The relationship between social media and SEO is important to understand because, while more and more people are conducting more and more of their daily interactions on social media platforms, search still remains a key driver of traffic for most websites. As such, it’s a crucial consideration for businesses.
Over the years, Google have improved their search algorithms to take in more signals to ensure that the sites that rank best in search results are the most relevant for every query. Social media plays a part in this, but Google doesn’t factor in social media directly.
Here’s how it works.
Your website's search ranking
Google, along with other search engines, wants to give searchers the most relevant content. So, when deciding which webpages should appear first for any given search, Google assesses hundreds of factors to determine the most likely match. Some of the strongest signals are backlinks and page content.
In the case of content, Google examines the text on your pages to determine their relationship to the search. For example, if someone searches for ‘basketball’, Google refers to its database of all the pages that mention that term to find the most popular match.
In times past, this meant putting keywords on your website as many times as possible to help it rank better, as Google would assume a site with lots of direct mentions of that term would be relevant. These days, their ranking algorithms are far smarter than that.
The other key signal is backlinks, which refers to how many times other websites have linked to a site. The idea here is that if there’s a heap of sites referring to that website, and they all are related to ‘basketball’, that means it’s likely a good match for what you’re after.
Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that – over time, scammers worked out that they could buy and sell backlinks to cheat the system, so Google started putting more emphasis on the authority and context of the linking pages too – but these are the core principles of SEO.
Now that we've covered SEO, how does it relate to social?
The first thing to note with social is that Google does not use signals like how many Likes you have on Facebook or how many followers you have on Twitter as direct ranking factors.
The logic behind this is that Google can’t actually access all of the data on social platforms – Facebook, in particular, is not wholly searchable for Google’s purposes.
For this reason, what you do on social is not a direct ranking factor (meaning, it’s not directly tied to your SEO performance). But even with that being the case, there is a clear connection between the two.
As we discussed earlier, Google looks for backlinks and page content, and social posts and profiles are much the same. That means if you have a lot of people visiting your social profiles, they can rank in search. In fact, for a lot of businesses, you’ll find that their Twitter profile will show up high in search results – this has been helped by the fact that Twitter and Google have an agreement to index tweets.
Social platforms also enable you to share your content to a wider audience, boosting exposure for your pages which then impacts your search rank by increasing the activity and backlinks to your pages.
So while there’s no direct connection, the two processes are aligned, and being active on social will most definitely help your SEO efforts – though not always in the way you might think.