factors in considering using social media for SEO is relevance and quality.
    Just as links are a sign of popularity among websites, social bookmarks are sometimes signs of whether people approve the content or not. To me, search engines will need to pay attention to the social side of the Web so having a large social reach will likely reflect positively on SEO results.

    • Tommy Landry

      Good points all around Paul. Relevance and quantity continue to weigh heavily, but authority of the person sharing is the equivalent of MozScore or PR for a website linking to you.

      Granted, I’ll take all the shares, recommendations, and likes I can get. But at the end of the day, not all shares or likes are created equal.

  • George

    Not surprised Google+ will help SEO, but it’s no Facebook, there’s not enough users on it yet.

  • Michael Ramirez

    Nice post Tommy! Social media seems to act like validation signals. As to the extent they can help a site may depend on the level engagement and earned authority. Google social properties (Google+, Google+ Local, YouTube.com etc.) are essential if the goal is to optimize in Google. Linking up social profiles and accounts can give better social signals to search engines and can actually help with delivering relevant results.

  • Vincent Lee

    This is another confirmation that moving forward, social signal is a plus factors for site ranking. I had read that the site can rank faster if it is link with Google+.

    • cameron

      Since I started using social media on my website, It has created thousands of quality backlinks. Increasing my rank in search engines.