The question about whether social media contributes to search ranking on Google has been a heavily debated topic. Especially when it comes to creating visible marketing impact, search ranking is what a lot of businesses look at when they want to measure the effectiveness of their marketing activities. KPIs like engagement rates and sentiments are important but they often pale in comparison.
So depending on who you ask, you will get different answers. The reason why this topic is so polarizing is because Google’s search algorithm is essentially a black box. No one outside of the company really knows what’s happening in there but we can surmise some truths based on the results we see.
Here are the top 5 ranking factors:
- High quality, relevant content
- Back links from reputable sites that are relevant to the content
- Frequent articles and blog posts that is consistent with the theme of the site
- Presence of high-value, relevant keywords and phrases
- Good technical site performance
One thing that all top ranking pages have is a strong social media presence and yet that is the one thing that is absent from the list above. The fact is that social media, while not directly impacting search ranking, does influence the factors above.
Social Media Drives traffic
You may write quality content all the day long but if no one sees it, it is not much good to you. That is why people advertise them using search or display ads. Another traditional way is email marketing. Both works but the norm these days is leveraging social media as a traffic driver. This is of course contingent on a good fan base. If you are new to the scene, it may be wise to do some social media advertising like Facebook ads just to jump start your brand presence. Social media when done right has greater reach and your audience are generally more engaged. These are the few hygiene factors you need to consider:
- Make all content shareable on social media
- Do not copy and paste your content on different platforms. Make sure you customize your content for different audience on various platforms.
- Write catchy headlines (no link baits please) to get click throughs and be explicit with what you want your readers to do; share, comment, like etc.
- Engage your audience and get them to ask questions and share your content.
On social media, we are always concern with whether people care about our content (click through and therefore direct traffic) and whether they share (secondary traffic from social media amplification). When you create content, do ask yourself: “Do they care? Will they share?”
Social Media Relationship and Amplification
Google places emphasis on back-links and they don’t come easy. It is built on good relationships between your brand and other reputable sites. Social media being a place to build relationship is the idea platform to grow and nurture these connections. Here’s how to do it:
- Use social media listening tool (here is a good one for business: https://www.digimind.com) to find your influencers. These users have a lot of influence in your industry and you really want them to see your content and link back to it on their sites.
- Follow them and retweet and repost their content. But be careful here; there is a thin line between engaging and stalking them.
- Mention them on social media when relevant. Hopefully they’ll return the favor in kind.
- Follow the trending topics in your industry and find those users who are most actively talking about them. Respond and engage when appropriate.
Besides getting back-links, having good relationships will also amplify your content sharing. You don’t want to stop at just the direct traffic, you want your social media contacts to help share your quality content so that their friends and fans can click through and drive additional secondary traffic.
Though these social activities or signals do not have direct impact on search ranking, they do contribute to other factors that do influence them.
SEO experts have been adding meta tags onto webpages for years but social media metadata are still sometimes ignored. These metadata are important for a few reasons:
- Content sharing on social media will show the wrong image if the wrong metadata or no metadata is used. LinkedIn for example, uses the first image it finds. Sometimes this has embarrassing consequences if you are not careful.
- Search engines crawl these metadata and look for updated and high-value keywords.
- Customizing the looks of shared content for different platforms. This will ensure you optimize and emphasize your content for specific audience.
Note: Do remember to name your image with relevant high-value keywords and your company name to get increased accuracy in search results.
The following are some common metadata format for major social media platforms:
OG Tags for Facebook and Pinterest:
<meta property=”og:title” content=”Title to be shared” />
<meta property=”og:type” content=”article” />
<meta property=”og:url” content=”https://www.YourCompany.com/” />
<meta property=”og:image content=”https://YourCompany.com/image.png” /> <meta property=”og:description” content=”Description” />
Twitter Card Data: Twitter looks for specific Twitter Card tags first, and then OG tags if no Twitter Card tags are defined.
<meta name=”twitter:card” content=”summary”>
<meta name=”twitter:site” content=”@publisher_handle”>
<meta name=”twitter:title” content=”Page Title”>
<meta name=”twitter:description” content=”Page description less than 200 characters”> <meta name=”twitter:creator” content=”@author_handle”>
<meta name=”twitter:image” content=”https://www.YourCompany.com/image.jpg”>
Tags for Google+: Google + looks for itemprop tags first, and then OG tags if no itemprop tags are defined
<meta itemprop=”name” content=”The Name or Title Here”>
<meta itemprop=”description” content=”Page description”>
<meta itemprop=”image” content=”https://www.YourCompany.com/image.png”>
Once again, this will not have direct impact on your ranking but displaying optimized content on social media will determine click through and therefore traffic to your site.
Social Media Engagement Influences Your Users’ Search Results
All our search results vary from individual to individual. If users engage with your brand more, their search results will be influenced by that activity. Google will present your brand higher because it is now more relevant to that user. Google keeps track of a brand’s relationships with its users and personalize the ranking accordingly (if you are logged in and not in incognito mode). This is why it is important to create quality content that your users will like, comment and share. These social signals will determine what will be displayed the next time that user search for something related to your business.
Social Media keeps your content fresh
Social media moves quickly and having a presence there keeps you on your toes. You cannot afford to stay inactive or to update only sporadically for too long. If you are keeping track of other social media performance numbers like engagement rates, you won’t want your score to drop. This constant buzz of activities forces you to keep your content fresh. Constantly engaging your audience will also keep you current on trending topics and make it easier for you to create relevant up-to-date content that will in turn get you more links and click through traffic.
Although social media signals do not have direct impact on search ranking, it does have strong correlation. With social media inherently more “viral” than plain old web pages, we see lots more amplification and therefore more traffic and links back to your sites. Social media also has the added advantage of creating trust and rapport with your target audience. Past studies have shown that people will ultimately do business with those they trust even if they cost significantly more than the alternatives.
Whether you use social media or not, search ranking is not a get-rich-quick scheme and most definitely not an end in itself. It is a consequence of quality, relevant content that have value for those who searched for them and this in turn makes it more visible for other users. It just so happens that social media is now how we discover, consume and engage in this evolving digital landscape.