A long, long time ago by Internet standards (2010!), Danny Sullivan, Founding Editor of Search Engine Land, wrote an article questioning whether or not social signals influenced search engine rankings (SERPs). He specifically looked at Twitter.
At the time, Sullivan’s theory was considered highly speculative. That is until Matt Cutts, head of the webspam team at Google, soon after confirmed that your social media activity does indeed have an effect on how you or your brand ranks in Google search results. Since 2010, Google has denied social signals being a component of Google Search Ranking algorithms, but this doesn’t mean digital marketers still haven’t found them to be useful and effective in improving page ranking.
So what are social signals? Social signals are any type of link from a social media site connected to your blog or website. Some social signals include +1s on Google+, likes on Facebook and retweets on Twitter. For example: If you were on Brandpoint’s Twitter page and retweeted our tweet promoting this blog, you have given Google a social signal.
Why social signals are important, and why should they be your new BFF
Going back to our example, your social signal means you found the content of this blog valuable and worth reading, and Brandpoint to have authority on the subject of social signals, because you’re willing to share our content with your social networking community.
Because of Google’s wishy-washy answers on whether or not social signals are or are not a part of its algorithm, no one exactly knows how strong a role they play in organic SEO. All digital marketers can conclude is that social signals definitely do something positive, and the strength of their effect has grown stronger over time. The more social signals you receive, the more Google knows you have authority on the subject in your brand’s space, and the trust of your audience and consumers. Here’s the equation:
Authority + Trust + Your Audience = Google believing you have authority and trust for your brand. That means Google rewards your webpage with a higher page ranking.
Benefits of social signals beyond Google+
Now, before you run off and start a social campaign to accumulate as many Facebook likes as possible, you should be wary that not every social signal is equal. As seen in a study by Moz, the number of Google +1s you receive is more important than the number of Facebook page likes you have. But this doesn’t mean you should drop everything in your content marketing strategy and solely focus on the top factors found in Moz’s study. Continuing to utilize social signals from sites that Google doesn’t weigh as heavily in their SERPs algorithm produces these five indirect benefits:
1) Increased exposure: A little free marketing never hurt anyone, and it always looks great to new and returning customers when your brand is being promoted by their friends, family or social community.
2) Free insights: By tracking which pieces of content gain more traction with your audience than others, you are able to learn better insight as to which topics are most important to your readers. Craft future content around your findings. Think of it as free market research, no interns needed.
3) Engaged audience: You are able to track whether or not your content is shared by your audience. Whenever your content is shared, it’s essentially a pat on the back to your brand because this means your readers are finding your work valuable enough to promote across their social networks.
4) Free and easy customer service: When your content is shared, this opens the door for you to create a deeper connection with the audience member via customer service: Reach out to them with a promotion code, discount, etc. Not feeling quite that friendly? Sharing content can also open the door for two-way social media conversation with the audience member by a simple “thank-you,” witty remark, etc. Many unique acts of customer service tend to catch Internet users’ attention and sometimes even go viral.
5) Increased traffic: More social signals generally correlate with increased traffic and audience engagement. Your brand’s name gets out there and will be recognized by more people, creating curiosity from new audience members about your brand and the products/services you offer. This translates to stronger brand reputation and a higher chance of new customers down the road.
Social signals are an increasingly central element of content marketing, and they need to be your new BFF! Social signals provide Google with data that helps the search engines determine how to rank your website based on the amount of authority and expertise you have in your brand’s space. Social signals also strengthen brand credibility among consumers, and boost traffic.