Does high social media engagement mean higher search rankings? What does Google say about social signals and their impact to SEO?
Do social signals affect search rankings?
In a world of ever-evolving social networks and platforms, can engagement on one social network over another help you get better visibility in Google search engine results?
Let’s explore social signals as a Google ranking factor to determine their effect on search rankings.
The Claim: Social Signals Are A Ranking Factor
Social signals are engagement from social media users with content you have shared from your website.
Here are some examples of social signals.
- Someone shares a link to a page on your website in a public post on Facebook. The post receives likes, comments, and additional shares.
- Someone shares a link to a page on your website in a public tweet on Twitter. The tweet receives replies, likes, and retweets.
The Evidence For Social Signals As A Ranking Factor
Google does seem to care about social media. In the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Starter Guide, Google acknowledges that compelling content gets shared, and organic buzz will build your website’s reputation.
Later, when referring to website promotion, Google suggests knowing about social media sites because:
Inside Google Analytics, there is a section for Social reports. According to Google Analytics:
Google believes social profiles are important, especially to local businesses. Google Business Profiles gathers information from various sources – including social profiles – to give potential consumers a complete view of the local business.
Google also offers advice for anyone with a Knowledge Graph panel on updating their information, including social profiles.
While Google does seem to place importance on social profiles, it doesn’t necessarily mean that social signals can lead to better rankings.
In 2010, Matt Cutts, former head of the Webspam team, received a question asking how Google rates links from sites like Twitter and Facebook to a new website. He responded that Google treats links the same, and it doesn’t matter if they come from a .gov or .edu, or Twitter or Facebook.
The only catch would be links shared on profiles that aren’t public. If Google can’t fetch or crawl the profile page, it can’t see the link.
Later, in December 2010, Cutts received a similar question, referring to an article that suggested Google used links from Twitter and Facebook in search.
Cutts answered that although they didn’t use social signals for rankings in the past, Google had implemented social links as ranking signals at the time of the video.
In 2013, Google filed a patent that references searching content of prominent users of social networks. In one section, the patent mentions how interactions by members of a user’s social graph can be used as social signals.
While the patent shows Google’s interest in boosting resources in search results based on social signals, it doesn’t mean they applied it to the algorithm.
Fast forward to 2014, when someone again asked Cutts if Facebook and Twitter signals are part of Google’s algorithm.
He responded that Google did not include signals such as the number of followers or likes in the algorithm. You can’t assume that because a signal exists on Twitter or Facebook, Google picks it up.
The Evidence Against Social Signals As A Ranking Factor
A few months later, Cutts answered this question:
In his response, he says there is an “assumption” in the first part of his question, adding social signals to the algorithm, which he dismisses.
In 2015, John Mueller, a search advocate at Google, said that social signals do not directly help in organic rankings.
Links in most social posts are nofollowed. They won’t help with organic rankings. However, the social posts that link to your website could appear in search results.
In 2016, Mueller received a tweet asking if social media tags do any good for on-page SEO. His response:
In 2017, Gary Illyes, Chief of Sunshine and Happiness at Google, mentioned social media twice in a link discussion. First:
Social Signals As A Ranking Factor: Our Verdict
It’s a bit confusing whether social signals affect organic search rankings. Between 2010 and 2014, Google may have experimented with social signals in search results.
Ultimately, it seems that Google may have used social signals in the past to create better results for users. But now, social signals seem to be a thing of Google’s past.