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Are Social Signals a Ranking Factor?

Social Signals are human interactions on social media platforms like Twitter, Reddit, Google +, Facebook etc.

Google has already said social media is NOT a direct SEO ranking factor, but its not like they’ve not said things before just to throw us off the trail. I don’t think social signals are a direct ranking factor but that doesn’t mean we should forget about social media. It might not be a direct ranking factor but social signals can amplify the ranking factors that Google does care about.

Google might have experimented with social signals at one point but it is an unreliable signal and they’ve probably scrapped it.

So for example, what would give more weight?

  1. 1000 twitter accounts linking to your website
  2. 10 twitter accounts with regular engagements and a large following base

How do you gauge how good a social media profile is too? Would you look at their average engagement; how many followers they have; or how often they post? All of these metrics can easily be manipulated using bots.

Craig’s Views –

Standard metrics are easy to manipulate. It is incredibly hard for search engines to reliably assess how good a social media account actually is in terms of quality and that’s the main reason why I don’t think it’s a direct ranking factor. There are so many tools out there to help you manipulate your followers or likes.

I think just getting any old “social signal” isn’t enough. If you really want to see the benefit of social signals you’ll need to get highly relevant signals from your niche because getting a “social signal” isn’t going to help your SEO much. It’s the brand mentions, the brand awareness, the increased reviews and increased CTR that will provide value.

There is so much noise in social right now, the impact social signals have on SEO will increase for sure. I just think it would be very hard to gauge. Will backlinks eventually be phased out for a more refined version of social signals? Who knows. I doubt it. If anything the weight they give on the algorithm will get reduced even more. That being said, we’ve seen other search engines remove backlinks from their algorithm altogether.

Brand Mentions to me seem like a more plausible ranking factor in today’s algorithm…If Google starts seeing your brand being mentioned a lot online it could start viewing it as more of an entity and therefore give your website more weight when it comes to rankings.

I would be really interested in testing how other channels influence rankings. There’s always been a myth in SEO, on how investing in PPC with Google will send positive signals to Google and will in turn increase rankings.

Kyle’s Views –

I think they have much more of an impact than most of us would want to believe. As of 2017, daily social media usage increased to 135 minutes per day. I don’t believe Google  would not consider this traffic as an influence. I have to admit though, it is more likely that social signals indirectly affect your rankings. The increased brand mentions and referral traffic cause metric increases or natural links back to your site which Google have always looked at as a ranking factor. They may signal to Google that the site is a trusted source, a large brand which is attracting social media attention or the traffic it gains from social media might impact where Google thinks it should rank.

If things like, referral traffic and brand mentions have an impact on rankings then this certainly would be an interesting metric to manipulate. If referral traffic increased time on site and decreased bounce rates, would this help go up a rank or two? More testing needs to be done, but SEO is ever changing and all you can do is keep learning!

Cat’s View

Again, I agree with both Craig and Kyle for different reasons.  While social signals may not be a direct ranking factor, a correlation definitely exists between social signals and ranking positions.  We can all agree that links are one of the top rankings factors for Google, however, there is still wide speculation regarding what social signals actually do.      

If you create good content, chances are it will be shared across multiple social channels.  With people liking it and linking to this content, you’ll likely see a boost in your rankings.  So, should it really come as a big surprise that high ranking sites also come with a high number of social signals?  

While social signals are not a direct ranking factor, they still have the ability to help your SEO efforts tremendously.  By cultivating and building an audience that is likely to interact with your content, the potential for links increases tenfold, making social a powerful tool in your SEO arsenal.  This should not be overlooked!

So what benefits does social media do for SEO?

  1. More visibility which may lead to backlinks
  2. Potential increased reviews on websites such as Yelp, Google Local etc.
  3. Decreased bounce rates
  4. Brand Awareness (lead to repeat customers + more brand searchers)
  5. Longer Sessions
  6. Brand Mentions

 

Craig Kyle Cat
Are Brand Mentions a social signal No Yes Yes
Does Google differentiate between Brand Mentions on Social and Off Social No Yes Yes
Does link building directly affect your rankings? Yes Yes Yes
Does Social Signals Directly affect your rankings? No No No
Can Social Signals improve your rankings? Yes Yes Yes

 

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