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Social Media Signals and Search Engines: How Much Really Counts?

If you’ve ever wondered about search engines and their ranking factors, you’re not alone. An entire industry full of SEOs ask themselves the same questions every day, but thankfully, because of that questioning, we’ve been able to learn a little bit more about how search engines consider websites for ranking. We know that quality content matters. We also know that a site’s backlink profile matters. But what about social media? How can a website’s social media presence tie into ranking?

When you think about it, it’s really no surprise that social plays into SEO. Google’s own webmaster guide to optimization puts an emphasis on offering value to users and social media is just another touch point for adding value. If you can create meaningful relationships online on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Google+, why shouldn’t you be able to do the same on your own website?

As far as most SEOs can tell, there is in fact a direct correlation between a solid social media presence and better search engine visibility. As for how much visibility, that really all depends on what networks you’re participating in and how actively and effectively you’re doing so. For example, Google+ tends to rank very well within Google, so having a presence there is good for owning more SERP real estate. Plus, if you’re establishing Authorship, that can lead to higher clickthrough rates (up to 150% more, in fact, according to Catalyst). Another example is that of Facebook, which some SEOs suggest sends signals to search engines based on the number of shares and likes (i.e. the more popular you are on Facebook, the more visible in the SERPs). It’s all common sense, really. Being social and going viral are inherently connected and the more opportunities you have to connect with more people and motivate them to share, the more backlinks you earn, the more mentions you gain, the stronger your site looks, etc.

For your organization, the best thing you can do is to not worry so much about how social media signals play into ranking and instead, focus on building up a meaningful social presence. The SEO benefit will go along with a strong social presence – that’s a given, but by looking only at the SEO impact means that you’re missing out on the opportunity to offer value to customers, stakeholders, and audience members who can contribute positively to your online visibility, reputation, and level of trust within your industry.

Social signals and their weight algorithmically will always be in flux. We’ve seen this happen with certain types of links, content, and keyword usage – one can expect for social media to be affected by the constant change of user behavior and the search experience eventually. The number of Twitter followers, Facebook shares, or Pinterest repins are all important for measuring campaign success – but don’t put all of your eggs in that basket when trying to evaluate your search engine visibility. Just expect that being more social can mean more space in the SERPs.

Focus on creating valuable and unique social hubs for your advocates to connect and converse with you in the social sphere. The search engine visibility will come with time and continued effort.

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