Recently, Google’s head of search spam [fighting, not creating] Michael Cutts produced a video where he tackled the age old question of how do social media sites like Facebook and Twitter affect search engine results. In particular, he was answering the question, “are Facebook and Twitter signals part of the ranking algorithm?” The short answer was no with a but.This post will review what he said and what it means for SEO and social media marketers.
The quick answer to the question marketers may have, “Does social media affect SEO?”, is ‘Yes and No’. Yes, in that social media does affect SEO. But, no, there’s nothing particular about social media signals that are weighed any differently than any other webpage.
“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,” Cutt says in the video. “But as far as doing special, specific work to sort of say, ‘Oh, you have this many followers on Twitter or this many likes on Facebook,’ to the best of my knowledge, we don’t currently have any signals like that in our web search ranking algorithms.”
The important thing to remember from what Cutts said is that social media networks are treated like regular websites. Though social elements suchs as the Likes, Tweets, and Shares for text and image-based posts don’t count for anything extra, there is still a strong link building potential. Businesses that are using their social media profiles to distribute website content are getting a boost to their SEO when the links to their content are clicked. When people like a link, that helps as well because it creates a separate story in the person’s news feed that says, “Person A like this [link to content]”.
To put this information into practical terms, think of it like this: Getting a thousand likes for a text or image based post does nothing special for SEO. Getting a thousand likes for a post with a link to the company’s website, does benefit the companies SEO because it creates a lot of backlinks.
Another thing to consider is that in the long term, search algorithms will undoubtedly use more social data in the future, not less. So even if Google isn’t crawling for social data on Twitter and Facebook yet, they probably will in the future if they can get the agreements and the technology work out. In fact, Google had done real-time search with Twitter in the past until some issues came up and agreement expired.
Though Google has yet to start using specific social media data from networks like Facebook and Twitter, the search engine is pulling information from Google+ profiles to produce authorship information and Google+ posts for search engine results. Hashtags searches bring up a side panel of public Google+ posts with the hashtag to accompany the traditional search results. Depending on how much people start to use this feature, it’s only a matter of time before Facebook and Twitter want that kind of exposure for their site. For its part, Google has already begun beefing up it’s ability to use authorship data for determining search results and site authority.
In the end, social media does affect SEO but only in the traditional way that other websites do. At present, Google doesn’t use social data such as likes and tweets in determining search results, but they do count the backlinks. So long as Google doesn’t start ignoring links from social networks, using social media for distributing links to custom content on a business’s website does benefit SEO. Also, don’t forget that marketers using Google+ have an opportunity to have their posts shown in search results if they use popular hashtags. Since Facebook and Twitter posts aren’t shown this way, it’s an opportunity that’s exclusive to those marketers who were early adopters of Google+ for social media marketing.
Most importantly, the main value of social media marketing has never been the SEO benefit. By maintaining a social media presence, businesses increase brand awareness, engage with their customers, boost referral traffic to their site, and distribute content marketing materials. Even if social media doesn’t offer a magical boost to SEO, there are still too many beneficial things about social media marketing for business owners to just walk away.