How Does Social Media Affect SEO?


SEO engineers have long suspected that social media elements have an impact on search engine result pages, with particular reference to Google and Bing. This suspicion was confirmed at the end of 2010, via a Danny Sullivan interview with the two search giants, published on the widely respected SearchEngineLand.

So we know that search engines are taking social media signals into account, but how can you use this information to improve your own social media and SEO campaigns? In this post we’ll look at exactly how social media is taken into account when it comes to SEO, and how you can use this to inform your own online marketing activities.

Author Authority

We know that links shared via the biggest social media platforms (most notably Twitter and Facebook) can have a direct, positive impact on your rankings, but it isn’t as simple as just setting up and account on these platforms and pushing out your content. Both Google and Bing have already confirmed that they take the authority of the profile posting the link into account; something Google calls ‘Author Authority’ and Bing refers to as ‘Social Authority’.

So essentially, a link via a social media profile is valued depending on the person who is posting it, and how authoratitive their profile is considered to be. This seems logical, and is similar to the principle of page authority and domain authority you come across when link building (i.e. the power of an inbound link is determined by the authority of the page it comes from, amongst other things).

But how do we judge the authority of any given social media profile? When we’re looking at potential link prospects, we can gauge authority by using a set of dedicated tools, or by examining pertinent markers such as domain age, inbound links, outbound links, PageRank, ranking positions, etc. – a similar analytical framework could therefore logically be used to judge the author authority of any given social media profile.

To gauge the authority of a Twitter profile for example, you could look at the number of followers the profile has, the authority of their followers, the followers / following ratio, the number of listings, the PR of the profile page and the overall age of the account. Similar indicators could be looked at on any given platform, allowing you to judge the relative authority of the profile with a reasonable level of accuracy.

Other Link Weight Elements

We know that author authority is an important element in determining the power of a link, and therefore its SEO value, but what other elements are important when it comes to the impact of links via social media platforms?

The answers to that question are up for debate, and we’ve essentially only got experience and opinion to go on here – however, it would seem logical that a set of conventions similar to those we consider solid for traditional SEO link-building would apply to links published on social media platforms. With that in mind, one could reasonably assume that the following elements are considered by search engines when determining the weight of social media links:

Relevancy:
If an inbound link from a relevant website is considered more powerful than a link from a non-relevant website, then it’s likely that the same holds true of social media links. So if you’re looking to build social media links to your article about SEO, then links from profiles with associated domains related to SEO and those who regularly post about SEO and related practices, would likely be considered more valuable than links from profiles who hold no relevance to SEO.

Surrounding Text:
On the whole, pages are either linked to via their full URL or a shortened version of the URL when linked to via social media platforms. In the absence of any anchor text, it seems fair to assume that search engines would use the text surrounding the link (as well as the overall subject matter most often addressed by the profile) to determine relevancy.

Variety:
We know from SEO link-building that five links from five seperate domains has a greater impact than five links from one domain, so it seems likely that the same would be true of links via social media platforms. The larger the number of profiles posting a link, the greater the power of those links (when compared to the same number of links from fewer social media profiles).

Link Popularity:
I would imagine that the popularity of the link itself  – in terms of click-through rates, retweets, ‘likes’, etc – also has some kind of impact on the overall weight assigned to it.

Implementation and Conclusion

We can see that social media can and does present a viable source for link-building and should be incorporated into any long-term SEO campaign. Gaining a high level of traction on social media platforms – particularly if that traction comes from profiles with a high ‘author authority’ – can have a real impact on your search engine rankings, not to mention your website traffic.

It is therefore well worth considering social media whenever you create and publish valuable content, as well as during your link-building activities. In order for your social media links to have a notable impact on your SEO efforts, you need to ensure you’re aiming for retweets from high authority profiles in a relevant field, with a high level of diversity of linking profiles. Obviously this is far easier said than done, but if you start adding social media into your regular SEO activities, you should slowly start to notice a difference. I could write a post longer than this one on improving your social media output and adding followers, friends, etc – instead, I’ll recommend an excellent video on how to increase your Twitter followers from Jen Lopez; community manager at SEOMoz.

Like a lot of white hat SEO techniques, connecting with people via social media platforms with an aim to improving your overall SEO cannot be faked or automated; it takes dedication, effort and a considerable amount of time. For those looking for a quick SEO boost, social media probably isn’t going to provide the benefits you’re looking for (unless you have access to a large amount of high authority, relevant profiles), but for those investing in their long term digital marketing, social media as an SEO and general customer service technique is well worth considering.

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