Social media. SEO.
Many people think of these two huge aspects of our digital marketing ecosystem as opposites, maybe even imagining that the two behemoths are somehow in conflict with another, in a Batman Vs. Superman kind of situation.
Well, those who do so are forgetting one huge part of Batman Vs. Superman: At the risk of being too spoilery, the two superheroes work together for, like, a third of the movie! SEO and social media are the same way - two separate, powerful entities that also work well in tandem, making each other stronger.
Here are two huge ways that social media marketing tactics can help support and bolster your SEO efforts:
The first way to understand how social media impacts SEO is to understand just how SEO works – as a two part system. The bots and algorithms that crawl, document, and categorize the web on behalf of search engines like Google and Bing use, broadly speaking, two primary buckets of information to rank sites. We call these buckets on-page and off-page SEO.
On-page SEO refers to the ways in which you optimize your website for search, including using keywords in strategic places on your site, such as in your URL, headers, and in the captions and alt-text of your images. We also use on-page SEO to refer to other tactics that encourage clickthrough to your site, such as writing a great meta-description; finally, there are intangible web development factors – such as the speed and responsiveness of your site and whether it translates elegantly to mobile devices – which we’ll also lump under the heading of on-page optimization.
Off-page SEO, then, refers to everything else. OK, OK, OK, we get it; that’s not helpful. More specifically, we typically use off-page SEO (or off-site SEO) as a catch-all term for the external ranking signals that search engines use to categorize pages and sites.
In our experience, backlinking – that is, how often your site is linked to by other sites, as well as the quality of those sites doing the linking – is both the most common and the most significant external ranking factor to search engines. It is also the most frequently abused (which the major search engines will punish.)
Social media, then, is a simple way to create and monitor backlinks. In terms of SEO, think of it as grist for the mill: You churn in content and links, users consume them, and your search rankings climb.
Why does this work? It is well documented that major search engines treat social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn as independent websites. The more you – or others – share links to your site and your content via social media, the more clicks you earn; this referral traffic (while valuable in and of itself) also sends a signal to Google and its brethren that people notice and want to consume your content, making it appear even more attractive to the search algorithms. The more value your content appears to have, the higher it will be ranked on search engine results pages (SERPs), making it, in turn, even more valuable to you and to your users.
Old websites shutter and delete content, and shady sites built for the express purpose of creating backlinks get bypassed by Google, but social media platforms? They’re respectable web presences with built-in audiences, and you get to control how and when your content is passed around, putting you in control of one crucial part of your own off-page SEO strategy.
While we’re confident in saying that social referral traffic – categorized for our purposes as off-page SEO – helps to boost search rankings, there is another commonly bandied metric that is a little bit harder to pin down. Still, we’d be remiss if we didn’t at least bring it to your attention. The matter in question? Social signals.
In simplest terms, social signals are the shares, “likes,” pins, and comments that audiences use to give feedback on social media platforms; we commonly categorize all of these actions as “engagement” when talking about social media analytics.
For a long time, some SEO practitioners fervently believed that search engines were monitoring and taking these acts of social media responsiveness and engagement into consideration for their rankings. The reality is… a bit murkier than that.
Various studies have sought to correlate strong social signals and higher search rankings, but results have been mixed. QuickSprout’s 2014 study, for example, found a direct correlation between social media engagement and search rankings, holding true for Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. On the other hand, an extensive study from CognitiveSEO found more nebulous connections between social signaling and search ranking; for long content on Facebook, for example, CognitiveSEO found no remarkable correlation between activity and search ranking. Similarly, the study determined that no direct correlation could be made between LinkedIn activity and search ranking.
Thinking like a search engine, this makes a lot of sense. For one thing, it’s quite easy to question or dispute the clarity or usefulness of social signals; followers can be bought, for instance, and bots (or fake accounts) can disproportionately influence conversation and traffic on Facebook and Twitter.
And social signaling doesn’t necessarily reflect quality in the way that on-page SEO metrics can: If search engines heavily prioritized social signals, then large brands, with their bigger built-in audiences, would always beat out smaller ones on search rankings. We know this isn’t always the case.
Still, the bottom line is that, in today’s digital landscape, you need a comprehensive approach to both SEO and social media for your brand. They’re deeply interconnected in many ways, and each can be used to generate plenty of value, in terms of brand recognition, lead generation, and sales.
Ready to really get to work? Looking for help putting a comprehensive content marketing strategy into place for your business? Drop us a line today to keep the conversation going!