The main question many people ask about the relation between social media and SEO is straightforward: Do social media shares affect SEO rankings?
The effect that social media shares has on SEO is somewhat contested. Many SEO analysts aren’t sure whether or not a high number of social shares can impact your page ranking directly. Even though the relationship isn’t clear-cut, getting attention on social media is correlated with high search rankings. This correlation shouldn’t be surprising, however. High ranking sites get more visitors, and more visitors equals more shares. The correlation isn’t one sided though, as getting social media shares CAN impact your search engine rankings in some situations.
Why Social Shares Matter to Search Engines
It certainly makes logical sense why search engines would care about social shares. Google cares the most about ranking quality content at the top. The point of having search algorithms is to help important, helpful, and high quality content get found as easily as possible. Sharing a post generally means that something is useful or interesting, so what better way to determine what people want to read than by looking at how many people share an article?
Adding to this, search engines are able to track shares. Even though social media links are labeled as “no-follow” for bots crawling a site, which instructs a bot to disregard the link, the links can still be identified as shares very easily. This means that search engines are both willing and able to track social media for use in their ranking algorithms.
Even though it makes sense for social shares to be a direct ranking factor, Google claims they don’t directly affect rankings. Despite this, there’s a chance that they still might. Google has an extremely complex search algorithm, and they aren’t always upfront about what factors matter. This is because they need to ensure that no one discovers the complete algorithm (good luck, it changes very often), as this would let them cheat the system.
It is also possible that link shares don’t matter unless they’re done directly from your site. To explain, there are two main types of social shares. The first is when someone sees a post on Facebook, Twitter, etc., and shares the social media post. While this does count as a share for the article, there’s no guarantee that anyone actually read the article. On social media, people will often share a post without even opening it simply based on the headline. Google might want to avoid using these since they give rise to click bait. The other type of social share would be someone who goes to the article and clicks the “share this post” button. Most websites have this feature on their site, and it would act as a much more reliable indicator of quality content to have someone interact with the page in order to share. This would likely count in the same way as a comment on the page.
Breaking social shares into two categories is merely speculation. Even with uncertainty regarding Google, don’t forget that other search engines get plenty of traffic as well. Bing and Yahoo combine for over 10% of searches in the world according to Net Market Share, and the United States number is estimated to be around 20%. This is important because social shares DO directly affect your ranking on these sites according to the Bing Webmaster Guidelines. This includes enabling social sharing on your website (the second type of social share detailed above), and being “influential socially” which refers to having high visibility on networking sites (the first type of social share). Bing claims that they social media link schemes don’t work, meaning that shares need to be high quality.
It’s difficult to rate quality on social media sites, but quality link sharing isn’t too complex. It is likely that Bing and Yahoo simplify this process by looking at the amount of site traffic coming from links. If a page is being linked to on Twitter 500 times but only has 2 total site visitors who came from a Twitter link, it’s likely that the links are spam and should count negatively towards ranking. This isn’t to say that you’ll be hurt if someone with no followers tweets a link to your site. So long as you aren’t participating in link schemes, don’t worry about being hurt by this. At the end of the day, getting social shares is a positive thing for your search ranking in Bing, even if the links themselves aren’t driving a lot of traffic to your site.
Social Shares Indirectly Affect SEO Rankings
Understandably, most site optimization is done to rank in Google. But that doesn’t mean you should forget about this as an important factor. No matter the search engine, social media shares affects SEO indirectly. The more social visibility your site has, the more visitors your site will get. More visitors to your site will greatly help your search ranking, especially if they engage with your page once they make it there. More attention to your site will help you get more backlinks (remember that links on social sites don’t count directly as links), page engagements, and ranking better in the future for the visitors who saw your page. Overall, more visibility will have a cumulative effect on your ranking, and social media is a great way to do this.
How to Get More Shares
If you want to improve your search ranking by increasing social media shares, you’ll need a strong social media presence. While social sharing is considered an off-the-page SEO factor because it isn’t directly in control of the publisher, there are a lot of things you can do to get more shares. The first thing you’ll want to do is have social sharing built into your page. This allows people to share your content without leaving your site.
When designing a social media strategy for SEO purposes, pick your social media sites based on your target audience and services. For example, if your site works well with photos and has a younger target audience, Instagram is a must-have. In order to get the most shares, the biggest factor is having good content and eye-catching posts. Make people read your article by having a high quality image and call to action in your post, and have the content to impress the reader once they click on your link. Get people to your site however possible. At the same time, be active. Respond and reach out directly to people, post often, and engage with others’ posts. This will help increase your number of active followers. Just like with SEO, building a big social media presence takes some time, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t see immediate results.
When sharing your own posts on social media, share them from the page itself. This could give you a slight boost in your Bing and Yahoo rankings, and every little bit helps. Other than this, continue with your normal social media strategy and increased number of shares will follow.
Although social sharing isn’t the most powerful ranking factor, social media shares affect SEO directly and indirectly. The direct method is mainly apparent in Bing and Yahoo, where number of shares is a ranking factor. The indirect factor is apparent in all search engines, as increased site visibility leads to more visitors and engagements with a page. Using social media to improve your SEO ranking can help a little bit, but it’s far from the only SEO success factor. Find out what else you should do to get your site on the first page of search engines. For further help optimizing your site, request a competitive analysis to see how you stack up to your competition and how you can be the best in market.