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5 Things You Need to Know About Social Media & SEO

Quicksprout recently published an awesome new infographic on the state of SEO that illustrates how the field has evolved over the past few years in response to Google’s game-changing algorithm updates and the steady rise of content as king.

quicksprout infographic image 01 While looking over the infographic one thing in particular caught my eye: the importance that companies and agencies alike place on social media when thinking about their SEO strategy.

The infographic illustrates findings from Econsultancy’s State of Search Marketing Report 2013, in which 74% of companies and 82% of agencies surveyed said that social media is either somewhat or highly integrated into their SEO strategy.

agency resources social seo In a cruel twist of fate, just two months after Econsultancy collected the data for its report, Google’s Matt Cutts released a video saying that social signals––metrics such as Facebook likes and Twitter followers, which indicate a profile’s authority and influence––do not affect search rankings.

This statement threw marketers for a loop; they had been operating under the assumption (understandably so––more on that below) that social signals were factored into Google’s search algorithm as an indication of trustworthiness and quality.

For this article I decided to dive deeper into what Cutts’ statement meant for the relationship between social and SEO and learn how SEO-focused marketers are thinking about social media now that social signals are out of the picture, at least for now. Let’s start with some more background information on the dialogue around social and SEO over the past few years.

A Bit of History

As I mentioned above, Cutts’ statement that Google does not look at social signals when determining the rank of a webpage came as a big surprise to the online marketing industry. After all, in a video published in December 2010, Cutts himself said that social signals were a factor in ranking.

In this video Cutts refers viewers to Danny Sullivan’s Search Engine Watch article for which Sullivan had spoken directly with Bing and Google in order to learn how the two search engines look at social signals as a ranking factor.

Both search engines told Sullivan that who you are as a person on Twitter can impact how well a page does in regular web search.

A variety of studies, including SearchMetrics’ Rank Correlation for 2013 and the case studies outlined in this infographic from Quicksprout, gave additional weight to the idea that search engines look to social signals when ranking a webpage. metrics rank factors study So you can understand why marketers were dismayed and a little annoyed when, three years later, Google told them nope, sorry guys, we actually don’t look at that stuff right now.

Despite all this back-and-forth, Neil Patel, SEO expert and founder of Quicksprout, recently urged marketers not to discount social’s impact on SEO too quickly; he thinks that social is the new SEO, and his argument is pretty convincing.

Why does Patel think that social is the new SEO, and how are other marketers integrating social into their SEO strategy? I dove into researching this subject and identified 5 key things every marketer should know about how social media impacts SEO in 2014 (going into 2015).

My research also left me with a few questions, which I mention throughout the post; I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

5 Things to Think About When Considering The Impact of Social on SEO

1. Social Links May or May Not Boost Your Search Rank

Okay, social signals pertaining to a profile’s authority are out, but does Google consider links published on social accounts to be credible backlinks? When a blog post goes viral on Twitter, do those new links boost the post’s search ranking?

Many marketers believe that links to your website via social media accounts do have a major impact on your rankings. Says Marketing Consultant Brian Honigman:

Today, links are mainly achieved through developing original content that is in turn, shared across social media. Links to your content on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube and other social networks help the search engines understand what websites are credible and should be ranked for what keyword phrases.

In Danny Sullivan’s 2010 interview with Google and Bing for Search Engine Watch, Google first says that it doesn’t incorporate the number of times a link has been tweeted into their search rank algorithm, and then it goes on to say that it does (doh). Bing says that it definitely looks at this data:

We take into consideration how often a link has been tweeted or retweeted, as well as the authority of the Twitter users that shared the link.

While Cutts’ 2014 video is crystal-clear about the absence of social signals from the search algorithm, he does say that Google crawls social websites for data in the same way that it would any other site:

Facebook and Twitter pages are treated like any other pages in our web index, and so if something occurs on Twitter or occurs on Facebook and we’re able to crawl it then we can return that in our search results.

This leads me to think that while the authority of a social account doesn’t impact search rank, links published on social media could be marked as credible back-links and thus influence a page’s rank.

Takeaways: When Cutts made his statement about Google not factoring in social signals I understood him to mean clues about a particular company’s authority on social media, which, for me, is distinct from the number of times a page has been linked to on social media. Further research didn’t help me get much clarity on this point.

If there are any SEO experts reading this, I’d love for you to chime in below in the comments.

