on June 9, 2021 (last modified on May 18, 2022) • 25 minute read
Do social media signals have a direct impact on search rankings? The truth: it doesn’t really matter.
The reality is that social media plays a big role in helping companies get their content in front of a larger audience. That leads to many things that benefit SEO, including more backlinks, improved engagement signals, and more owned SERP real estate for branded queries.
Additionally, understanding both SEO and social media marketing helps companies perform better on both channels. Audience research on social media helps you create more targeted content. SEO research helps you understand what your social audience wants to read.
So, what is the relationship between social media and SEO?
We asked our respondents to give us their best tips for making search and social work together, and they delivered with tons of valuable information about:
Social SEO refers to the use of social media as an indirect tool to increase your search visibility and organic search ranking.
While social media does not directly impact SEO, the social signals (likes, shares, and comments) generated from people sharing your content on social media channels contribute to building trust and customer loyalty, driving brand awareness and exposure, all of which indirectly helps boost your online visibility and traffic.
To buttress that, two-thirds of our respondents say there is a correlation between social shares and rankings. Another 29% say there isn’t.
The impact of social media on SEO is more complicated than a simple yes/no answer can explain.
For example, Shufti Pro’s Damien Martin explains that “Bing certainly ranks pages with more shares higher than pages with fewer shares.” Bing’s Webmaster Guidelines confirm that assertion. So, at least when it comes to Bing, social shares definitely play a part in SEO.
Google, on the other hand, has specifically stated that social media isn’t a direct ranking factor.
But several studies have found that there’s a correlation between social shares and rankings. For example, this 2016 study from cognitive SEO looked at Google rankings alongside social signals (likes, shares, and comments) on four social media sites and found that the top-ranked results had more social signals:
Still, correlation does not equal causation, and the fact that high-ranking pages have lots of social shares doesn’t mean shares have an impact on rankings.
What it likely means is that social media plays a part in SEO—maybe not directly, but definitely indirectly.
As Inspired Agency’s Alex Brown explains: “Does social media directly boost SEO rankings? No, it won’t directly boost any SEO rankings.
So, what is the relationship between social media and SEO then? Social media provides opportunities in content marketing and link building efforts that will help boost your organic rankings.”
So what are those opportunities? Our respondents explain:
To monitor the impact of your social media marketing efforts, you may have to log into multiple tools to check how your accounts on different social networks are performing and spend hours compiling a comprehensive report. But, with Databox, social media reporting doesn’t have to be a time-consuming chore anymore.
Now you can quickly assess your social media performance in a single dashboard that monitors fundamental metrics, such as:
Now you can benefit from the experience of our social media experts, who have put together a plug-and-play Databox template showing the most important KPIs for measuring the impact of your social media marketing efforts from multiple channels. It’s simple to implement and start using as a standalone dashboard or in marketing reports, and best of all, it’s free!
You can easily set it up in just a few clicks – no coding required.
To set up the dashboard, follow these 3 simple steps:
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Of the 90 people we polled for this survey, 21 said that social media benefits SEO by helping you acquire more inbound links.
“We all know that quality backlinks are important for ranking higher on Google and increasing domain authority,” says Chhavi Agarwal of Mrs Daaku Studio. “And social media is a great platform for link building.”
“If your audience is engaging with your content, they are most likely going to share it, which gives it more visibility. That increased visibility means your content is more likely to be found and read by people who can link to it,” Agarwal says.
Flawless Inbound’s Kulbir Tivana agrees and says, “not only can social sharing increase the number of inbound links to your site, but it also improves your credibility and shows the popularity of your content.”
And increasing your credibility can be good for SEO. As Ormi Media’s Natalie Athanasiadis explains: “Social media allows for content promotion, which can lead to bloggers linking to your content from their websites. You may also find that you are approached for interviews or quote requests.”
And using social media for link building also increases the likelihood that you’ll earn links from a diverse set of sources. “You can accrue more diverse links by sharing high-quality, authoritative content, which gives you more authority in Google’s eyes,” says Phillip McCluskey of ASSISTED.
