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The Virtuous Cycle Between Social Media and SEO

A graphic saying "The Virtuous Cycle Between Social Media and SEO."

SEO has come a long way, and the below infographic by PHAGroup illustrates this evolution in action. A major driving factor for this evolution has been Google’s game-changing algorithm updates and the emphasis on quality content and user experience.

A chart of Google Algorithm Updates

One thought for social media marketers about all this: how do these updates influence the importance companies and agencies place on their social media for SEO strategies?

A while back, Google’s Matt Cutts released a video saying that social signals––metrics such as Facebook likes and Twitter followers, which indicate a profile’s authority and influence––didn’t affect search rankings.

This statement threw marketers for a loop; they’d been operating under the assumption (understandably so––more on that below) that Google’s search algorithm did factor in social signals as they indicate trustworthiness and quality.

This article dives deeper into what these conflicting views mean for the relationship between social and SEO. Plus, we’ll learn how SEO-focused marketers think about using social media for SEO purposes.

Let’s start with more background information on the past dialogue around SEO and social signals.

Essential Insights on Social Media and SEO

  • Google’s changing stance on social signals and rankings doesn’t negate the importance of social media for SEO.
  • Marketers should broaden their understanding of SEO and social media, considering the positive effects of increased social media traffic on search rankings.
  • Social media and SEO work together, and by optimizing social media marketing and leveraging trends, visibility and authority can be enhanced, indirectly improving SEO.

History of Social Media and SEO

As I mentioned before, Cutts’ statement that Google doesn’t look at social signals when determining the rank of a web page came as a big surprise to the online marketing industry. After all, in a previous video, Cutts himself said that social signals were a ranking factor.

You can understand why marketers were dismayed and a little annoyed when, three years later, Google told them: nope, sorry guys, we don’t look at that stuff right now.

Yet years later, the evidence showed that Google was again using social media signals for rankings.

I dove into researching this subject and identified five key things every marketer should know about using social media for SEO in 2024 and beyond.

5 Things to Think About When Considering The Impact of Social on SEO

There are many positives in publishing your content on social media, but you need to look beyond any possible SEO benefits. Here are a few things to consider about social media’s impact on your search visibility.

1. Social Links May or May Not Boost Your Search Rank

OK, social signals about a profile’s authority are out, but does Google consider links published on social accounts credible backlinks? When a blog post goes viral on X, do those new links boost the post’s search ranking? 

Ahrefs, Search Engine Journal, and Semrush all came to the same conclusion that I did:

The more likes and engagement your social media content has, the more visibility your content gets. 

Additionally, when your content gains significant traction on social platforms, it gains authority, social proof, and a wider reach.

At best, social signals have an indirect effect rather than any correlation between the two, but those social links are still valuable.

To better understand the social reach of specific pages of your website, here’s what you should do:

Step #1: Visit Ubersuggest, enter Your URL, and Click “Search.”

The Ubersuggest Search Bar.

Step #2: Click “Top Pages” in the Left Sidebar.

Ubersuggest top pages by traffic image social media for SEO

Step #3: Review the Results.

Ubersuggest SEO title url search page image social media for SEO

For the sake of this article, we’re most interested in the columns showing the number of social shares on Facebook and Pinterest. As you can see, my top traffic pages all have solid social reach on these platforms.

For example, “Helping you Succeed Through Online Marketing!” gets an estimated 11,000 monthly visitors from Google. While the number of backlinks to the page is significant, could it also have something to do with the number of social shares? Does this cast new light on the impact of social signals in SEO rankings?

2. Social Media Profiles Rank in Search Engines

Your social profiles definitely influence the content of your search results. In fact, social media profiles are often amongst the top results in search listings for brand names.

When I searched “General Electric” in Google, the company’s X (formerly Twitter) and LinkedIn profiles appeared as the 4th and 6th listings, respectively, and Instagram was the 15th result.

General electric Google search result screenshot social media for SEO

Why is that?

It’s because social channels can feel more personal than web pages, and they’re a great way to get a sense of a company’s personality. When researching a company I know little about, I typically go straight to their X or Facebook page.

That means if a social account shows up at the top of the search results, I’m just as likely to click on it as I would be to click on their website.

So what’s the takeaway here? There’s no doubt that your social profiles matter for visibility, especially to people who are looking for you online. A few active social channels can make the experience of getting to know your brand online more fun, engaging, and personal. As such, it pays to have profiles with up-to-date info and engaging content as part of your social media for SEO strategy.

3. Social Media Channels Are Search Engines, Too

What makes me say this? It’s all in the research.

TINT’s 2023 State of Social and User-Generated Content shows nearly forty percent of people surveyed use social media to discover brands and products.

The TINT 2023 State of Social and UGC content survey results.

That’s proof people don’t just go to Google and Bing to look stuff up; they also use social media channels to find what they’re looking for. And it confirms other insights we’ve covered on this blog, in another piece about social networks impacting search.

This works in a couple of ways: First, if you’re active on X, people may discover your company’s new content distribution app after searching for content marketing-related posts on X’s search engine.

Likewise, brands that lend themselves to beautiful visual content can benefit from making their content visible on Pinterest and Instagram by using hashtags and properly categorizing their pins.

