Until very recently there was basically no debate about whether or not social media had a direct impact upon Google’s SERP rankings. Study after study showed that sites with a high about of likes and shares benefited from an increase in rank after their popularity was achieved. Clearly, Google and other search engines were paying attention to social signals and incorporating them in their algorithms. In fact, even Matt Cutts, the head of Google webspam department and their go-to SEO liaison, even said that social signals were a factor back in 2010. However, now Cutts has changed his tune. In late 2013, Cutts plainly said that social signals did not affect Google’s rankings. Before Cutts’ announcement, a study by Econsultancy found that 74% of companies thought that social media performance was important to SEO. More than 80% of SEO agencies felt the same way. Cutts’ announcement threw that all into disarray, but should it have? Was Cutts’ announcement that social signals were no longer a part of the SERP algorithm really a complete dismissal of social media’s impact on SEO? I don’t believe so. Here are a few reasons why I believe Cutts’ announcement really doesn’t change much at all.
- Sharing is Still Important: Regardless of Google’s stance on social media sharing on sites like Facebook and Twitter still gives your company, and your site, more exposure. This can, in turn lead to more page views which will, in turn, lead to improved SERP rank over time. When properly implemented, social media is a great way to get your name out there and build an audience. Don’t stop pushing for increased visibility just because Google says your likes don’t count, because of course they do. Increasing your audience will improve your business’ outlook. It’s really that simple.
- Social Media Sites Have Search Engines Too: Yes, Google is still the most popular search engine in the world, but Facebook and Twitter are powerful players in that game as well. You might not think of it this way, but the search bar present in social media sites really is a search engine of its own. When people want to learn about a business there’s a very good chance that the first thing they’ll do is type the name into Google. However, a good portion of people will also try to learn about a given company by typing their name into Facebook. In fact, Facebook gets more than one billion search queries a day. In this way, your Facebook page really is just as important as your main site. If you’ve already optimized one effectively you’d be putting yourself at a great disadvantage not to optimize the other. Facebook is a great way to learn about businesses, and many people are taking notice. If you want to make a good first impression be sure your Facebook page is complete, accurate and aesthetically inviting. Also, make sure there are no duplicate pages for your business, or no pages with the same name as yours. The simpler you can make the process of finding your site the better.
- Search Engine Results Are Still Included in SERPs: Type the name of a business into Google and invariably one of the first results which will pop up will be their Facebook or Google+ page. Other social media accounts won’t be far behind. This means that even if the user doesn’t use the social media site’s search engine to find your business the research they do on another search engine will still almost certainly lead to your social media profiles. This underscores the importance of maintaining these profiles and utilizing them effectively. The connection between SERP results and Google+ is even more direct. The more connections you make on Google+ the better, because once you’re in someone’s circle that will influence their search results. If they have personalized search results turned on then your site, or pages related to it, will be higher in the SERPs for certain keywords than it otherwise would be, all because they made a connection to you on Google+. All of this means that just because Google has cut social signals out of their algorithm, that doesn’t mean they think the sites are unimportant. They clearly still see value in social media sites, and they illustrate that every day in their SERPs.
- Bing’s Still Out There: Regardless of Google’s current stance, Bing still supports social signals. A representative from the company said in an interview with Search Engine Watch that they do “look at the social authority of a user… how many people you follow, how many follow you…” and that this data definitely had an impact upon their SERPs. We’ve already gone over the fact that staying active on social media can have a very positive impact upon your SEO and Google SERP rankings. The fact that Bing actually bases their rankings partially upon a given company’s effectiveness on social media is just the icing on the cake.
Of course, Google used to take social signals into account as well, and there’s no reason why they wouldn’t do so again in the future. Google adapts and alters their algorithm all the time. Most of those changes are tiny, but larger updates do occur with some regularity, so it’s possible that a few months from now Google may update their algorithm once again to take social signals into account. Of course, there’s no guarantee that they’ll do this, but there’s certainly no guarantee that they won’t either. We’ll just have to wait and see. Regardless of where they stand, the current nature of their algorithm doesn’t change the fact that social media is still an incredibly important part of building a business, gathering an audience and, yes, improving your SEO. What Matt Cutts said is surprising, yes, but at the end of the day it really doesn’t change much. If you’ve been working hard to cultivate a strong social media presence certainly don’t stop now, and if you haven’t been I strongly recommend that you start today.