But perhaps one of the best benefits of using social media for link building is that it makes the task of link building less labor-intensive for you.
As Bybit’s Alice Bedward explains: “When you share content over social media, you’re putting it in front of an audience who’s willing to share it with their own networks. Allowing your social media followers to amplify your reach delegates many aspects of link building.”
“The wider the distribution of your content on social, and the more engagement it gains, the less work you have to do to in terms of promotion and outreach,” Bedward says.
Even if social shares aren’t a ranking factor, things like time on page and time on site definitely are. For that reason, several respondents say that social media benefits SEO by helping you improve the metrics that do impact rankings.
“Social media drives more traffic to your search-optimized pages, improving both your social media visibility and your engagement,” says Growth Hackers’ Jonathan Aufray. “The latter helps your SEO.” This can be easily tracked using this SEO dashboard.
How? “If you’re targeting the right people on social media with content that’s relevant to them, they will stay on your website longer,” says Michael Anderson of GeoJango Maps. “This is important because the length of each interaction on your website is taken into consideration by Google’s ranking algorithm.”
“You can use highly targeted posts on social media to increase the average time spent on your website, which, in turn, can help increase search rankings in the long run,” Anderson says.
Fisher Unitech’s Jackie Tihanyi agrees: “Visits from social can influence the average time people spend on specific webpages and your bounce rate. If the content you post is engaging enough, people will read it, and those value metrics will be communicated to search engines.”
See how your social media marketing efforts impact your ranking on search with the help of this SEO dashboard software.
“We use our social media outlets to get our pages indexed by Google faster,” says Ben Walker of Transcription Outsourcing. “Once we have new or refreshed content published on our site, we immediately start sharing it on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter in order to get clicks to it.”
“This gives Google the signal that there is a page that needs to be crawled and re-indexed,” Walker says.
Things like click-through rates in the SERPs, bounce rates, time on page, and time on site are all pieces of interaction data that search engines use to rank content. Many respondents said that you can improve these metrics by testing and measuring interactions on social media.
“Marketers should use their brand’s social communities as a sounding board to test different pieces of content,” says MAB’s Haris Karim.
Wes Marsh of BCA Technologies says to “find the social media posts that get the best engagement and use those insights to structure your page titles and descriptions in a similar way. If people are clicking on a post via social, they will also be likely to click on that article when they see it on a SERP.”
Josh Brown of Helpjuice agrees that you should “use social interaction data obtained from your social media dashboard to improve your SEO title and meta description,” but says you can also “use it to determine what topic clusters you should be building out.”
“The goal of SEO isn’t to generate organic traffic; it’s to generate relevant traffic so as to increase conversions. Knowing what content users engage with allows you to do this,” Brown says.
“Compared to other marketing channels, social media can help SEO in a lot of unexpected ways,” says Moz’s Dr. Peter Meyers. “Not only does sharing content on your social media channels help engagement on those platforms, but it also helps bring visitors to your website, which boosts your site’s visibility.” This can be measured easily with this social media dashboard software.
Techjackie’s Jackie Owen provides an example: “Develomark, a digital marketing agency, is a great example. Because the agency’s owner has grown his brand awareness through YouTube, many people now know him and search for his brand name because his YouTube videos are famous.”
“As a result, he is able to rank many pieces of content on the first page of Google, even though his site has fewer backlinks than other sites,” Owen says.
Sara Bennett of PACE Staffing Network has seen this effect firsthand: “By increasing the visibility and coverage of our internal content (blogs, job postings, landing pages, etc.), we have seen our social media presence amplified in our Google presence with search queries related to our company.”
“One of the greatest things about social media is that you get to learn who your audience is,” says Andrew Dafoe of TraduccioNOLA. “What do they need? What are their beliefs, feelings, and desires?”
“After you have this profile, you should know their general tendencies. Where do they go online? What are they looking for?”
“Then, you will have no problem finding keywords to target that are super relevant and tailored to the people that are most likely to do business with you. This knowledge, paired with promoting the content in places they commonly occupy online, will dramatically increase your SEO success,” Dafoe says.
