Does social media activity affect your site's SEO rankings? I wish I could give you a black-and-white answer, and you could read just this first paragraph and then go on to the next web page in your browser, but the truth is, it depends.
The short answer is yes. If you want to be found by more people online (and thus grow your business), you do need to pay attention to your social media accounts.
However, the rationale behind this is not so simple. By and large, social media activity does not contribute directly to search engine rankings. Matt Cutts of Google says that Google will never factor direct social actions (like Facebook Likes and Twitter Re-Tweets) into their algorithms.
Rather, there are several indirect ways that social media can increase your findability online, so that social media works with SEO (not for SEO) to help you grow your business.
Let’s dive in.
1. The strategy: Remember your ultimate purpose.
The purpose of search engine optimization (SEO) is to help more people find your company online.
However, “being found online” is not the end goal. Getting higher search engine results page (SERP) rankings and getting more traffic to your website is not your company’s primary purpose – selling more product is. And unless you have a very specific SEO title, increasing SERP rankings isn’t the first bullet in your job description either. Remember, the ultimate goal here is to grow your business, not to get to #1 on page 1 of Google.
2. The process: Use social media to amplify content marketing.
All right, you want to grow your business, and a significant part of that involves getting more people to interact with you online. If you’re reading this, you probably already know that content marketing – regularly producing remarkable content that your customers and potential customers want to read – is the key to growing your online audience, so I won’t waste time trying to convince you to jump on the content marketing bandwagon. Instead, I just want to make the hierarchy clear:
If growing your business is the goal, then content marketing is the strategy you will use to reach that goal, and social media (like SEO) is an operational tactic that can help you amplify your content.
Whether you’re creating content for your website or for any of your numerous social media platforms, you want your potential customers to discover your company, have a positive experience, and believe that your company can help them solve their problems.
Social media can help you do this. When you produce a truly remarkable piece of content (and all your blog posts and infographics are remarkable, right?), go ahead and promote that content on your chosen social media outlets. If you know that your customers need to know more about the “best way to hire a Drupal developer,” don’t just write a great blog post about it. Mention it on Twitter and LinkedIn as well so that your message reaches the right people across platforms.
To get the most benefit out of this, there are a few important steps to follow:
- Make sure your social media profiles are completely filled out, using your real company name, your location, and any top-level keywords that are important to you (for example, “Acme Inc. helps customers manage their supply chain efficiencies with real-time location software”).
- To be more findable, keep using all your keywords in the individual tweets, Facebook posts and LinkedIn posts you make. You may not rank on page 1 for “supply chain efficiency,” but a potential customer could still come across your latest blog post on “What Last-Mile Automation Can Do for your Supply Chain” through their Twitter feed. Bingo – you’ve reached someone new.
- Promote your content multiple times on each channel to ensure you have the highest likelihood of being seen (although you should not use any social media platform purely for self-promotion).
This can quickly become a rather complex science, as each platform has different best practices for the most effective ways and times to post. The Edgar Blog has a great pile of resources for figuring out how to best manage your social media, with a wealth of information on the frequency and number of posts you should be making to get your content seen on different platforms.
3. The results: How social media actually affects your findability.
Social media and SEO have a mutually interdependent relationship. It’s not that social media supports SEO; it’s that both social media and SEO support the larger goals of getting your company found online and growing your business.
New Content Indexing
This one is a little technical. Sharing new content with a link on social platforms (particularly Twitter, for some reason) will help Google index the new content more quickly. (“Indexing” means Google adds the new URL to their database.) When you just create a new web page, like a blog post, and do nothing else, it can take Google’s crawlers several days to come across it and index it. Social media backlinks speed this process up. Along the same lines, you’ll want to help Google by using your company name and relevant keywords appropriately.
Some people make a huge deal out of this benefit, but it’s actually relatively minor. Remember, we’re only talking about how quickly your new content gets added to Google’s index, not how well it will rank once it is indexed.
This is the most concrete way that social media builds findability. Sharing your content, and actively encouraging other people to share it too, helps to boost your SERP rankings. While the Google algorithm doesn’t directly factor in any evidence of social shares, all of those share do create backlinks, which Google sees as more evidence of your authority.
Remember that the goal here is to get more users to your website and convert them into customers. If a particular tweet gets someone to hear about your business, visit your blog, and start developing a relationship with you, then who cares if that tweet boosted your SEO or not? You accomplished your primary objective either way.
