Everything You Need to Know About Social Signals and SEO

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Everything You Need to Know About Social Signals and SEOSocial media can serve as one of the top platforms for your brand awareness and promotion. However, social media alone is not enough to propel your business to success.

Nowadays, all businesses want to rank high in search engine results pages (SERPs). Most people search for the answers to their questions on Google, and those people can include your next big customers. In other words, you need to ensure that your brand’s SEO is top-notch.

While many marketers believe that social media and SEO operate separately, a healthy social media posture can also help your site get high search result rankings. Let’s look at some ways each factor affects the other.

Social Signals and Search Engine Ranking

Social signals refer to your collective likes, shares, and cumulative social media visibility. Although they are not a direct ranking factor, they can indirectly help your SEO in several ways.

For instance, if you constantly create content on your site and you share that content on social media, more people will read that content and possibly link back to it on their own websites. More backlinks mean better SEO and the potential for generating more traffic.

Your social media exposure can also translate into more branded searches. Let’s assume your company’s name is X, and you sell coffee. If you get a lot of exposure on social media, more people will search for “X coffee” on Google. When more people search for your specific brand, it has the potential to translate to better rankings for your business in non-branded searches.

Finally, when social media users share your posts, those shares act as an indirect endorsement of your content. More shares mean more potential views and higher traffic rates.

In other words, social signals indirectly help your SEO, so it would be a mistake not to find ways to generate them.

How Can Social Signals Improve SEO?

The next obvious question then is this: How do you generate social signals? Fortunately, it’s not very hard to create a buzz on social media. In this section, we will discuss some social signal strategies that can help improve your SEO:

1. Increase the Chance of Getting Backlinks

Most pieces of viral content nowadays achieve that status because people share them. Because people talk about your content, it attracts media attention, which leads to large websites mentioning your brand and linking back to your site.

More often than not, people share viral content on social media. The lesson here is that if you want your brand to get noticed, you need to generate social media buzz around your content and hope that it gets enough views to merit being mentioned by high-authority websites.

Here’s a good example of social media content gone viral that resulted in high-quality backlinks.

When recording artist Lizzo posted an unedited photo of herself in the nude on Instagram, the post garnered more than two million likes. Lizzo has long been an advocate of body positivity. As it turns out, the post was created in partnership with Dove’s Self-Esteem Project, which major websites such as Buzzfeed linked back to:

Buzzfeed campaign backlinks

While Dove’s website has a good domain rating on its own, it certainly benefited from its exposure in sites such as Buzzfeed, Complex, Dazed, and Allure. Aside from Lizzo’s photo that went viral, the Dove Self-Esteem Project also got mentions in other articles.

This article, for example, mentions the initiative as a sponsor of a major industry event:

Shonda Rhimes Ad

More recently, the initiative tried to raise awareness of racial inequality, as mentioned in the article from Allure below. The article featured a backlink to Dove’s press release announcing its commitment to helping influencers of color gain more exposure:

Allure article

Allure also promoted the article through its Facebook page:

Allure post FB

As a result of Dove’s strong sense of advocacy, its website is the top result when you search for “self esteem project”:

Dove SERP

Dove’s experience with social media brand building gives it an edge over its competitors, especially when it comes to using social media content to increase backlinks and boost its SEO even further.

When pieces of viral content mention your brand, the exposure does more than raise your social media profile. It can also help your SEO as backlinks from high-authority sites that cover your story can help boost your site rankings.

2. Increase Branded Search

Aside from leveraging viral content to increase social media mentions, there’s also a strong correlation between a presence on social media and branded search. Branded searches are searches that mention your brand name and another term.

Most brands that rank high in the search results also maintain active social media accounts. If a brand actively engages with its followers, they also mention the brand on their pages, resulting in higher branded search volumes.

For instance, searching for “Nike running” gives us the search results below:

Nike SERP

As expected, the top search results are from the Nike website. However, scrolling down a bit will give you this result:

Nike Instagram SERP

Why does the @nikerunning Instagram page rank high for the keyword “nike running”? A quick look at the profile will tell give you a good idea:

Nike Instagram

With close to six million followers and 11,159 posts, Nike Run Club’s Instagram account is one of the most active sportswear brands on social media. A typical image post on the page can have between 13,000 to over 50,000 likes and hundreds of comments.

In addition, Nike Run Club’s video content has hundreds of thousands of views. All of these numbers indicate that the page has a high rate of engagement and that the content resonates with its followers.

On the other hand, Nike’s closest competitor, Adidas Running, has just a fraction of its follower base:

Adidas Instagram

Compared to Nike Run Club’s content, Adidas Running’s posts generate up to 13,000 likes. While this number is still impressive, it pales in comparison to Nike’s engagement rates. Also, the page only has less than 350 posts, which implies two things:

1) the brand’s Instagram marketing team isn’t very active; and
2) Adidas might have entered Instagram a lot later than Nike.

