Proof That Social Signals REALLY Matter For SEO?

SEO Oct 23, 2013

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Any Search Engine Optimization professional worth their chops and money are surely using social signals as a tool to share content, drive traffic, and increase rankings.

Everyone agrees up until that last part: “…increase rankings”.

Most would say social signals matter, but everyone seems to disagree as to how much and if they have any effect on website rankings.

Given that you can potentially purchase tweets, likes, pins, shares, and +1’s in droves, why should Google and other search engines take it seriously or give it any weight?

Well, it’s perhaps not so much a matter of actual tweets and likes doing the heavy lifting as simply having social media profiles acting as website credibility indicators — to robots and humans.

If you have a legitimate website whose intent is to serve an audience with quality content, then you’d presumably have social media accounts.

If you’re a spammer, why bother setting up social media accounts and keeping them active?

(And if you are and do, well, then you must believe social signals positively affect your rankings, right?)

But, any way, while there have been some armchair studies and anecdotal evidence of correlation between social media frenzy and SERPs.

The question is if there’s any causation behind the correlation, right?

Well, let’s take a look at a few examples that others have shared on their websites and blogs.

Twitter, Pinterest, Youtube Resulting In Top 10 Search Results?

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Inevitably, we’ll have to talk about hats and the color black for some of these things…

These guys experimented with acquiring hundreds of fake social signals from platforms like Youtube, Twitter, and Pinterest.

They used this setup:

  • Create 40 different Twitter messages and have them retweeted approximately 30 times.
  • Create 40 different Pins and have them repinned approximately 30 times.
  • Create 40 raw video files and upload to Youtube, vimeo, dailymotion and metacafe.

From all this, they cracked the top 10 results for many of their keywords.

Sure, who knows exactly what other factors came into play here (previous and following backlinks from more “white hat” efforts), but it certainly seems like social signals, especially at a scale, can boost your site rankings.

Think about it this way, too: let’s say a piece of content goes viral. Well, that’s usually a firehose of social media shares, likes, tweets, pluses, and pins happening in a short amount of time.

And those are, seemingly, “natural”, right?

So, you can’t necessarily draw a clear line between “natural” and “unnatural” social signals, as you can easily fake virality.

But how long-term are any SERP results of this? Who knows, but you may attract enough attention to earn “natural” backlinks and brand recognition — and especially get traffic from it.

Short-Term vs. Long-Term Rankings From Social Signals

This dude, Jason Acidre, found out that social shares and linking can seemingly boost your rankings, but it looks like that was mostly temporary.

Jason’s take on social signals is this:

The main principle of Google and Bing in using these signals is to locate fresh, relevant and significant materials over the web (news, resource, etc) through viral sharing and natural prominence. However, these search engines do have factors to consider in measuring the durability of the content, for them to truly return quality sites on their end such as:

Quantity of social mentions on Twitter and/or Facebook.
Quality of social mentions measured through the social authority of the Twitter account.
Domain authority and Trustrank of the site hosting the content.

Social media activity is a great way to get initial traction for your content, but unless it’s followed by more “trustworthy” ranking signals, like quality backlinks and more, you’ll lose the initial boost.

What About Google+ And +1’s?

Well, Moz posted an article not too long ago where they even claim some causation between lots of SEO benefits and Google+ as a social network and +1’s given to content and websites.

Matt Cutts goes on HackerNews to say “Nope!”.

The main points, regardless?

  • Google+ posts are crawled and indexed very quickly — Google uses it’s social network to discover new content, based on what’s shared and popular. It’s cut off from Twitter and Facebook, so it has to rely on something, right?
  • A Google+ post and semantic relevance are best friends — It’s optimized and has the features of a blog post, such as individual URLs, first 50 or so characters appear in the title tag, it can collect internal links with related and relevant anchor texts, and so on.
  • Google+ posts, supposedly, pass on link “juice” or equity — Shared links are followed, but not links within the post body, neither do images.

So, who knows for sure, right?

What should you do? Be active on Google+ any way.

All Things Considered, What Can We Be Sure Of?

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It seems to me like there are conclusions to all this drama and back-and-forth:

  • Social profiles and signals act as credibility factors to both robots and humans. They will positively affect your SEO efforts, whether that’s short or long-term, little or a lot.
  • Social signals give websites a short-term bump in rankings. Unless backed up by other factors and backlinks, this boost diminishes over time.
  • Reputable and established social media accounts make a difference in terms of legitimacy to social signals. Getting likes, tweets, shares, and +1’s from others with authority has some effect.
  • Social signals most certainly sends visitors to your site and that’s actually the point of SEO, anyway.

We could speculate as to what weight social signals have now and in the future, but it’s pretty apparent that social media activity only helps your SEO.

It’s not anything to build a foundation on, but certainly should be in your arsenal to top off your efforts and add an extra boost.

What kind of correlation and/or causation do you see?

4 comments
  1. Jason Acidre

    Great post Damian, and thanks for mentioning one of my old posts :)

  2. Sean Kaye

    I think Google have already said that they track retweets as a means of understanding the currency and freshness of topics – this is pretty much an extension of the Caffeine updates from a few years ago. That would explain why long term there’s not much SEO “ranking” value to those.

    Beyond that, I don’t think social signals matter much “directly” and I have a few thoughts on why.

    First of all, the “Walled Garden”. Google isn’t going to open their ranking algorithm’s credibility up to dispute by people gaming things that they can’t ultimately control. Pins, Likes, Retweets are a fiverr job away, Google’s not going to let that happen in any meaningful way.

    Secondly, Jason Calacanis has a great post about “Google Wins Everything” – http://blog.launch.co/blog/googlewinseverything-part-1.html is the link. My point here is somewhat related to my first comment and is I guess the opposite side of the equation. Google isn’t going to give imbue credibility on Twitter or Pinterest by making it a ranking signal of relevance and importance. That’s not in Google’s interest and as we’ve seen over the past few years, Google is ruthless about protecting their own interests NO MATTER WHAT.

    I’ve found myself thinking more and more through the prism of Jason’s idea of “Google Wins Everything” and rationalizing their behaviour along those lines – that’s when it all starts to make a bit more sense… To Google…

  3. www.youtube.com

    Thanks foor any othner wonderful post. Where else could anyone get that type of info in such a perfect method of writing?
    I have a presentation next week, and I’m at the search for such information.

  4. Ersan Seer

    Things to keep in mind whenever you end up in this discussion:

    1. If Matt Cutts has two options—publicly lie, or protect the integrity of Google’s ranking systems—which is he going to do? Obviously lie. The lesson here is: Never take Matt Cutts’s word as gospel. Never think he’s honest. No, I am not accusing Matt of being a bad person; frankly, his role is a very difficult one and I commend him for his work.

    2. Imagine you are Google. You task is to prioritize, FOR PEOPLE, the websites that you think the people will find most relevant to their search. How do you decide what’s relevant? Social signals. Social media is a living, breathing network of people. Google needs to feed the beast of living, breathing people. Now ask yourself: How can Google NOT take social signals into account in its ranking algorithms? There’s simply no way.

    Matt Cutts and Google are lying blatantly. I think they have figured out a way to reliably deduce which social media signals are valid, and they are using those social signals to change the SERPs.

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