Search engine marketing: Your complete guide to social signals

by | Aug 4, 2021 | Analysis, Public Relations

Social signals are the collective shares, likes, and social media engagement on your website. Google’s official word is that social signals are not a part of their algorithm, but there’s no denying that most top-ranking websites have strong social signals.

This guide will take a quick look at the link between social signals and search rankings. We’ll discuss if social signals are a ranking factor and how you can use your social presence to boost search engine rankings.

Search engines and social signals

Do a quick search for if social signals are a ranking factor on Google, and you get mixed results. Content published on some sites will claim that social signals are a ranking factor, while other content states the opposite.

Search engine marketing: Your complete guide to social signals

The confusion is understandable. Google doesn’t provide people who try to rank content with a clear roadmap for getting pole positions in the SERPs.

With that said, most SEO experts would agree that social signals are not a ranking factor at all or only have a minor impact on search rankings. The logic behind this is straightforward; a lot of content is shared online.

Consider these stats about social media:

  • 456,000 tweets are generated every minute
  • 510,000 posts are generated on Facebook every minute
  • 95 million photos and videos are shared on Instagram

That snapshot gives you a sense of just how difficult it would be for Google to track social signals effectively. Then you have a second problem.

You can easily buy social signals for your content. A social platform like Facebook can judge how many of the likes generated for a piece of content come from fake accounts based on user activity. Google doesn’t have access to this data, and it probably never will.

That all leads to the logical question, how do social signals impact your SEO rankings? Here are some things to consider when trying to combine SEO and social media.

1. Increase the chance of you getting backlinks

We’ve all heard of content going viral. From one day to the next, a piece of content gathers media attention, and suddenly, thousands or even millions of people come to your site. It’s something most content creators dream about.

Often, the spark that generates that social media attention is social media. Let me give you an example you might be familiar with:

In 2012, a video created by the non-profit about the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda gained global attention. The video generated 35 million views. Even the president of the US at the time, Barack Obama, talked about the video.

It gained the attention of the international press. From an SEO perspective, all that attention generated a lot of legitimate, high-quality backlinks.

Search engine marketing: Your complete guide to social signals

SEO experts agree that authority backlinks boost search rankings.

Here’s another example. The travel blogger Adventurous Kate wrote a story about how she was shipwrecked in Indonesia while on a trip sponsored by a cruise company. You can read about the story here (see what just happened).

That story generated a lot of exposure on social media, where some international publications picked it up. Many publications linked to the article or the website’s homepage when they covered the story.

Search engine marketing: Your complete guide to social signals

Again, you have an indirect link here between social signals, and quality backlinks, which is a  clear ranking factor.

2. Increase the volume of branded searches

Another way that social signals can impact search rankings is through branded search terms. If you’re unfamiliar with a branded search term, it just means that a person made a search for a term and the name of the company. For example, Levis jeans is a branded search term.

Many companies that have strong brand recognition have a strong social media presence. That social media presence translates into social media signals as people engage with the brand or talk about the company through social media. It also translates into more branded searches. It offers a great chance to build your brand using social media.

For example, most people would associate Levis with jeans.

Search engine marketing: Your complete guide to social signals

If people are doing many branded searches, Google starts to associate the brand with a particular niche or product, or service offering. It’s logical for the search algorithm to consider ranking content from a company with a strong branded search presence for those keywords.

Many SEO experts would agree with that correlation. I’ve highlighted some relevant comments here from an SEO post by Brian Dean from Backlinko.

Search engine marketing: Your complete guide to social signals

If you start looking at different keywords on Google, you’ll see instances of this correlation between great brand recognition and search rankings. If you want to focus on social media, do your best to establish brand recognition.

3. Provide feedback on the quality of your content

The final correlation between social media signals and search rankings that I’d like to highlight is the quality test. Most people share content online that makes them look good in some way. For example, you might share content through your LinkedIn that shows you’re well-read.

Alternatively, you might share content on social media that made you laugh.

If your content is organically generating social signals, people are impressed by the quality of your content. That’s great news for Google because the search engine wants to rank content that people find interesting and useful.

In this sense, social signals provide you with instant feedback on the quality of your content. You shouldn’t analyze social signals in isolation, though. Make sure your content has a good structure. Then, when reviewing content, make sure to consider factors like time on page and bounce rate in conjunction with factors like social shares.

Bottom line

Social signals are the collection of likes, shares, Tweets, Pins, and postings on boards like Reddit that your website or page accumulates. Social shares do not directly impact your search rankings, but a strong social presence will benefit your search rankings.

If one of your primary growth channels is social media, consider how to leverage that presence to improve your search rankings. For example, you might focus on establishing niche credibility so you can boost your branded search. Alternatively, you might utilize a digital PR campaign to get those high-quality authoritative backlinks that can boost your search rankings.

David Pagotto
David Pagotto is the Founder and Managing Director of SIXGUN, a digital marketing agency based in Melbourne. He has been involved in digital marketing for over 10 years, helping organizations get more customers, more reach, and more impact.


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