The relationship between social media and search engine optimization is murky at best, and experts have debated the impact that social shares and other social media efforts have on search rankings for years.
Google claims that social media isn’t a direct ranking factor, yet many SEOs have found a correlation between social signals (like the number of shares of a specific page or the number of followers a brand or website has) and ranking position. But as Matt Cutts (Google’s former Head of Web Spam) once pointed out, correlation and causation are not the same things.
Currently, the general consensus among SEOs is that social media has an indirect effect on search rankings. But what impacts can you expect, and how can you get the most SEO benefits from your social media efforts?
Changing Social Media Algorithms Impact Organic Reach
Google has long been known for making sudden, drastic changes to its search algorithms, but today, it’s not uncommon to find the likes of Facebook, Instagram, and other major social networks for making similar moves. A few years ago, Facebook took a lot of heat for a major algorithmic change that resulted in a sudden, massive drop in organic reach for many brands. And in early 2018, Facebook announced that it was giving priority placement to family and friends in the News Feed, meaning less visibility for public posts from businesses and publishers. The result? A decrease in reach, video watch time, and even referral traffic for many Pages.
Google is still the king when it comes to search, holding 69.03% of U.S. search market share, and Google Images holds another 21.03%. YouTube’s 2.9% share and Facebook’s 1.05% share seem paltry in comparison, but when you consider the sheer volume of searches conducted online every day, driving traffic from social search continues to be a viable target for marketers. (Side note: YouTube is also owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet.)
How Google Handles Social Media Posts
Did you know that you can optimize your social media content for social search?
Google indexes some tweets, but as of 2018, Stone Temple found that the number of tweets indexed by Google is in decline, with just 5.2% of tweets making it into the Google index in their latest study. One interesting finding, however, is that the percentage of tweets indexed increases proportionally with the number of followers an account has:
- More than 1 million followers: approximately 8.5%
- 10,000 – 1 million followers: approximately 2.8%
- Less than 10,000 followers: less than 2%
That’s not to say that Google considers authority metrics like follower count directly when determining what tweets to index, but it does suggest an indirect influence. For example, Twitter users with more followers may also be likely to have more engagement on their tweets, a factor that could potentially impact whether a particular tweet is indexed.
Screenshot via Stone Temple
Likewise, there’s been some conflicting information regarding how Google handles Facebook posts. Google does index some Facebook Pages, and it can crawl all public Pages (but not private Pages). Quora posts, on the other hand, often appear in the Google search results, as do Reddit posts. Social media links are nofollow links, meaning you won’t earn any PageRank value from links shared on social media, but sharing links to your content on social media does offer one major benefit: driving traffic.
Use Keywords and Hashtags to Optimize Your Social Media Content for Search
The bottom line: most of your social media content is unlikely to rank in the Google SERPs (at least not favorably enough to garner visibility).
That said, you can (and should) use the same keyword research and content optimization tactics that you use to optimize for Google Search to optimize your social media content – for both social search and Google. Search algorithms are always changing, and should the tide turn and Google start to index more social media posts, having content that’s already optimized puts you in a prime position.
More importantly, though, optimizing your social media content makes it more likely to show up in social search. When a user is searching for posts about a topic or recent news, they’re using keywords and #hashtags to discover what others are saying on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media networks. And when your content is optimized for those keywords and tagged with relevant #hashtags, your posts are more likely to appear in native social search, resulting in more visibility for your content.
Your content is more likely to show up in relevant searches conducted by those who already follow you. While the number of followers you have doesn’t have a direct impact on your Google search rankings, it does matter when it comes to social search. In fact, on Facebook, users can even filter search results to posts from their Friends and posts from their Pages and Groups. So, use all the tools at your disposal to continue growing your followers on social media, such as:
- Use ShareThis social media follow buttons on your blog and website to invite visitors to follow you on social networks like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat, and more.
- Focus on increasing engagement on your social media profiles and pages by responding to comments and engaging users in conversation.
- Include social media links in your email signature and invite readers to follow your profiles and pages.
- Participate in social media groups, Twitter chats, and other opportunities for interacting with users.
- Driving Referral Traffic with Social Media
Driving traffic is a top priority for every digital marketer, and according to Parse.ly’s data, Google still reigns supreme as the top external referrer over the past 12 months, driving 52% of traffic. But a few social networks are among the top 10 external referrers as well, including:
- Facebook: 23%
- Twitter: 2.2%
- Pinterest: 0.73%
And that’s not to say that other social media networks – Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, Quora, Reddit, and others – aren’t valuable tools for driving traffic to your website. The key is finding the right social networks for reaching your target audience and then implementing a consistent social media strategy focused on those networks. Here are a few proven tactics for increasing referral traffic from social media:
- Research the best days and times for reaching your target audience on each social network, and post consistently during those times.
- Don’t use social media solely for self-promotion. While you do want to share links to your own content, your social media strategy should include a healthy mix of third-party content, informative, entertaining, and/or educational content, and promotional content.
- Make it easy for readers and visitors to share your content from your website or blog with social media share buttons.
- Embrace images and videos. Studies have proven time and time again that visual content gets more engagement, so give your followers what they want by using high-quality images and video content in your posts.
- Use calls to action. While every social media post doesn’t need a call to action, using a CTA to encourage followers to click a link to take advantage of an offer or read your latest blog post can be quite effective when used strategically.
- Engage in conversation. Don’t ignore comments on your social media posts; engage with your followers! High engagement can lead to increased visibility, which translates to more traffic.
At the end of the day, both Google and social media networks have similar goals in mind: to create the best user experience possible. For Google, that means ranking the most informative, valuable, and relevant content at or near the top of the SERPs. And for social media, it means showing users the content they want to see most, content from friends and family, and content they want to engage with.
While your social media content may not have a direct impact on your search engine rankings, there’s clear value in optimizing your social media content and implementing social media strategies designed to grow and engage your followers. By doing so, you’ll build authority, increase your visibility, and grow your traffic, too – all of which are top goals for every marketer.