James Flanagan of Tacuna Systems agrees: “We’ve found that writing blog posts and then targeting them to specific demographics on Facebook has helped to fine-tune our SEO strategy.”
“We test out which types of articles work best with which demographics and then use that data to provide feedback to our content writing team to plan similar content around user intent, buying cycles, and personas that are engaging with our posts on Facebook.”
“Facebook is a swathe of useful data for SEO, and from iterating the process of content writing via social media, we’ve been able to increase organic search to our blog by over 180% within the past six months,” Flanagan says.
And Chris Eckstrum of Housecall Pro says a great way to conduct audience research on social is through social listening. “A company that improves its social listening has the chance to improve its SEO and content marketing strategy.”
“Companies looking to improve their social listening need to be willing to read through the discussions that their consumers are having online. Taking the time to read these discussions can help you narrow in on specific topics that consumers are discussing.”
“This highlights what a certain type of audience wants out of a product. Not only will these discussions be specifically related to a company’s business or industry, but it will also be based on popular topics being discussed by a targeted audience.”
“Continuing to create original content is great and all, but it will be for nothing if the content isn’t optimized to fit the specific criteria of how viewers are searching for a product. Specific details will be exposed when ramping up social listening. These details will help you build out a content marketing strategy,” Eckstrum says.
“Consider following social listening trends to discover new keyword opportunities for your profiles and content,” says Katherine Rowland of YourParkingSpace. “This can show you what people want to read about and follow now, and therefore what will get you ranking higher.”
Joe Goldstein of Contractor Calls also recommends “publishing ‘ask the expert’ posts on your social media profiles. It’s a great way to boost engagement and find new ideas for long-tail Q&A keywords that your customers actually care about.”
“Depending on the industry, you may need to boost the posts or offer small prizes for the best questions to really get traction,” Goldstein says.
Related: How to Do Keyword Research & Outrank Your Competitors
“We use this procedure,” says Aleksandar Ratkovic of SEO Aleksandar. “The team responsible for social networks makes a list of original comments and questions they get on Facebook, Instagram, etc. Then, they forward that list to our SEO copywriters.”
“Our SEO copywriters use that list to come up with ideas for new blog posts, product descriptions, and other website content.”
“Using this process, we’ve noticed growing search engine visibility in decent percentages.”
Your social media pages do rank in search results, and for this reason, Brighter Digital’s Patrick Leonard says that “major social channels like Facebook are prominent citations that should be included in a business’s SEO efforts.”
“Social profiles can rank highly for branded searches, so having properly filled out profiles with reviews can help make your business look more legitimate and trustworthy, boosting click-through rates and conversions,” Leonard says.
But, how important is it really to optimize your brand’s social profiles for SEO? According to our respondents, it’s very important. Nearly 92% take time to optimize their social profiles:
“Mixing SEO and social media can be a very effective way to drive more website traffic, especially in the early days after a website has just launched,” says Blue Bamboo’s Liz Hughes.
“SEO tactics are fantastic for getting your page found in search engines. But it takes time. Not only does optimizing your website take time, but then it’s over to the search engines to get familiar with your site, over to you to drum up lots of backlinks to your site, and of course over to your customers to start clicking on your site.”
“Queue social media. Social media is a brilliant way to get your business name out there, online, while your website is climbing the ranks. The trick is to create posts that encourage people to click through to your site.”
“Eventually, Google will take notice that your website is being used, and this should help push you up through the ranks of its search engine results,” Hughes says.
David Bailey-Lauring of Blu Mint Digital agrees: newly created landing pages will lack page authority strength, even if the domain authority strength is high. SEOs who create new landing pages should ask their social media teams to help boost the pages by sharing it on all social media profiles.”
“I’d even suggest boosting the social media post by making an ad out of it. The concept here is to get traffic to the page so that search engines view this as a popular page and ultimately boost rankings,” Bailey-Lauring says.
And Alistair Dodds of Ever Increasing Circles says that “using paid social to amplify SEO content helps ensure that our content is getting in front of our target TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU audiences, which helps to further build our email and retargeting lists.”
