SEO and Social: How Do They Interact?

27 March 2017

SEO and Social: How Do They Interact?

It is most likely that social media can benefit your SEO rankings. What may come as a surprise is just how it does so. Here is a very brief guide to the wonderful world of social media and SEO.

The old days

When Google first started (way back in 1998), SEO meant targeting keywords and backlinks. Both of these tactics still feature today, but their importance has been far reduced. Google soon discovered that this simple approach was vulnerable to exploitation by what was known as black hat SEO and hence began to look for ways to make its search algorithm more sophisticated. In the intervening (almost) 20 years, Google has incorporated ever more criteria into its ranking system to a point where it is now little short of impossible to crack through technical sleight of hand.

What Google can and can’t do

Google does analyse all kinds of data elements to determine which results are most relevant to a user’s search. What Google can’t do is analyse data owned by other websites which, for one reason or another, may decline to co-operate with it.

Facebook, for example, has two good reasons to refrain from co-operating with Google. The first is that Facebook and Google are in direct competition for the hearts, minds and wallets of advertisers. The second is that Facebook has to be aware of its obligations regarding user privacy, particularly given that the minimum (official) age for holding a Facebook account is 13, at which age people are generally still treated as minors in the eyes of the law.

Google, for its part, has two good reasons to avoid placing too much emphasis on Facebook data when generating its search results: the first is that it’s generally a bad idea to create a situation where a core feature of your business is dependent on input from a direct competitor. The second is that Facebook data is of questionable reliability.

While it may be hard to determine just how many social media accounts are fake in one way or another; there are a number of accounts that are set up in ways which are officially forbidden, e.g. for use by bots, for instance. It’s also a harsh reality that the importance of ranking highly in Google is such that if it became common knowledge that likes and shares on Facebook could boost Google rankings directly, it’s a safe bet that Facebook would quickly see an upsurge in fake accounts set up for that purpose in an echo of the old black hat days. Similar issues apply to other social media platforms.

Why social media can still boost your SEO

The whole point of using social media is to boost engagement with your brand. Organic likes and shares are a pretty good indicator of how well your content is received by your followers.

The key to effective social media usage is to turn this platform-based engagement into engagement with your website and that is what will ultimately boost your Google ranking.

The reason for this is that Google will be able to identify the fact that you have a high level of traffic and that your unique visitors are spending time on your site rather than just “bouncing” elsewhere immediately. Those are all pointers to a high-quality website and hence one which Google will rank highly. In other words, even though social media can indeed have a strong influence on your search ranking, the influence is indirect rather than direct.