Does Social Media Influence Search Rankings?

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Did your formal education prepare you for what you actually do in the day-to-day? Mine did to an extent, but when you’re working at the edge of an ever-expanding discipline, as digital marketers do, you tend to learn the most on the job. It was in the course of my own daily tasks that I found a great post on Neil Patel’s Quick Sprout blog that I felt I should share. Here’s the first part of Patel’s Wikipedia page, slightly edited, emphasis mine:

Patel launched his first online venture, a job board named Advice Monkey, in the late 90s while in high school. When the people Patel hired for the project failed to gain the company any traction, he decided to learn how to drive traffic to his site himself, thus launching his career in online marketing. He seems to have learned well; by 2009, Patel had implemented his marketing and search engine optimization tactics on 30 of the top 100 Technorati blogs and was named one of the top influencers on the web by The Wall Street Journal.

There’s lots more to his story, of course, and his accomplishments have been phenomenal. But the point is, he started on the path to excellence by learning how to do tasks himself. And that’s Act-On’s goal here, with the blog and our Center of Excellence: To help you help yourself to be a better marketer.

Social media and search rankings

Now, back to Mr. Patel and the question at hand: Does social media influence search rankings? Marketers often try social marketing and get frustrated because it can be hard to measure the results. People may identify an interesting product or service through social media, but they’re also likely to find it through a web search, giving search the first-touch attribution for whatever conversion may happen next. This can make social seem a time and resource sink, and marketers may be tempted to scale their efforts back. But Neil Patel’s contention is that both Google and Bing use data from social sites in order to determine how high to rank your website. Which makes those social sites key to your all-important search results.

As evidence, he points out that Moz started to rank on Google for its “Beginner’s Guide” after Smashing Magazine tweeted out Moz’s guide, and that  Shrushti increased its rankings from page 400 to page 1 due to social media. To drive this latter point home, Patel created an infographic to illustrate the sequence:

How Social Signals Impact Search Engine Rankings
Courtesy of: Quick Sprout

Want more information? Check out the social media resources section in Act-On’s Center of Excellence, and find white papers, videos, webinars, and fast facts, all compiled to help you become a better social marketer.

 

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  • bri44any

    Great infographic find, but I have too many questions about the social signal experiment regarding their research methods and parameters. I wonder which platform is best according to how much effort was put into the posts and how many followers each account had before the experiment. I feel as though there might be too many variables in the experiment for it to be considered sound research. I’ll put the source on my reading list.

  • http://ja-publications.com/ Jeff George

    This was a really complicated way of saying that social media signals play no role in your website’s rank. A better reference would of been to Moz.com’s 2013 Search Engine Correlation Study where the #1 contributing factor was Google +1′s.

    • bri44any

      While it might not be easy to measure or see the difference, social media signals do contribute to website ranking. I think the correlation study provided was good, but I don’t think this was a complicated way of saying that social media signals play no role in your website’s ranking, as you’ve suggested. It might not make you jump to the #1 rank, but it does help Google and Bing to take you more seriously. Direct quote from this blog post: Both Google and Bing use data from social sites in order to determine how high to rank your website.

      • http://ja-publications.com/ Jeff George

        I am going to take Matt Cutts’ word on this one. Social media signals alone play no role in Google Page Rank or in SEO in general. If you want to waste your time on social media sites thinking you are going to increase your rank in the SERP with +1′s and Facebook likes, be my guest. However, I will be focusing on creating quality, user-useful content with properly written metadata. There is a reason why search engines do not incorporate social media signals into their algorithms. If you’re smart, you will figure out why they do not. As far as your direct quote from this post, all I am going to say is anyone can write anything anywhere.

        • Hari Raghavan

          Jeff, I agree with you that content is the most important factor. While I definitely see your point re: the immediate impact of social media signals alone, I think there’s a case to be made for the correlation (versus causation) between those signals and search rankings. Content that gets shared most via social tends to be content that engages and delivers value to real people, and Google and the other engines are sensitive to that (crawling social sites to index said content and track where the shares ultimately go); so, even though an individual Like or +1 may not do a lot to change rankings, a hundred people talking about a piece of content (linking to it, sharing it with friends, etc.) will help the page rank better in the long term.

          I’d also say that there’s a strategic business case to be made for social in general, as a means of disseminating valuable content and identifying inbound leads. But again, I totally get where you’re coming from, and can see how Patel may have overstated his point. Thanks for the comments!

        • bri44any

          Right, I agree about focusing on quality. And while you are creating quality content, why not put it on social media? You don’t need to focus on posting just for the sake of posting. People won’t like/share that, at least not in volume, because people only like/share quality content. If something is shared a lot on Google+, Google engines will notice it. It’s a way that they try to encourage businesses and content writers to use Google+ more.

          • http://ja-publications.com/ Jeff George

            There’s nothing wrong with social media and sharing posts on social platforms. All I am saying is that doing so is not going to increase your position in the SERP or you’re Page Rank. I don’t know if you are aware, but let’s just say +1′s and Facebook likes are cheap and Google knows this. This is also why search engines do not incorporate Facebook “likes” and +1′s into their algorithms and never will. I can name literally 10 posts that are in the top 3 on Google worldwide for very competitive keywords that have zero social media signals or even back links. The reason is the focus keywords are very well-placed and the content is user-useful and/or educational and 100% original. Also, the metadata is well-written. When Moz.com released that study, it really caused a lot of confusion in the SEO community for some. People started selling Facebook likes and +1′s thinking that they were going to help other’s SEO. Wrong! Google just ignores it anyway. The reason high ranked posts happen to have a lot of social signals is because they are good posts. That’s it.

          • bri44any

            That’s great analysis about the true “why” behind this type of performance. Thanks for taking the time to reply to me again.

          • Guest

            No problem at all.

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  • Thomas Craft

    Not much here, there have been rumblings for the last couple of years that with each major algorithm shift, Google and to lesser extent Bing have been taking into account social media platforms and interaction. This article does nothing to really confirm or disspell this notion.

  • Tim

    Jeff, I’m with you and will take Matt Cutts word over others who speculate the role of social signals in search rankings. It will be interesting to see if they ever officially do incorporate social signals in the algorithm, but you’re right, for now putting out quality, customer-focused content is your best bet.

  • Sam Sims

    Thanks for sharing that social media influence search rankings. I find it hard to believe that organizations are desperately trying to be the authority on products/services/topics and not using social to assist in their efforts. It’s as though they create the content and then forget to tell people it exists – and by telling people it exists, I mean ranking for it.

  • akhter

    Social networking sites also help us address one of the key needs of being accepted and appreciated by our peer groups. Unfortunately, this takes an unsavory twist when the number of followers or friends can actually be purchased to make a business look more popular than it actually is. http://www.realviewlike.com