Not surprisingly, a search for “running shoes” has Nike as its top result. In comparison, Adidas doesn’t appear until the middle of the second page of the Google search results and even ranks lower than Reebok, which is known more for cross trainers than running shoes:

Running Shoes SERP

The example above shows you the role of generating social signals as a form of engagement in boosting your SEO. Publishing more content and driving engagement is not the end-all and be-all of SEO marketing, but it does influence the search rankings for your brand. Being the first brand in your niche to be on social media also gives you a definite advantage.

If you aim to make your site rank higher in Google, aim for branded searches first by boosting your social media and ensuring that your editorial calendar never runs out of scheduled content. When users associate your brand with a specific product range, your search ranking for more generic keywords will gradually improve.

3. Feedback on Content Quality

The last – and arguably most important – a technique that involves social signals to boost SEO is producing quality shareable content. People love to read and share high-quality posts, whether they teach a life lesson, alert users about life-changing news, make the reader burst into laughter, or tell the audience about a typical day in the office.

If your readers share or comment on your posts, it’s an indication that your content is high quality. High-quality content optimized for a keyword is more likely to rank in the search results because it satisfies users’ needs and answers specific user questions.

For example, the music website Loudwire published this article about Nickelback’s song “Rockstar” on August 14, 2021:

Loudwire article

Loudwire also shared the article on its Facebook page:

Loudwire FB post

Within just four days, more than 500 users shared Loudwire’s post on Facebook, while almost 100 Twitter users retweeted the article. While 600 social media shares doesn’t sound like much, those shares were partly responsible for catapulting Loudwire to the #3 position for the keyword “nickelback rockstar”, just behind the song’s official video and Wikipedia entry:

Nickelback Rockstar SERP

For the long-tail keyword “nickelback rockstar copyright lawsuit”, the article is ranked #1:

Nickelback Rockstar SERP 2

As we scroll through Loudwire’s Facebook timeline, we can see that their widely-shared articles also tend to rank near the top of the search rankings:

Loudwire SERP 1

Loudwire SERP 2

The examples above only confirm what we’ve known all along: while social signals don’t contribute directly to search rankings, they are a pretty good indicator of the quality or credibility of your content. If more people share your content, those shares drive traffic to your site, which sends a signal to Google that your content is credible and authoritative.

However, you should be careful not to take social signals at face value. Some people share articles without actually reading them, which also indicates that your headlines are just as important as the body of your content. You should also consider other metrics, such as the bounce rate and time on the page, to better understand the effectiveness of the content you produce.

You don’t need to spend a fortune to track these metrics. Google Analytics allows you to monitor site and content performance for the past 365 days, including bounce rates, free of charge.

Google Analytics also allows you to discover where most of your traffic comes from, the locations where your content doesn’t perform well, and the pages (or content) that drive traffic to your site.

While you cannot really predict whether your content will go viral, you can at least use analytics to see where it performs well and determine a way for it to gain more views. These insights allow you to boost your branded content on Facebook at specific times and promote to users belonging to certain market segments, increasing its chances of being shared.

Related: How to Track Facebook Ads in Google Analytics

Bottom Line

You need social media to succeed in business. Social media is a great platform for promotion and awareness. But that’s not all social media can do for you. It can also help your SEO by boosting your social signals.

Although social media signals aren’t a direct ranking factor, they can tell Google your content deserves a high ranking in SERPs. If people are sharing your content, it indicates that your content is of high quality. Social media signals can also help your SEO by boosting branded searches.

The key to fusing social media with SEO is to create content that generates social signals. In this article, we looked at three strategies you can use to reach this goal.

First, your content needs to be so noteworthy that high-authority websites notice it and link back to your site. This does not just drive traffic; it also passes on some of the websites’ authority to yours.

Second, your social content should increase branded searches for your products. When your brand is active on social media, your social media accounts also tend to perform well in branded searches. Once you’ve established domination over branded searches for your products, your business will have a better chance of performing well in non-branded searches.

Finally, your content should be shareable. It needs to be interesting enough for readers to click and share on their own social media networks. When users share your content, they increase traffic to your website, sending a signal to Google that your content is of high quality.

While the three methods we’ve demonstrated seem different from each other, they all have one thing in common: the commitment to create useful content that people will read, share, and engage with.

Follow these tips to generate that social media buzz that can help your SEO. You can thank yourself later.

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Everything You Need to Know About Social Signals and SEO
Allie is the Head of Content at Omniscient, a marketing agency that works with SaaS brands. Before working with Omniscient, she spent 5 years as a freelance writer and then joined the content team at HubSpot where she worked for nearly 3 years. She has contributed to more than 100 high-converting articles for HubSpot and collaborated with the folks at Entrepreneur, Hotjar, and Foundr. Her words are bookmarked by entrepreneurs, small business owners, and digital marketers worldwide.

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