With the rise of social media and its integration across teams and strategic approaches, both in big business and within agencies, the question often arises, “Does social media affect SEO rankings?“. This question is sometimes over-generalized by data that shows a correlation between popular social media content that gets a ton of Tweets, Likes or Shares, and high rankings within the search results. Remember, correlation does not equal causation.
First, let me say, we have learned over the years that there are very few absolutes in the world of SEO, the best we can do is find correlational data that meets a statistically significant threshold, and combine that with common sense and best practices. Below are two theories about how social media marketing impacts SEO rankings.
Direct vs. Indirect Google Ranking Factors
With that said, let’s talk about the question at hand, “Do likes, tweets, and shares impact SEO, and a website’s rankings within the search results?”. To understand social media and SEO, we have to explore and define direct vs. indirect ranking factors.
Direct Google Ranking Factors: These are factors that have been shown through consistent data and analysis to have a direct impact on rankings – or at least a statistically significant impact on rankings.
Indirect Google Ranking Factors: These are factors that show a correlation with ranking, but due to a lack of data, can’t be definitively defined or categorized as a direct ranking factor. These types of ranking factors usually are described as contributors towards earning direct ranking factors.
Social media falls into the indirect ranking bucket. Social Media’s impact on SEO is [mostly] due to the increase in the probability of earning direct ranking factors such as inbound links, through distribution and reach. If you’re doing social for SEO, this increased reach explains, in part (due to a lack of data), why there are correlations between content that gets a significant number of shares or likes, and that which ranks well.
We talked about user metrics and their role in increasing rankings in our article,”Does CTR Impact Rankings?“. Social media marketing can help give user metrics a little boost.
Theoretically, when a piece of content goes “viral” the sudden influx of visits triggers a signal in the Google algorithm that temporarily gives the content a rankings boost. This boost is due to Google perceiving a strong affinity for a piece of content, thus, Google wants to ensure their users can find the piece of content easily in their search results.
In our opinion, based on the correlation data that we have, by getting more Tweets or Facebook Shares, or increasing Followers or Fans, won’t directly impact your website’s SEO ranking within the search results. Social media marketing helps SEO rankings by enhancing the probability of earning direct ranking factors, as well as positively impacting user metrics that trigger algorithm variables.