You’ve created a truly amazing infographic that will decimate the competition. Now you want a ton of people to see it. Obviously, social media will get the link out in front of more people – so go for it! Here’s the crazy thing – when this works correctly, you’ve actually used social media to do an end-run around SEO.
Think about it: A potential customer is interested in buying a new refrigerator, and they see a post in their Twitter feed where a friend has re-tweeted your blog on “Ten Things You Need to Know Before Buying a New Home Appliance.” They like the sound of that, so they click the link and go to your blog post, and now they’ve heard of your company and they’re on your site, where they can learn all about you and reach out to a salesperson if they’re interested. That’s exactly what your SEO is supposed to accomplish – getting a new person to your site – and you did it all through social media.
Google+ Authorship and Local Google+
Short story: Google+ Authorship used to be important, but it really isn’t any more. I’m only mentioning it because plenty of people (including me, up until researching this article!) still think this is a thing. It used to be that you could build authority (and thus rank higher) as an author within Google by connecting your writing to your Google+ account. This just didn’t take, for a variety of reasons, and it’s no longer recommended as a strategy for building your audience. Today, all you have to do is make sure that your name is listed as the author of a great piece of content, and Google will make that connection without any further markup on your part.
However, if you’re a B2C company, you do still need to set up a Local Google+ page (which is different from your Google+ business page) for details about your business locations, hours, and so on, which will help to populate the knowledge panel on the right side of the search engine results page. Here’s how that looks for my favorite guilty pleasure:
I genuinely love the knowledge panel. Any time it pops up, I know there’s about a 90% chance it’s going to answer my question (Is this store open right now? What do other people think of them?) and I don’t even glance at the actual search results. If you need help getting started, this thread has a great list of resources for optimizing your knowledge panel.
SERP Real Estate
How about getting your social media profiles themselves to rank when people search your brand? This is called “full SERP real estate coverage,” where as many search results as possible are either your company’s website or associated social media profiles. Here’s what that looks like for GE:
Aside from the knowledge panel again (yay!) we have the site, the careers page, the Twitter account, a finance result, a subsidiary website, Wikipedia, and news coverage. Not bad at all – there’s no way you’re going to have any trouble finding GE online.
How big of a deal is this for you? Pretty minor, actually.
Here’s the thing: I’m pretty sure that you’re not GE. Nor are you Coca-Cola or McDonalds or any other Fortune 500 company. The huge players have a social media obligation at this point: If Coca-Cola didn’t have a Twitter account (or seven) you’d be surprised, and you’d think badly of them.
100% of the companies I work with do not fall into this category. They’re not industry leaders; instead, they’re trying to get more and more people to hear their name and know what they do. When the focus is on brand awareness, as it is for the majority of companies, then who cares what happens when someone Googles your name? That doesn’t help you reach any of the people who haven’t heard about your company yet.
Your goal is to write content that will capture the people searching for your services and direct them to your site. Yes, you want an active social media presence, for many reasons (not least of which is looking like you’re prepared to play with the big boys), but SERP real estate coverage isn’t a valuable goal in and of itself.
4. More ways social builds your business (that have nothing to do with SEO and findability).
The social media fun doesn’t stop here. Yes, your Twitter account and Facebook page can help you build backlinks and reach more people, but they can also do so much more:
Influencer Marketing: When someone with a lot of followers picks up on what you’re saying and shares it with their tribe, you get a huge, instant brand awareness boost.
Happy Customers: Using social media for real-time customer service can get your customers to really love you. A real person responding with genuine care is incredibly powerful.
Feedback: The conversational nature of social media means that you get to, well, have conversations. This means that your customers’ feedback is a huge market research tool.
5. Content is still king.
At the end of the day, Google is trying to do just one thing really, really well: connect searchers with the information that is most useful and relevant to them. All the different factors in Google’s algorithms – keywords, backlinks, alt text, and however Google approaches social media posting and sharing – are geared towards accomplishing that one goal. As long as you keep creating remarkable content that provides real value, Google will continue to reward you.
Yes, great blog posts that rank highly on Google tend to have a lot of social shares, too. But does that mean that you should focus on getting lots of social shares, so that your content ranks more highly? The answer is a great big no. Great content will naturally get a lot of social shares, and will naturally rise to the top of search engine rankings. The two go together, but one does not cause the other: It’s the quality of the content that matters to Google, not the fact that lots of people found it worthy of a share.
So the key takeaway is this: keep producing great content. Yes, that content should then be shared through optimized social media channels, which are an important tool. But if you’re truly being a thought leader, it’s the quality of your content that will drive your growth.