If you own or manage a small business you’ve probably heard all about how social media and online marketing will help grow your business. Maybe you’ve even done some research into SEO and learned how to use keywords and other tactics to improve website traffic. If you aren’t quite there yet, don’t worry! This is part 2 in a series of blogs from Pixel Power, and part 1 has all the info you need to know about two beginning strategies for Search Engine Optimization. But once you’ve got the basic idea it’s time to move on to a new, more complex subject; how can you use social media to impact SEO?
This question has been debated by industry professionals for years, and the ever-changing nature of the internet does not make it easy to keep up. It seems that most people can agree that social media does affect SEO in one way or another, but what we aren’t sure of is how. Thankfully marketing industry leaders like Hootsuite, Lyfe Marketing, and others have been collecting information and conducting research to help us sort this whole thing out. But before we can jump into hard facts and statistics, let’s discuss some backstory.
Our story begins in 2010 with Danny Sullivan’s article for Search Engine land. In this article he claims that Google considers links shared on social media when calculating ranking the ranking of a website. This means that if a link to your website was shared on social media, all those instances of posting or sharing would count in the algorithm that determined whether your site is a trusted source of information. Shortly after this, Matt Cutts, an official representative from Google at the time, made a video publicly confirming that links shared on social media did directly influence your site’s ranking.
Two years later, in 2014, Matt Cutts makes a second video saying that Twitter and Facebook are treated like any other website, but activity on these platforms is not considered a ranking factor for other sites and goes on to give a few reasons why. So now things have changed from our previous understanding that sharing links on social media counts toward backlinks. The following year in 2015, Google began including more and more social media pages to their search results. This changed the meaning of social media from a business perspective, allowing for another way to increase reputability and brand consistency. The following infographic from Hootsuite shows the number of URLs from Facebook included in the top 100 search results and illustrates that sudden increase in 2015.
Another year passes and in 2016 Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Gary Illyes responds simply “no, we don’t” to questions on Twitter about whether Google takes social media signals into account when ranking sites. Although the increase in social platforms in search results may have led some to believe Google would begin calculating site ranking from connected social media, this was not the case.
WHAT WE DO KNOW
After years of Google denying using social signals as a ranking factor, we can speculate that social media’s affect on search engine ranking is more of an indirect correlation than a direct cause. The following infographic from Lyfe Marketing helps explain our current understanding of the relationship between social media and search ranking.
The common theme here is that social media creates not only brand awareness and visibility but the potential for interaction and sharing. Although we know social media shares don’t directly count in ranking, they increase the audience of consumers who might be interested in your business. But all that potential goes out the window if your social media is filled with irrelevant or even incorrect information. Incorporating social media into your SEO strategies is about fostering interaction with your audience, but before they will interact they need to know you can be trusted. So, when curating content for your website and social media, be sure you’re sharing accurate information. If you want to link a relevant article or outside web page, make sure that link is to a secure and trusted site or else you risk your carefully built online reputation!
Another way social media helps boost your rank indirectly is through branded searches. Usually Facebook and Twitter posts contain links to the company website where you can get more info or make a purchase. But Instagram does not allow links in the captions or comments of posts. So, if a consumer sees something on Instagram they want to know more about, they simply Google it. So if someone from Instagram is interested in your handmade earrings, they will likely search for “Your Brand earrings”. When this happens, your brand name is being associated with the keyword ‘earrings’. If enough people search for your brand name with that keyword, Google will understand that you are a reputable source for information on earrings, and your site might come up in other searches for earrings, not just searches for your specific brand. We will talk a bit more about this later on.
Facebook and Instagram are very popular platforms for digital marketing, and even Twitter is utilized by most brands. But there are some alternative platforms to consider if you have the right audience. Included in that group is You Tube, which is the second most used search engine right behind Google! This is partially because Google owns You Tube so when you use their search engine, video results from You Tube are presented. But that doesn’t change the fact that You Tube is an underrated tool in marketing. Though the atmosphere of You Tube is a bit different from other platforms, it should not be counted out. A You Tube presence would be helpful for companies who already have a following on social media of people who are interested in the brand. This is a great platform for promoting new products or services with detailed unboxing or behind-the-scenes footage, accompanied by a link to your webpage in each video’s description to boost traffic. This same ‘sneak peak’ can be accomplished on Instagram, but people aren’t searching Instagram for videos on “how Your Brand earrings are made”. And although searches within You Tube provide little value to your overall Google ranking, consumers will see your videos in search results from Google. Most importantly, an active You Tube will give your brand some depth and personality which your consumers can identify with. Remember, social media sales is less about business and more about lifestyle.