2. Social Media Profiles Rank in Search Engines

While social shares may or may not affect a webpage’s position in search listings, your social profiles definitely influence the content of your search results. In fact, social media profiles are often amongst the top results in search listings for brand names. When I searched “General Electric” in Google, the company’s Instagram and Pinterest profiles appeared as the 5th and 6th listings, respectively, and Twitter was the 8th result.

ge social search results Moreover, Google displayed the company’s Google+ profile information in the right-hand sidebar at the very top of the search results page.

ge social search sidebar

Social channels can feel more personal than webpages, and they’re a great way to get a sense of a company’s personality off the bat. When I’m researching a company I don’t know much about I typically go straight to their Twitter or Facebook page. So if a social account shows up at the top of the search results, I’m just as likely to click on it as I would be to click on their website.

Takeaway: There’s no doubt that your social profiles matter to Google and especially to people who are looking for you online. A few active social channels can make the experience of getting to know your brand online more fun, engaging and personal. Also, while some may consider Google+ a non-essential social channel, marketers shouldn’t discount the fact that a company’s Google+ profile is one of the first things a searcher will see (and potentially click on). As such, it pays to have a profile with up-to-date info and engaging content.

3. Social Media Channels Are Search Engines, Too

Nowadays, people don’t just go to Google and Bing to look stuff up; they also use social media channels to find what they’re looking for. Patel makes this point in his article on why social is the new SEO: “We need to understand that search engine optimization includes the search that happens on social media search engines.”

This works in a couple of ways: First, if you’re active on Twitter, it’s entirely possible that people will discover your company’s new content distribution app after searching for content marketing-related tweets with Twitter’s search engine. Likewise, brands that lend themselves to beautiful visual content can benefit from making their content visible in Pinterest and Instagram by using hashtags and properly categorizing their pins.

Moreover, as mentioned in point #1, if someone wants to check out your company, they’re likely to open Twitter and Facebook and do a quick search to see what kind of presence you have on each channel. YouTube, and, of course, Google+ are also search engines.

instagram search

The recently revamped Instagram search engine

Here are some impressive stats that illuminate just how much people are using social media to search:

  • As of 2010, Twitter handled 19 billion search queries a month (that’s more than 5x the queries handled by Bing!).
  • In 2012 Facebook said it got around one billion search queries per day.
  • As of March 2010, YouTube got roughly 3.7 billion search queries a month. Also, 100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, making it one of the largest content repositories on the web.

Takeaways: Companies should expand their concept of SEO to include not just the traditional search engines––Google and Bing––but also social search engines.

When searching for a brand on Facebook or Twitter it’s not uncommon to see several different profiles pop up, and it’s not always clear which one is the real deal. Marketers need to ensure that it’s super easy for users to identify their official social profiles.

This may mean deleting duplicate accounts and/or clearly labeling each social account so that users understand what purpose they serve (for example, accounts for HR or press versus general brand pages).

4. Not Now Doesn’t Mean Not Ever

Just because Google says that social signals don’t currently impact search rank doesn’t mean they never will. Social media shows no sign of becoming a less important part of a brand or person’s online presence anytime soon; moreover, given that link-building strategies like guest blogging have become a less reliable way to indicate the quality of a webpage, it makes sense that search engines would begin to look for other signals of authority and value.

Takeaways: There’s no reason why social signals won’t begin to affect search rankings in the future, so smart brands will continue to build their authority in key social channels and think about social when designing their SEO strategy.

5. Don’t Forget Bing

Google may have back-tracked and changed their stance on social signals, but I haven’t found any evidence that what Bing told Sullivan for his Search Engine Watch interview doesn’t hold true today.

Remember, Bing said:

We do look at the social authority of a user. We look at how many people you follow, how many follow you, and this can add a little weight to a listing in regular search results. 

Takeaways: Bing, which is the second most-used search engine, has been crystal clear about how their algorithm incorporates social signals into their search results, and, unlike Google, they haven’t flip-flopped on the issue. With its market share steadily growing, companies would be wise to include Bing in their SEO strategies.

Wrapping Up

Cutts’ claim that Google’s search algorithm ignores social signals should not be seen as an invitation for marketers to dismiss social’s impact on SEO. Instead, marketers should broaden their concept of search and SEO to take into account the myriad ways that people find content on the web. They also need to think about the positive effects that increased traffic from social can potentially have on their search rankings as well as the prominence of social profiles on first-page search results.

