How Important is Social Media to SEO? It’s Complicated.

A POV by Nina Hale, CEO of Nina Hale, Inc.

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Increasingly social media has become a factor in Search Engine Optimization. There have been theories and studies examining how closely search engines—especially Google—track social signals as part of its algorithm. Social signals are important reporting features in SEO tools like BrightEdge and Conductor SearchLight, and at Nina Hale, Inc. we’ve produced strong case study results based on building social media designed for SEO.

In 2010, Matt Cutts said that Google is looking at social media as an aspect of the algorithm. But last week Matt Cutts released a video outlining Google’s stance on signals it looks at, where he backs down from the earlier, more definitive statement. In the video Mr. Cutts explains some main Google practices:

  • They will:
    • Crawl social media pages, if open to crawling. But because they’ve been blocked at times, Mr. Cutts says they’re “leery” about making it too important a part of the algorithm.
      • So: you should ensure your brand feed is open to all, and assume that Google won’t always crawl every post, or even be able to.
  • They won’t: 
    • Improve your ranking if you have more followers or likes.
      • However, if you have more followers, chances are a post will create more action and more people linking to your website.
    • Put an enormous amount of credence in the information posted on the pages they see. Mr. Cutts used an example of shifting relationship status updates, and how it can be outdated before Google returns; implying that Google doesn’t want to look like it’s pulling old or out-of-date material. 
      • So: Google doesn’t want to put heavy credence in the exact content posted on social media.

He specifically says that it’s incorrect to make the conclusion that lots of specific keyword-rich posts on social media will improve page ranking for those words. He says that might be correlation, but not causation, and that it’s ranking well because it’s awesome content. This is an incredibly important distinction, one that can easily be mistaken because at NHI, this exact tactic is frequently recommended – and we’ve very frequently had excellent results from it.

  • So: ensure that social media is the vehicle for a sound content strategy that disseminates unique, authentic content that people are interested in, (i.e. make the content awesome). And then make sure that you have the product or service that really fits the content so they will convert.

As he’s said before about blogging and PR, Mr. Cutts says that social media is an excellent way to build your brand and connect with people – it’s an important part of a relevant, engaging marketing strategy.

Takeaways

Overall, there is almost no change from what we’ve been advising our clients, successfully.

  • SEO is, and remains, a complex discipline. Many things go into a sound SEO plan, and there is no one silver bullet that gets you high rankings. SEO is still based on three main factors:
    • Technical – make your website easy and fast to comprehensively crawl and index.
    • Content – in common, popular language, categorize what you offer and why it’s better.
    • Link authority – indicates relevancy.
      • Strong linking comes from having many incoming sources. While social is a valid source, it can’t be your only method of backlinks. 2014 predictions 3
  • Incoming traffic from social media can still be a strong indicator of authority. 
    • While Google’s algorithm can’t read the anchor text or the post content on some of the bigger social networks, it can see the landing pages. So you still want to optimize target pages for keywords and themes, and be sure to point traffic specifically to those pages. Even if Google can’t read the incoming data, they can extrapolate the meaning. Also remember that natural language search – less on keywords, more on meaning – is one of the largest fundamental shifts happening in SEO right now.
  • Social widgets are still important. There is less impact if people don’t come to your page, or Google can’t see that people like you. If you have social widgets on your website, there is a better chance that search engines can see past the social network firewalls. It also, of course, still encourages sharing and interaction, which is just a good business policy. 
  • Not all social networks are unreadable to Google. Google Analytics shows lots of info, including commentary content, from many social networks, including Google+.
  • Fresh is good (still).
    • Content in certain places has a shelf life. Fresh content is more noticeable and may pop up your rankings for a short time. After the “expiration” date, you will need to move important content from blog / social feeds to evergreen pages.
  • The algorithm is constantly changing. Mr. Cutts said that personal, identifiable authority (which continues to receive a lot of attention) will continue to be important and evolve. And like most things that Google likes, older is better. Having an active social and online presence over time will likely produce dividends as Google’s algorithm evolves and incorporates ranking signals it currently does not use. 

We really are only scratching the surface here, and each situation is very different. Contact Nina Hale, Inc. for more specifics and a comprehensive content, social, and SEO strategy tailored to you.

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