Creating a Connection between Social Media Optimization and Search Engine Optimization

By Ric Shreves, Michelle Krasniak

One of the most common justifications for embarking on a concerted effort in social media is improvement in website traffic and in search engine ranking — areas in which social media is a proven winner. There is a direct positive relationship between success in social media and the health of a website.

Think of likes and shares as votes; the search engines believed that if more people voted for Article A than for Article B, Article A was more significant and more likely to rank above Article B in the search results. This simplified analogy explains what is known in search engine circles as social signals.

In 2010, a Google insider indicated that social signals played a direct role in Google rankings. Recently, Google backed away from that statement, saying that it doesn’t factor Facebook likes and Twitter tweets into its rankings. Google says that the relationship between social signals and search rank is a mere correlation rather than a cause‐and‐effect relationship.

The current role of social signals

Search engine optimization strategy is a moving target. The search engines are constantly refining their methodology. With regard to social signals, the emphasis in today’s ranking algorithms seems to be on a mix of popularity and authority metrics. The search engines rightly believe that content from a respected authority should carry more weight than content from an unknown person or organization.

What can you take away from this fact? Here are two things you should integrate into your strategy:

  • The better the content you create, the more likely it is to be liked and shared across social channels, and the more likely it is to rise to the attention of the search engines.

    If you want to succeed in social media, create content that inspires.

  • Social participation is key. You need to be active in social channels to help establish your presence and to build a case that your content is influential and should be prioritized above your competitors’ content.

Although the search engines deny that social signals have a direct effect on ranking, that’s not a reason to back off on your attempts to secure likes, shares, and other social mentions. Here’s why:

  • A social share exposes your content to more people, which increases the likelihood that someone will create a link to your content. Backlinks have direct positive effects on your search engine ranking.

  • More exposure can also translate into more traffic, a wider audience for your content, and an increase in brand mentions.

  • More mentions translate into increased recognition and increased trust.

  • Your social activity often appears in search results, in addition to the links to the actual content itself. Social activity gives you another bite at the apple — another chance for someone to discover your content.

Even if the social activity itself isn’t directly influential, what happens as a result of the social activity is very influential.

Quality versus quantity

Here’s a question for you. Which of the following mentions is more influential: a mention from your buddy who has 10 followers, or a mention from an industry expert who has 10,000 followers? The answer should be pretty obvious: The mention from the industry expert is more useful to you, because the expert is the more influential user.

Here’s that same question one more time: Who’s more influential? An industry expert with 10,000 followers, of whom 10 percent publish online regularly, or an industry expert with 10,000 followers, of whom 2 percent publish? Again, the answer is probably pretty obvious. You want to get your content in front of influential users with large followings.

To determine who your most influential users are, try the following:

  • Look up the user on Twitter. How many followers does he or she have?

  • Look up the user on Facebook. How many friends does he or she have? How many Facebook followers does he or she have?

  • Check out the user’s LinkedIn profile. How many recommendations does he or she have, and are those recommendations in areas that are useful to you?

  • Look up the user’s score on Klout.com. The higher the user’s Klout score, the more influential the user.

  • Search for the user online. See how many hits his or her name generates and the nature of those hits. Are the items that show up relevant to your areas of interest?

  • If you want to go further, look at the list of the user’s followers on Twitter and Facebook and do a quick analysis of them. How many of the followers are actively publishing online?

    Klout.com rates individuals by influence.

    Klout.com rates individuals by influence.

Connections between Google+ and SEO

When the Google experts explain why they can’t rely on Twitter and Facebook as reliable indicators of the importance of content, they tend to emphasize that the Google search engine spiders aren’t always able to access the information on Twitter and Facebook. Google doesn’t control those channels, so it would be risky for the company to rely on them. Google+, on the other hand, is a Google property. No obstacles prevent the Google search engine from mining Google+ activity; it’s all one big family.

The SEO experts are divided on whether Google+ influences Google search results. Some respected authorities find no clear connection between Google+ and Google search rank. Other studies show that large numbers of +1s (the Google+ equivalent of a “like” on Facebook) have a meaningful effect on a site’s rank in the Google search index. Still other research indicates that although Google+ activity may not help with ranking, it does drive indexing — that is, the Google search engine uses a Google +1 to help it discover and index content.

Your best course of action is to make sure that Google+ is part of your SMO activities and to make a consistent, concerted effort to have your content appear in Google+.