“In addition, this then helps drive visitors, engagement, and comments on the posts, which helps with social proof when we then reach out to other publishers for co-promotional opportunities and good quality backlinks. It’s a holistic strategy that has served us well over the years, as each part supports the next,” Dodds says.
While the majority of the responses we received explained how social media helps SEO, several respondents said that SEO helps social media as well.
So we wanted to learn more on SEO’s relationship with social media. Here are the ways your SEO efforts can help support your social media marketing efforts:
“SEO done right is all about finding demand based on search,” says Lance Beaudry of Avalanche Creative. “When it comes to content planning and deciding what to post to social media, there’s nothing better than looking at the demand of your target audience.”
“Post about what users are searching for or things related to what they are searching for,” Beaudry says.
Filip Silobod of Honest Marketing agrees: “With SEO, you can find out what people are searching for. Then, use social to tailor your post to promote to the people searching for that information.”
Chris Hornak of Blog Hands recommends “using a tool like AnswerThePublic to uncover questions that are already being searched for on Google.”
And Roberto Severino of Adword Vigilante recommends this process: “Go through 3-4 of your largest competitors, look at some of their top pages in Ahrefs, and run a crawl in Screaming Frog so you can integrate it with Ahrefs’s API.”
“Then, take their top-performing posts and keywords and plug them into that tool, and filter by low difficulty and high search volume.”
“Once you have this done and created the content, it will be much easier to use social media to promote the content and have greater confidence in knowing this is what people have an interest in when it comes to your industry and niche.”
“There’s no second guessing when you approach social media and SEO with a logical, analytical approach like this,” Severino says.
“People use social media networks to not only to initiate communication but also to obtain information,” says Alayna Okerlund of BestCompany.com. “Basically, social media is growing as a unique search engine.”
“In order to help your content rank on major search engines like Google, you conduct keyword research and implement those keywords in your content. Doing the same thing with your social media profiles and posts may prove worthwhile,” Okerlund says.
And including keywords in your social posts can also help you grow the visibility of your social media posts and profile in Google SERPs:
“Certain social platforms are closed so Google can’t actively access the data,” says Sophie Edwards of Click Consult. “However, others—such as Twitter—are not, so you can include keywords in Tweets to help with ranking for social channels.”
However, if you’re going to use keywords in your social posts, G2’s Deirdre O’Donoghue offers some advice: “Don’t ever risk readability for better SEO. It’s imperative that your content keeps the user top-of-mind.”
“Search goes beyond Google,” says MediaSesh’s Christina Brodzky. “Anywhere there is a search box, SEO is there. Social search is no different.”
Related: SEO for Beginners: How to Improve Your Search Rankings from 103 SEOs
“One of the most important tips for leveraging SEO and social media together is tracking and monitoring how visitors from social media interact with your website,” says Rockay’s Bojan Azap. “Google Analytics and tracking URLs are the key integrals.”
“It’s critical that your social properties (bios, outbound links) and the links you share on social that relate to your website are coded properly and test correctly. This means that you have to ensure that your Facebook Pixels, Twitter tracking code, and LinkedIn tracking codes are installed and configured properly.”
“On sites that are not WordPress (Squarespace, Wix), this can be a real problem. LinkedIn has new tracking codes and a new ads manager, so prior to launching any campaign, you need to make sure LinkedIn is receiving the data from your website.”
“This is the only way you will be able to build a custom audience, which is crucial for success over time because with this primary audience you can build lookalike audiences and build frequency as you change up the creative.”
To make social media and SEO work together, Gabriella Sannino of Level343 says it’s important to “connect the dots.”
“It’s amazing how many people don’t. They have social accounts but don’t have them on their websites. They set blog posts for sharing but don’t add their social account to the share. They have a blog but never share the blog posts on their social accounts.”
“Make use of the accounts you have, connecting them together to develop a social strategy and increase your brand awareness and reputation,” Sannino says.
So, what are some ways to better connect the dots between SEO and social media efforts? Our respondents offered these tips.
