Social Sharing & Social Signals - Do They Help SEO?
Published onSep 7, 2016bySteven Mitchell
What is it?
Social sharing and ‘social signals’ more generally are sometimes implied to affect your website’s position in search results. This is a hotly debated issue, but there are a couple of outright myths we can debunk for you. Because we like you.
Myth 1: Social Sharing Will Generate Backlinks
The idea is that by using social media to broadcast your website content, your adoring fans will see the article in their feed and write about it on their own website, generating tasty backlinks and improving your SEO performance.
This idea has been quite extensively disproven1. - only a very small percentage of content (typically long form, original research backed content or opinion forming journalism) enjoys this kind of treatment2. Generally social sharing is very unlikely to earn you more backlinks. However, traffic from social will tend to display great engagement metrics compared to other channels.
Myth 2: Social Signals Are Used By Google
Various Google employees have directly addressed this issue, categorically stating that social signals do not directly affect organic rankings. Skeptics have pointed out that Google have said this about other metrics, only later to contradict themselves. Not only this, Google themselves have previously suggested that social signals were a ranking factor3... kinda. Jon claims to have heard someone from the Google Webmaster Tools team saying "a velocity of social sharing around a URL is a strong signal for ranking, albeit short term". However, the latest4 consensus5 is that Google does not use social signals in its ranking algorithm - at least, not "directly". Bit confusing, eh?
So, does it matter?
We kinda think it does. Anecdotally, we've seen significant, long lasting spikes in ranking position across the board for clients that have experienced a spike in social activity and discussion – even when this doesn’t coincide with a spike in search activity for the same. Of course, there may be some other mechanism at play here, but the correlation is typically blatant.
Whether or not your performance on social media proves to have a knock on effect to your organic visibility in search engines (“directly”), there are a host of good reasons to maintain a strong social presence.
Some other reasons you should use social media for business
Social profiles do rank in search engine results – customers may click on your social profiles before they click on your website.
The social platforms themselves also function as search engines – your customers may well search for you on Facebook long before they do so on Google.
Information from social is pulled through to the results page in the form of news carousels and the knowledge graph. Well maintained social channels contribute to a rich and well-rounded online presence.
‘Millennials’ like to communicate exclusively through social media channels, preferring it to face to face conversations or even the terrifying prospect of a phone call. As this airbrushed generation of posthuman drones overruns our aging population, your social media channels will increasingly constitute your primary means of interacting with your customers. It’s best that we embrace it now, so that it’s easier to swallow when our race is nothing more than rows and rows of gel filled tanks, packed with pallid, translucent flesh painted with sallow, vacant expressions, our only stimulus the drip feed of electrons through the electrode piercing directly into our hypothalamus.