Moreover, as mentioned in point #1, if someone wants to check out your company, they’re likely to open X and Facebook and quickly search to see what presence you have on each channel. YouTube is also a search engine.

What should you take away from this? Companies should expand their concept of SEO to include not just the traditional search engines––Google and Bing––but also social search engines.

When searching for a brand on Facebook or X, it’s not uncommon to see several different profiles pop up, and it’s not always clear which one is the real deal. Marketers need to ensure that it’s super easy for users to identify their official social profiles.

This may mean deleting duplicate accounts or clearly labeling each social account so that users understand what purpose they serve (for example, accounts for HR or press versus general brand pages).

4. Not Now Doesn’t Mean Not Ever

As we’ve established, social media indirectly influences SEO. With that in mind, social media shows no sign of becoming a less important part of a brand or person’s online presence anytime soon.

Google makes up to 600 algorithm changes yearly and completes core updates every couple of months. These constant changes mean marketers have to stay agile, and while the link between social media and search rankings remains indirect for now, there is always the potential for future change.

To keep ahead of the game, brands should take their time to build visibility on social channels by covering trending topics and integrating them with their SEO strategy.

5. Don’t Forget Bing

Google may have back-tracked and changed its stance on social signals, but Bing’s position is much clearer.

It does consider social signals in its algorithm, meaning sites getting a lot of traction on social media (links, shares, and impressions) are likely to appear higher in Bing’s search engine. 

Bing considers comments, engagement, likes, and fresh content on your social media content as ranking factors.

To optimize your results, use Bing’s webmaster tools, claim your business on Bing Places, and write high-quality content that matches user intent.

These days, Bing is responsible for over seven percent of US searches and is crystal clear about how its algorithm incorporates social signals into its search results. Unlike Google, it hasn’t flip-flopped on the issue. With its market share steadily growing, companies should include Bing in their SEO strategies.

How Does SEO Impact Social Media?

If you want more visibility in the search engines, then it’s worthwhile optimizing your social media profiles and posts for SEO. That means things like including keywords in hashtags and titles to maximize your visibility on your social media channels and in the search engines.

Here are some of the top benefits of using social media for SEO:

  • More website traffic: As well as increasing social media traffic, regularly posting on platforms improves your content’s visibility. With your content being more visible through social sharing, you gain more brand awareness and become recognized for your expertise. 
  • Social metrics: Shares, likes, and comments build trust and brand awareness and increase your website’s visibility. These are social signals that search engines consider while evaluating your brand’s online reputation.
  • Indexing: Using hashtags on your social media posts gives you more chance of your content appearing in search engines.
  • Local SEO: By optimizing your social media profile with relevant keywords, you’re more likely to stand out to local users on search engines.
  • Building authority and trust: Regularly providing authoritative content on social media can establish your expertise and gain credibility while bolstering your SEO.

The Virtuous Cycle of Keeping Up-to-date on Social Media and SEO Marketing

It’s indisputable. 

Social media and SEO complement each other, and both play an essential role in creating online visibility, brand awareness, and customer engagement. However, it’s not enough to post any type of content.

First up, you need to consider that consumers use different platforms for various purposes. This image from Smartinsights.com demonstrates this well:

different social media platforms and what they're used for chart screenshot social media for SEO

Then, you need to keep up with trending social media content and what’s hot in SEO so one technique can feed the other. When a topic is trending on social media, it’s not long before search terms around the subject peak.

Here are some social media tips for SEO opportunities and vice versa:

  • Keep an eye out for emerging trends on social media by looking at trending topics in your niche. You can also consider broader trends that you can piggyback on and write content around them. For instance, if it’s a trending baseball match, you could use it as an analogy for a business blog, like this piece.
  • Do a search on Google News under your niche and see if a particular topic is gaining traction on social media. 
  • Use tools like Google Trends and Buzzsumo to see what people are searching for and finding the type of content that gets the most engagement. 
  • Sign up for Google Trends newsletters or trending topics straight to your inbox.
  • Start polls related to hot topics to gain user interest.
  • Check out daily trending topics on Getdaytrends.com

For the best results, optimize your social media for SEO by:

  • Including trending social media keywords in your content, meta descriptions, and headers.
  • Optimizing images and other media with popular hashtags and keywords
  • Linking your social media content to relevant pages on your blog or website. 

Conclusion

Google has gone back and forth about the applications of social media for SEO, but Cutts’ outdated claim that Google’s search algorithm ignores social signals isn’t the final word on the subject.

Instead, marketers should broaden their concept of search and SEO to take into account the myriad ways that people find content on the web. They also need to think about the positive effects that increased traffic from social media marketing can potentially have on their search rankings as well as the prominence of social profiles on first-page search results.

Ultimately, the web is all about building relationships, fostering audiences, expressing identity, and sharing ideas––it’s inherently social, and there’s no reason that SEO best practices would go against the grain.

Additionally, you must consider how social media and SEO work together. By making social media marketing work through optimization and piggybacking on trends, you can enhance your visibility, stamp your authority, and indirectly enhance your SEO.

OK, your turn: How else do you use social media for SEO?

About the Author: Chloe Mason Gray specializes in digital marketing and growth strategy for small businesses and solopreneurs. Be sure to say hi to her on X.

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