A common misconception about search engine optimization (SEO) is that it’s not influenced by social media marketing. Many webmasters promote their website on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media networks, but they don’t expect it to increase their site’s search rankings. Rather, they perform social media marketing to attract more traffic to their website and expose their brand to a larger audience. While social media marketing may not directly increase your website’s search rankings — not on Google, at least — it can still complement your SEO strategy to encourage higher rankings.
What Google and Bing Say About Social Media and Search Rankings
Neither Google nor Bing have publicly disclosed their search ranking algorithm, let alone the degree to which they use social media to calculate search rankings. During a 2010 interview with Search Engine Land, however, the two companies confirmed the use of social media as a ranking signal. Later that year, Google’s Matt Cutts uploaded a YouTube video confirming Google’s use of Facebook and Twitter shares in its ranking algorithm.
Google apparently had a change of heart in 2014, during which Cutts backtracked on his previous statement by saying Google’s algorithm does not use social media shares as a ranking signal. Since then, Google has retained this position, suggesting its algorithm doesn’t directly analyze social media shares as a ranking signal.
Bing, on the other hand, has updated its Webmaster Guidelines to include a section about social media marketing. In its Webmaster Guidelines, Bing says social media shares are “positive signals” that can influence a website’s organic rankings.
There’s a Strong Correlation Between Social Media and Search Rankings
Even though Google says it doesn’t use social media as a ranking signal, research shows websites with more social media shares tend to rank higher on the world’s leading search engine than websites with few or no social media shares. A study conducted by Ahrefs found websites ranking in the first position on Google had an average of 36 percent of their total pages shared on social media, whereas websites ranking on the 10th position had an average of just 27 percent of their pages shared on social media.
A separate study conducted by cognitiveSEO reinforced these findings. After analyzing over 23 million social media shares, researchers found websites with the most Facebook, LinkedIn and Pinterest shares typically outranked their counterparts with the least shares.
Social Media Backlinks and SEO: What You Should Know
Most social media networks place the nofollow attribute on all user-created backlinks. When a user shares your website on Facebook or Twitter, for example, the backlink he or she creates to your site has this attribute, which tells search engines to disregard the backlink in their ranking algorithm. Both Google and Bing support the nofollow attribute. When one of their bots crawls a social media page with a nofollow backlink, they’ll ignore it.
Social Media Marketing Attracts Dofollow Backlinks
Backlinks created on social media may have the nofollow attribute, but they can attract other, more valuable backlinks. If a user discovers your website on social media, he or she may create a dofollow backlink to it from their own website or blog. Unlike nofollow backlinks, search engines can and will analyze dofollow backlinks in their ranking algorithm. As your website’s total number of dofollow backlinks increases, so will its search rankings.
Social Media Marketing Build Brand Awareness
In addition to attracting dofollow backlinks, social media marketing builds brand awareness. It introduces your website’s name, address, logo and other defining characteristics to a larger audience of users, some of whom would otherwise not know about your site. As a result, more users will search for your website on Google or Bing. Each of these branded searches shows search engines your website is popular, so they may rank it higher in response.
Social Media Marketing Increases Authority
Promoting your website on social media increases its authority. Whether its a direct ranking signal for Google or not, search engines assess a website’s authority as part of their ranking efforts. New websites generally have little or no authority because they haven’t been vetted by other users. It’s only when a website becomes popular and perceived as a leading figure in its industry when it gains authority.
Social Media Marketing Drives High-Quality Traffic
Finally, social media marketing can drive high-quality traffic to your website. You probably won’t generate much traffic immediately after starting a page or profile on a social media network. But after your page or profile has attracted a following, you can funnel some of those followers to your website by sharing links to your site’s pages. Search engines, including Google, use traffic ranking factor, so promoting your website on social media may increase its search rankings.
Tips on How to Promote Your Website Using Social Media:
- Only build shares, comments, followers and likes organically. Don’t pay for them.
- Customize your social media pages and profiles to include your website’s brand imagery, such as colors, logo and slogan.
- Focus on building a following for your social media pages and profiles before you start sharing links to your website.
- When sharing links to your website on Facebook, choose the most relevant thumbnail image. If none of the images are relevant, upload a unique image to use as the thumbnail.
- Include your website’s URL in your social media pages and profiles.
- If supported by the social media network, use your website’s brand name as a hashtag.
- Respond to comments posted by other users.
- Avoid sharing too many links on social media. For every link you share, try to share at least three photos, videos or text posts.
- Ask followers for feedback on your website.
Whether you’re optimizing your website for Google’s or Bing’s search results, social media marketing can complement your SEO strategy. Bing uses social media shares as a direct ranking signal, whereas Google’s algorithm is indirectly influenced by social media marketing. Regardless, promoting your website on social media can help you secure a coveted first-page ranking.