September 21, 2015

The Importance of Social Signals to SEO

How social signals are improving rankings despite being ignored by search algorithms.

Certain search engine’s responses to social signals have been up and down over the last few years, and caused a great many SEOs to pay closer attention to the goings on in the world of search than your aunt does to the plot of EastEnders.  Naturally, a big area of focus is the search giant, Google, which announced in 2014 that social signals are absolutely not a factor in its search results.      

However, search engine algorithms are reactive to SEO tactics and methods of online marketing, making the entire field of search an ever-changing tapestry.  In other words, a lot of time has passed between the beginning of 2014 and now, meaning that much work has been done in this field.  

One possible algorithm update that has not been openly announced, but whose effects have been felt in the world of SEO, is the inclusion of social signals.  Recent data suggests that social signals may be an influence on Google’s return of relevant search results.

Without the official word from Google’s Matt Cutts, we simply can’t be sure.  However, we are sure of this: social media was never completely useless in the world of SEO.  The approach to social-related SEO merely evolved as a result of Google’s announcement as to its lack of search relevance.  Even if social signals themselves aren’t counted as official data relevant to search results, the content on social platforms is still crawled by Google’s bots, and is thus more relevant than ever.

What are Social Signals?

social signals3Before we get too carried away with the new roles of social signals in SEO, allow us to clarify the subject.  

Social signals are the data created by social media, such as your likes, shares, retweets, favourites, pins, and so on.  Each one of these is seen as a recommendation by you, the user, and thus stands as a sort of vote of confidence in the brand with which you are interacting.  These are important to businesses because each social signal reinforces the business’ value to search algorithms.

How Relevant are Social Signals?  

True, Google has stated that its algorithms don’t look at social signals, but that was over a year and a half ago – practically an age when considering the pace of technological development.  Google has also stated its acknowledgement that sharing content is an obvious way to gauge its quality.

We also know that Twitter gave Google access to its ‘firehose’ – essentially its stream of tweets – based on the fact that the social giant was able to increase its number of visitors tenfold in 2014.   

This indicates that social signals are far from redundant in 2015.  In fact, particular industry experts see social media as the new SEO.  This is because, at the end of last year, social media sites were responsible for driving almost a third of all internet traffic to specific websites.  If this isn’t a huge indicator of the power of social signals, what is?

But, if we’re honest, the motivation behind this look at social signals is not to try to prove whether or not search engines actually rely on their data.  We could speculate all day on this subject.  The truth is, we know that social media is an extremely powerful SEO tool, and so the debate around whether Google acknowledges likes or favourites is actually irrelevant.  What is relevant is the fact that, despite the uncertainty regarding search engines’ official stance on social signals, social media is directing a large amount of traffic to websites.  And, when all is said and done, that is exactly what SEO is all about.

So, Where to From Here?

As we said, even if social signals (such as likes, tweets, favourites, pins, etc.) aren’t a factor in search engines’ algorithms, social media platforms are managing to get search engines to work for them.  Social media-based SEO has managed to find a way to stay important despite the lack of support on the part of the search engines – an evolution, so to speak.  

If data-based numbers don’t contribute to search relevance, content definitely does.  Social SEO thus places a great deal of importance on the type of content that goes into social media marketing.  This can be seen as the new view on social signals and SEO, and here’s how it works:

Increasing Traffic
The expert touch is required here for high-quality content creation.  The purpose of this is simple: encouraging sharing.  The better the content quality, the better the chance of your followers sharing your content, and the sharing of content is an excellent way to notify Google that your content, and thus your social page, is relevant.content is king

As your relevance to search engines grows, your social site will move up the SERPs, thus increasing the amount of visitors to your social page.  And, of course, one of the main reasons for having a social page is to provide an easy link to your website.

Link Building
Organic links will always be important to SEO, but don’t discount the power of your social links.  If you have 5 social platforms, for example, then you have 5 controllable links pointing to your website.  Take advantage of these by optimising your social pages for click-throughs.  

Play to the strengths of each platform, and put links in the places that are most likely to result in the user clicking on them.  For example, put a link in your Twitter description and then hashtag with the specific purpose of search visibility.  In Pinterest, be sure to categorise your products correctly, and, again, hashtag to promote your page’s visibility.

Social Optimisation
Social platforms have the capability to search within themselves, meaning that they are search engines in their own right.  Granted, their reaches are limited to their own platforms, but they can still be highly effective SEO tools capable of reaching extremely large amounts of people.  For example, Facebook alone sees as much as 1.5 billion search queries a day, equating to a monstrous 547 billion a year.

Social signal SEO should thus start at this internal search level, and be aimed at making visibility and discoverability as user-friendly as possible.  Since so many people turn to social media before traditional search engines, businesses need to be easily identifiable on their platforms.  This includes the deactivation of multiple accounts on the same platform, and the optimisation of the page’s content.  

As previously stated, the question of whether or not search engines such as Google actually incorporate social signals into their search results is irrelevant.  The fact remains that social signals are a major part of SEO, and will be for the foreseeable future.  Social signal-based SEO no longer relies on ranking as a result of numbers (be they likes, follows, shares, etc.), but has evolved to allow other parts of social media to garner search rankings.  And, with social media being responsible for a third of click-throughs last year, it would appear that this new approach to social signals is certainly working.