One of the most common realities we see in the enterprise-size companies we work with is the almost total separation of organic SEO and social media within marketing departments.
This is tragic because social media marketing should be one of the most valued allies of SEO.
Below are three ways social media can help SEO.
But first, if your business is big enough to have separate people (or even teams) working on search and social, do everything you can to get them working cooperatively.
The strategies below will work best in that environment.
Before we dive into those strategies, though, let’s clear up one myth about social media.
OK, I guess I should do a little to defend that, but I’m confident enough of the truth of this by now to just give that one-word response.
When most people ask the above question what they likely have in mind is one of two possible effects:
Let’s deal with the latter one first, as I think it might have some (small) merit, although still not in a “direct” manner.
First, it is highly unlikely that the major search engines currently use mentions or amount of engagement around a brand or piece of content as a direct ranking signal.
Years ago they may have experimented with it, but all indications point that such experiments have been abandoned.
Because social media is a weak and unreliable signal for search engines.
Back in 2014, Matt Cutts (at the time head of Google’s webspam team) explained this in this Google Webmasters videos.
One reason he stated was that it is an incomplete signal.
Many people are surprised when they hear this, but it’s true! Even Google doesn’t have unlimited resources.
Google doesn’t attempt to crawl or index all of the millions of social posts created each day.
More importantly, it is difficult for a search engine to reliably assess the authority of a given post, or even a social profile. Cutts said this is because:
(As corroboration, think about how radically Facebook has backed away from “likes” as reliable indicators of content that should be pushed out more.)
So is there any indirect way in which search engines might make use of social mentions?
See my second strategy below.
Because a great deal of social media consists of links to external sites, it’s worth asking whether those links contribute to the ranking power of the pages to which they link.
The fundamental principle for answering this is also found in the same Cutts video.
Cutts stated that Google treats social media sites the same as any other sites on the web. That means the same rules apply for links from social media sites as for any other site.
These days, that makes the question of the SEO value of links on social media networks easy to answer.
Almost all social networks, and certainly all the major ones, nofollow all external links. So these links pass no SEO equity to the target pages.
However, even if the links were followed links, it’s unlikely search engines would give them page ranking value. Why?
If it’s unlikely that social media directly affects search rankings, what is the value of social media for SEO?
Let’s now turn to the three strategies that I believe create the best opportunities for social media to help your organic search efforts.
The number one opportunity for social media to help boost SEO is also the hardest.
It isn’t particularly hard to implement, but its difficulty is on the recipient side.
That is, it is passive, and depends on action from a third party without any direct pitch or prompting from you.
Put simply, this is using social media to promote your content.
Site owners and content creators can’t link to content they don’t know about. I never cease to be amazed by all the great content that obviously took many hours to produce that gets little or no social promotion.
Organic and paid social promotions are not the only ways to promote content, but they should always be in the mix.
On countless occasions, a piece of content linked in a social post made enough of an impression on me that I saved it for later reference.
Quite often that means I’ll be citing it and linking to it in one of my blog posts or columns.
The basic principle here is that people can’t link to something they don’t know about, and social media is still an important way to let content creators know what you’ve got that’s link-worthy.
In an on-stage conversation with Eric Enge of Stone Temple Consulting (now part of Perficient Digital) at Pubcon Pro 2017, Google’s Gary Illyes talked about how Google might use online mentions of a brand. (Disclosure: I work for Perficient Digital.)
He said if a particular brand currently unrecognized by Google starts getting a lot of mentions online, it could cause Google to view them as an “entity” (a unique person/place/thing/concept that deserves attention).
He went on to tell us that “…the context in which you engage online, and how people talk about you online, actually can impact what you rank for. ”
Notice the key phrase there: not how high you rank for something, but “what you rank for.”
In other words, there might be queries for which you don’t currently rank, but via online mentions, Google realizes people see you as relevant for those queries.
Do what you can to help “fan the flames” of positive mentions of your brand on social media (as well as other places such as public forums).
The best way to do this is by:
This is one of the many benefits of social listening and monitoring.
In our own social media strategy, while we still use strategy one (systematically sharing our content on social media), I’ve been shifting more or our time toward using social to build strategic relationships leading to potential partnerships.
The fact that it’s become much more difficult to reach an audience organically these days means we should concentrate on the one thing social media does better than almost any other marketing channels: fostering relationships.
I think there are three levels of relationship-building you should concentrate on with your social media:
While I work on all three, using social to foster relationships with potential strategic partners has been the most valuable of late.
Here’s an example of the kind of value that can provide:
Over the past several years I had cultivated a relationship with Steve Rayson of BuzzSumo. I regularly interacted with his posts, shared his content, and on several occasions offered help or insights that were useful to him.
Then early in 2018, he sent me an advance copy of a blockbuster report he had authored for BuzzSumo about some massive shifts in social engagement over the past few years.
Because of our relationship, I was able to ask him if I could write up a summary of the report for Search Engine Journal to be published the moment it was released to the public.
Rayson cheerfully gave permission, and so my post New Content Trends Report: Social Sharing Down 50% Since 2015 on this publication was the first announcement most of the public saw about the report. The post got 3,000 reads and over 1,000 shares.
My point is that these partnerships can lead to opportunities that expand your brand’s reach and therefore link opportunities far beyond what you could do by yourself.
Get our daily newsletter from SEJ’s Founder Loren Baker about the latest news in the industry!
The world is going online. With the new infrastructural developments taking place globally, more and more businesses are opting to… Read More
Google Ads is bringing its Merchant Promotions program to Shopping Actions for retailers. This integration allows online retailers to add… Read More
The top AMP plugin for WordPress, AMP for WP, has released a released a patch for a critical security vulnerability.… Read More
A well-orchestrated PPC campaign can benefit a good SEO campaign, as Sergey Grybniak explores in How to Combine SEO &… Read More
Social Media Marketing Industry Report In our 10th annual social media study (44 pages, 70+ charts) of 5700+ marketers, you'll… Read More
Recently, our firm took over the digital marketing efforts for a small company. Their previous digital marketing efforts were led… Read More