Ultimately, the web is all about building relationships, fostering audiences, expressing identity and sharing ideas––it’s inherently social, and there’s no reason that SEO best practices would go against the grain, especially since the rules that govern SEO are ultimately meant to make the web a more enjoyable and useful place.

Okay, your turn: How else do you think social affects SEO?

About the Author: Chloe Mason Gray specializes in digital marketing and growth strategy for small businesses and solopreneurs. Be sure to say hi to her on Twitter. You can also follow her on Google+.

  1. Brian Honigman Nov 18, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    Hi Chloe, amazing piece on the intersection of search and social. Thank you so much for referencing my Sumall piece. Much appreciated.

  2. Very Nice Article to read about new tactics of SEO. Keyword research is really a very important part of ranking any site in SERPS and our success and failure of Niche is truly based on that.

  3. sherman smith Nov 19, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    Hey Chloe,

    Interesting piece. I couldn’t have sworn earlier this year that Google takes into account that they use social signals as an indicator of whether to push your site up the ranks or not. But Matt Cuts say that isn’t even a factor? Well either way it goes, I’ve going to focus on being social and keep building relationships with other bloggers. Google isn’t the only option, although I use it constantly. We have Bing and may have other search engines that will look at the social signals to determine your rank. Thanks for sharing Chloe! Have a great week!

  4. Karthik Kumar Nov 20, 2014 at 2:03 am

    Nowadays social medias are the best way to promote a website and gaing traffic.SEO and social media bends to generate more traffic. This article clearly explains about SEo and social media. This is a great article.

  5. Karthik Kumar Nov 20, 2014 at 2:16 am

    Nice article about SEO and social media.Nowadays social media plays a key role in gaining traffic for a website. SEO and social media bends to promote a website and gain traffic.

  6. Hammad Rafique Nov 20, 2014 at 8:40 am

    If seo is going to be about social sharing and content then if will be much difficult to manipulate serps just like we were doing in past years. Now it’s not easy to create 100 different social accounts with different ips and different locations to get better rankings.

  7. In the time when Google is constantly working upon to kill SEO, it is very important to look for social media as potential market. If combined with quality content, the social media can give some great outputs. Great article thanks.

  8. Great post, Chloe. I think that right now the issue with social signals for ranking is that social influence can be bought, by either paying for followers or paying to increase the reach of posts. Until Google can separate paid influence from unpaid influence, they can’t trust social signals to be 100% legitimate.

  9. Sewa Bana Akustik Nov 21, 2014 at 7:14 am

    info is very useful .. thanks for sharing

  10. Great article! I completely agree with you, I think that social absolutely affects SEO and I believe that it will continue to more and more.

  11. That is an amazing piece of advice here! Social media strategies hold the top priority in any SEO practices. It should not be ignored. Social media websites can fetch you as much as 30% of targeted traffic, that can be converted too!

  12. Great advice Chole! Social media is really important to increase traffic, brand reputation and website ranking. We can reach our potential market via social media.

  13. Thanks for this Chole! A really great article explaining clearly what the latest is. It changes so often it’s hard to keep up.

    This was really useful to me as a SM Marketer

  14. Dario Rodriguez Dec 16, 2014 at 10:08 am

    Excelente articulo, felicidades

  15. There’s a reason why nearly all the major corporations spend millions a year to keep their web presence active and engaging.
    Strengthening your image on sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google+ and Pinterest lets your customers interact with you on an entirely new level.
    Simply put, the longer you can keep your company in the heads of those motivated customers, the better the chance of them coming to YOU when they need your product.
    Punchy Social Media can keep that online presence fresh, interesting and providing amazing value at the same time.

  16. Yes, its correct that google doesn’t value the social media likes/follows/shares etc for the purpose of ranking. There are multiple reasons for google to neglect the media popularity in case of SEO.

    In future google may consider the social media however it cannot give the equivalent value for all the popular media even if the media tends to be the No 1.

    Yes, social media plays a major role in SEO and can gain popularity within a very limited period however, Social media such as…. cannot be totally considered for the purpose of SEO because of its lacking security and vulnerability.

    There are multiple scenarios observed where a single people/ organisation having multiple media accounts. In this case if like/share/comment is a factor for SEO, I can have 1000 multiple accounts with different names. I can like/share/comment my web site/blog more than 1000 times a day. I am popular and ranked now… Hahaha.