STUDIES AND STATS
At this point, we understand that social media link sharing doesn’t guarantee a higher search engine ranking. But a 2013 report from Hub Sports State of Inbound Marketing supports the idea of an indirect correlation in finding that companies who are active on off-site blogs and social media platforms had 97% more inbound links than those who were barely or not at all active on social platforms. These 97% more backlinks lead to an increase in site traffic, and there for ranking. A more recent study from 2016 called the Search Metrics Ranking Factors Study also supports this idea. They found that “top-ranked websites in Google’s rankings displayed vastly more social media than all other pages”. This is partially because of the larger brands who are already reputable with high-traffic sites and active social media. But even when those larger popular brands, like Nike or H&M, are taken out of the equation, the correlation still exists between active social media and a well-performing, highly trafficked site.
Even more recently still, a 2017 study of Fashion Nova finds that they were able to use Instagram to compete with much larger and more established clothing brands. They rank extremely high for certain keywords such as ‘jeans’ and ‘fashion’ because they have correctly utilized the branded search approach discussed earlier.
Finally, just last year in 2018 Hootsuite published 90 articles with varying degrees of online promotion. One third were posted to one single site with no online promotion whatsoever as a control. Another third was posted and then organically promoted on twitter with a few posts and shared links. The final group was published with a paid promotion of $100 for 2 days. The results showed a 12% increase in views with the organic promotion vs the control and a 22% increase in views with the paid promotion vs the control. This shows that paid promotion does give a slight advantage, but organic promotion is also effective. The only thing that doesn’t work is not promoting!
MAIN TAKE-AWAY: DON’T OVERDO IT
Social media marketing and SEO have overlapping goals; mainly to increase your visibility online and therefor increase business. Because they are designed with similar goals in mind, it only makes sense that they work best together! Include social media strategies in your SEO plan, and vice versa. Not only will this give your brand a central message, combining two time-consuming efforts into one will make your life as a one-man-band marketer a whole lot easier.
When executing your strategy, though, it is important to remember that your audience is full of real people who get annoyed with repetitive ads and redundant, robot-sounding content just like you would. The most fool-proof way to get engagement and loyalty from your online following is to consistently post interesting, relevant, and quality content. But what makes for ‘relevant’ and ‘quality’ content? Lyfe Marketing has come up with a simple method for decoding this arbitrary language into a something you can use to increase engagement with your content!
By appealing to your audience’s ego, humor, brain, heart, or personal brand you are creating content they can identify with and want to show their friends. Something that online marketers often forget is that social media is not everyone’s job. Most of your social media audience is not thinking about business or even about buying things. Social media is used as entertainment, a way to relax and indulge yourself in your hobbies and interests. The best way to get people interested in your social media presence is to give them content that is interesting and fun! (While very subtly reminding them that if they enjoy your content, they might enjoy your products or services as well!)
- Dod, Ron. “Analyzing Fashion Nova’s Rise to Google Dominance: SEJ.” Search Engine Journal, 5 Apr. 2018, https://www.searchenginejournal.com/small-player-big-leagues-competitive-keywords/184722/.
- Goodwin, Danny. “23 SEO & Search Takeaways from Google’s Gary Illyes.” Search Engine Journal, Search Engine Journal, 23 Oct. 2018, https://www.searchenginejournal.com/gary-illyes-whats-new-in-google-search-pubcon-keynote-recap/274273/#close.
- Google Webmasters. “Are Pages from Social Media Sites Ranked Differently?” YouTube, YouTube, 22 Jan. 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3&v=udqtSM-6QbQ&feature=emb_logo.
- Google Webmasters. “Does Google Use Data from Social Sites in Ranking?” YouTube, YouTube, 18 Dec. 2010, , Zak, and Eva Taylor. “Does Social Media Impact SEO? We Ran an Experiment to Find Out.” Hootsuite Social Media Management, 15 May 2018, https://blog.hootsuite.com/social-media-seo-experiment/.https://www.searchenginejournal.com/social-media-seo/196185/#close
- Smith, Keran. “Social Media SEO: What You Need to Know to Grow Your Business.” Digital Marketing Blog, 6 Aug. 2019, https://www.lyfemarketing.com/blog/social-media-seo/.
- Sullivan, Danny. “What Social Signals Do Google & Bing Really Count?” Search Engine Land, 3 Dec. 2010, https://searchengineland.com/what-social-signals-do-google-bing-really-count-55389.