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Ali Moghadam

SEO Social Signals – Why They Matter (Even if They Don’t Exist)

3rd Mar 2014 Social Media | 2 Comments


Some Small Guy Who Likes Things No link between SEO and +1s? No problem. But to give up on social media and go into SEO alone is about as sensible as shooting yourself in the foot, then shooting the other foot so it matches.

In this post, I’m going to look at why it doesn’t matter if SEO social signals don’t exist and why you should go for it on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ (at the very least).

SEO and Social Media – Like Peas and Carrots

Social media and SEO – many seem to think that these are two things that sort of maybe kind of go together. Or, that you can do one without the other. Yes, you can do SEO without social – just like you can walk to the shop without shoes, or wash your car without a sponge. Possible, but it’s probably going to suck.

SEO and social media go together like peas and carrots, like bacon and eggs, like bangers and mash. Good on their own but incredible together. But why? The theories on how +1s, likes, followers and retweets improve rankings have been floating around for a long time. There have been studies (like this one from Cyrus Shepard on the Moz Blog) showing correlations between +1s and higher search rankings.

On the other hand, Matt Cutts says the +1 theory is a load of rubbish. In that same blog comment, he mentions a myth he and Google had dispelled in 2011 about Facebook shares beefing up rankings. So there’s no link then? All that social activity is just staying within its own platform. But wait – if there’s no link, why is it that the more popular my page or Twitter account gets, the more search visibility I get?

Visibility/Popularity

Cartoon person saying I Like This

My artistic rendition of a guy who likes something

So let’s say you’ve made a Facebook page linked to and from your website and people love your posts, there’s always comments being added and generally, your audience keeps you busy with interactions. This is super desirable, even for a page with only a few hundred likes, because it means people are seeing your page and what it is that you do. By interacting with it, their friends are seeing your page. If they like it too, then that’s a new bunch of people on your side – and so it goes, snowballing and growing.

Now let’s say you don’t.

You’re missing out on a big chunk of marketing space, learning about your audience and opportunities to grow said audience. And you never even had the chance. We’ve all heard the social media success stories out there and we know enough to say it doesn’t happen by accident, it takes at least some effort. But with an increase in popularity, comes an increase in interest. That interest spills over into search (people use the Internet outside of Facebook!?) and your brand gets some search volume.

And that helps people see more of you, your brand, your site, your other social platforms – it’s all connected. So it’s kind of like popularity extends into interest, and that turns into increased visibility. More people learn about you through social channels. That prompts more interest in what you do, brand searches and as a result, relevance through popularity. See what I’m harking on about yet? It might not be a ranking factor, but it most definitely is a visibility factor.

The Benefits of Being Social

Brand name searches get a whole lot more interesting and eye catching when you’re social. Page one of Google becomes plastered with your name, images and a swag bag of rich search result possibilities:

Koozai Branded Search Result - Social Results

All of the highlighted bits wouldn’t be there if we at Koozai didn’t build profiles up or push our social efforts. But there we are, taking care of page one in Google search.

This is a somewhat overlooked benefit, but it’s a very important one. I mean look at all that Koozai-win on the SERP pictured – who wouldn’t want that when their company name was searched for?

Apparently, loads of people with businesses and websites.

As I mentioned in a previous post, social properties should be your first step to get buzz going and to find your audience. It should be part of your whole online marketing approach, not an afterthought.

A lot of local (and even national) businesses still aren’t grasping the importance of social, or at least of controlling and protecting their brand online. It’s a little bit worrying that in 2014, businesses still “don’t get it”. You don’t just build a website and hope for the best – you market it.

And it’s about your staff too. In almost all cases, encouraging staff to act as official social media ambassadors is a very good idea. Hooking them up with the social media tools to do so gives you better search visibility (via Google+ author status):

Authors in Search Results

There’s a picture of yours truly mixed in among the text-based results, making it stand out a little bit more than your average, run of the mill search result. And the only reason it’s there is because of social media activity.

“Google+ Isn’t for Us” – Really?!

I realise there’s a lot of emphasis on Google+ in this post. That’s because I think there HAS to be. A lot of folks understand Facebook and Twitter because it’s familiar. They use it at home personally, so they understand the impact it has.

Let’s be brutally honest for a second and just face up to the fact that Google+ is only being embraced in certain circles (no pun intended). It is not the platform of choice for most of my friends, and probably not for yours either. I find that non-SEO folk predominantly use Facebook and/or Twitter, with the odd dash of Instagram (usually sewn into one of the former). Pinterest gets dabbled in, but not shouted about (not as much as it should anyway). Or maybe that’s just the trend for my age group – but I see what I see.

Right now, that’s not the point. The point is that you get all of this cool stuff just by signing up and playing around. It’s there, working. You get pictures and faces in search results, your latest news, brand recognition, staff recognition – why would you let that pass? You get some awesome wins with Facebook and Twitter but you don’t get that kind of search engine win. The time for saying “it’s not for us” is well and truly over.

 The Real Impact of a Social Presence? Discovery.

With all the claims of +1s and social shares impacting SEO being squashed by so many right now, it might leave a lot of site and business owners wondering why they should bother building up their social profiles if it’s not going to make their website easier to find on Google.

Well to them I’d say – Check out authorship mark up, publisher mark up, Google+ Places.

Check out those search results.

Check out your competitors’ Twitter feeds. Their reviews on Facebook. Still not for you?

And I’d also say that Google search is not the be all and end all of the Internet. Yes, it’s bleeding massive. It’s the default Home page of the Internet – and not preparing for that is going to be end in disaster. But it’s just one of many hugely popular channels and ways of finding stuff.

Social is much more about discovery, chancing upon stuff that you’re inclined to like because it fits your interests. Search has intent behind it – “I need this, so I’ll search for it”. Social is more or less pot luck – but within the intricacies of your own personality and likes (and importantly, of those who influence you the most).

The Final Word

If you run a site, then you want SEO, end of. You’re going to want to be found for what you do when a person asks for it. But to half-heartedly do something will yield half-hearted results.

Bad stuff goes in, bad stuff comes out. But if you put the effort in (or hire a professional who knows the score), you reap the fruits – it’s the same with everything else in the world.

So SEO without social is indeed a half-hearted effort. Then there’s doing social half-heartedly. You can’t just slap a Twitter, Google+ and Facebook profile together and say, “If people like it, they like it!” – Nope, your work’s just begun. You have to mould your own image; nobody’s going to do it for you.

Work the platform, get among the audience and be brave. Even if there’s no magic link juice, no rankings benefit and no preference from Google for being social, there are real, measurable benefits to visibility. Don’t doubt it anymore – just go for it.

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About the author

Ali Moghadam

Ali is experienced in working with SEO and Social Media, helping businesses find their voice in competitive markets. He loves digital media and finding innovative uses for it, with a keen interest in how creativity on the internet can help shape success.

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