    We have also researched in many cases that, the person no more exists. He/She`s dead before few months/years but his social media account is alive to like/ comment and share different web documents.

    Also its not an easy process to trace out these fake accounts. Multiple people can browse the web from a single ip and the technology is still much narrow to capture the images of each individuals who browse the web throughout the world.

    Also the social networking sites are not capable to collect an identification for each and every individual who uses their services. If they start it looses its customers by a heavy percentage due to different fake accounts and many more… Yes, there are sincere individuals who really cares of their identity and have a single account for their own purpose…. These individuals likes/shares/comments etc can be counted for SEO but how…???. The updated Semantic Search still fails for the input and output solutions in this case.

  17. Hi,

    Thanks for sharing the great tips on SEO and keyword research is also very important part of any SEO strategy because its deciding the foundation of SEO companion.

    Thanks, keep posting.

  18. Norman Risner Apr 04, 2015 at 8:45 pm

    Sharing and following articles on social media sites do not affect SERP unless you have anchor text or URL backlinks in your article pointing to your website. All my backlinks are from many different social media sites and I always get a great SERP. There are a lot of social media sites that show up in Google searches such as Pinterest, Tumblr, WordPress, BlogSpot, etc. so to say they have no effect on SERP is WRONG!

  19. Michael Smith Apr 09, 2015 at 10:22 pm

    Social channels are always talk of the town. Lots of debates were happened on the same topic, but I believe that social signals are important to get higher ranking in SERP. Because as we are seeing, search metrics always include social signals as an important factor for ranking and some other experts are also considering, I think we all have to give more focus on such platform.

  20. Good Article. Good comments as well. This subject is forever evolving.

  21. In 1999 there was social media at the water cooler or in the smoking area… now that digital has gone cigarette – it would be a bright idea to add social media to the e-cigarette – make it soft and real, not hard and cold. Same goes for social share and seo… you can grow plants in a jar, but that won’t produce much.

    Take time and care to grow your social communications in fertile ground and watch it bloom naturally aka #organic across audio, video, and most importantly virally.

    Holla at Oevae, know on Google as “best marketing consultants in the world” – we salute Chloe at for cranking out these truths about #socialmedia

  22. Great article! It is a mine field for smaller brands trying to compete organically, with so many SEO ‘experts’ around most go for the cheaper option that in the long run doesn’t pay off.

  23. I’d say influence of Social does play a role. We released a Blog recently and it attained page 1 rankings based solely on the content and on the promotion we did on Social Media. We haven’t got any backlinks to it as yet and its still doing quite well!

  24. Our site has been up and running for two months. We set up all social media account around the same time. Because our site is a parenting-site, we have more audience and interactions on Our social pages were quickly indexed by Google and appear in search results. However, only few links from Google Plus, Quora, and Scoop it appear in Backlinks of Google Webmaster so far. Not sure when and ever links on other SNS will appear as backlinks.

  25. Karsten Madsen Feb 03, 2016 at 1:53 pm

    Are google folks really still saying they don’t rank social media links and content?

  26. Stephen Conti Feb 22, 2016 at 2:22 am

    This part is actually true: “Facebook and Twitter pages are treated like any other pages in our web index, and so if something occurs on Twitter or occurs on Facebook and we’re able to crawl it then we can return that in our search results.”

    As two of the URLs i published on my Facebook page (out of 20) are actually found in top 5 rankings of my targeted Keyword in Google rankings. Though I have no clue why the remaining 18 were not found in Google rankings, though I use a similar procedure to post content + Link on my Facebook page.

    I guess the possible reason is my remaining links aren’t crawled yet? What’s your view on this?

    P.S. The indexed links are neither new nor old, they are somewhere in the middle.

  27. I do not think social is a factor in SERP rankings from my own experience. Most SEO tools do not seem to count social signals anymore as well.

    • I have to agree with you on that. We ran a 12+ week test on this and totally ignored our social media on 5 platforms that we had heavily invested time in for over 3 years. We found that our general inquiry/CTR went up!

      Mind you, I do think that certain continents and countries put more value upon Social Media than others. For various reasons.

  28. Social media campaigns are becoming a vital part of a successful SEO strategy, a strong social campaign can greatly increase your search rankings and increase awareness of your brand or website content.

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