“Too often, SEO and social media activity aren’t linked up because it’s handled by different people or departments,” says Dan Thornton of TheWayoftheWeb. “As a result, the best you can hope for might be a Tweet or Facebook post when a new article is published.”
“But what should happen is that the improvements you’re making for SEO should be supported by regular social media promotions, and vice versa,” Thornton says.
Roger West’s Samantha Simon agrees: “Stop siloing social media, and start merging it into your SEO strategy. In today’s digital landscape, social media and SEO work together.”
“The best way to boost success in both social media and SEO is to share your content across all social media channels,” says Ooma’s Craig De Borba.
Several respondents agree that this is one of the easiest ways to integrate your social and SEO efforts:
Good read: 12 of the Best Social Media Tools for Marketers to Promote Their Brand
“Make sure each piece of content you create includes images that can easily be repurposed on social media,” says CoSchedule’s Ben Sailer.
“This entails creating search-optimized content with social media in mind from the start, with visual assets that can stand on their own with interesting statistics, charts, quotes, or other items that can still make sense outside of their original context within the post.”
“This can help your content succeed both on social media and organic search without a ton of extra effort,” Sailer says.
Chaz Van de Motter of Elite Marketing Studios recommends “taking the blog posts that you use to create inbound leads via SEO and making a YouTube explainer video around that piece of content.”
“From there, you can not only embed the video on your blog to bolster the strength of the SEO, but you can also shorten the video and use it as viral social media content that will, in turn, call your audience to action and bring more traffic back to your blog and website.”
“This approach has helped us increase the time users spend on our site, and it aids in the consistency of our social media content strategy,” Van de Motter says.
And Miguel Piedrafita says that “repurposing existing content in a better medium for social media is a big win. For example, I use Blogcast to automatically generate audio versions of my articles, which I then share on Twitter. I’ve managed to get a lot of engagement and positive feedback with that.”
“Cross-promoting and sharing content and media across both social media and SEO is the most effective way to have both shine,” says With Clarity’s Slisha Kanakriya.
One way to cross-promote, as Trickle’s Chris Davis explains, is to “simply assure that each of your social media profiles provides users with a link leading them directly to your website.”
Another, recommended by Andrew Swindlehurst of AHM Installations, is to “embed social media posts and statuses within blog posts and articles. Not only does this link to your social media pages, but it also increases the chances that someone will click and visit them, resulting in a follow, like, or comment.”
“It’s also a good idea to ensure you have a sidebar on your blogs that makes it easy for readers to follow you on social media. By doing this you can easily gain extra followers without having to do much extra work,” Swindlehurst says.
Alexis Soer of Elite Digital agrees and says that “sharing your relevant social media posts via linking to them from your blog posts is a strategic way of taking your target audience to another one of your marketing channels without it being too blatant that this is your goal.”
“It’s important to make sure blog posts and content are easy to share,” says Chris Martin of FlexMR. “Pull out important quotes and create links that auto share these quotes to social platforms with a single click.”
“The more frequently an article is shared on social channels (and subsequently visited), the stronger signals it will be sending to search engines.”
“SEO and social media are the one-two punch of marketing, and one tip to use them both is to utilize two-way retargeting,” says Andrew Holland of Zoogly Media. “Two-way retargeting is all about making sure you use both audiences to grow the traffic to the other platform.”
“For example, say you create a viral video for Facebook. The next time you publish an article, you can boost that post to those who engaged with your video. This will give you a great chance to get more traffic to your website from a targeted audience.”
“The reverse applies, too. When you get organic traffic to your website via SEO, you can retarget those people using your Facebook Pixel with content and ads that you create natively on the Facebook platform.”
“Most business owners only focus on retargeting visitors who visit their website. They rarely create assets for the purposes of engagement with the secondary intention of building a retargeting audience.”
“Great unique content equals great performance with SEO and social media,” says Shreyash Mishra of Shrex Design.
“Social media is all about engaging with people. The more you do this, the more likely you’ll be ranked higher because people and search engines will both love you.”
“You can engage with your audience by creating and sharing great content, and then leverage that engagement to boost your follower count and search rankings.”
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