Social Signals & Their Underestimated Role in SEO

August 12, 2013 Emily Bauer

You already know the value of a high SEO ranking, but figuring out how to improve your site’s rank can feel like a never-ending learning process. There are a number of factors that contribute to SEO rankings, and these factors can change and evolve at the discretion of major search engines like Google. For instance, keyword linking is becoming increasingly less important to search engines, while quality content and page shares are becoming more relevant—which is where social signals come into the picture. Social signals play a significant role in SEO by evaluating content quality and spreading your content via social media, and their importance is growing.

What Is A Social Signal?

In case you’re unfamiliar, the phrase ‘social signal’ refers to any type of link from a social media site to your website or blog. Specifically, social signals are +1s on Google+, ‘likes’ on Facebook, and retweets on Twitter. Anytime someone ‘likes’ your content, the signal is sent from Facebook to your website and a link to your site appears on the user’s Facebook feed (unless they have altered their privacy settings). Social signals are not only good for your ego, but they benefit your brand and your website’s SEO ranking.

Why Are Social Signals So Awesome?

It’s always a good sign when someone shares or favourites your content, but what are the bigger implications of these social signals? The main benefits of social signals revolve around the way search engines respond to sites with a high number of social signals, but there are other ways that social signals are good for your brand. Some of the top reasons that social signals are awesome for your site include:

  • Increased Exposure: It’s always a good sign if someone outside of your professional PR team is promoting your business. Social signals provide you with a unique type of marketing that costs nothing but looks great to anyone who visits your site.
  • Evidence of Engaged Consumers: Congratulations, your readers enjoyed your content enough to share it with their social media contacts. A consumer that actively shares your content is invested in the brand because they have used their personal account to recommend your website on a social network.
  • An Indication of Quality: If certain pieces of content receive more retweets than others, you’ve gained insight into which topics are most relevant to your consumers and what type of information your readers find most compelling. Social signals can act as free market research by highlighting the content that most readers preferred.
  • Increased Traffic & Revenue: Although it is a more indirect benefit of social signals, increased traffic and engagement with consumers leads to a stronger brand reputation, a higher chance of new customers, and more sales over the long run.

Influence of Social Signals on SEO

Although there is still debate over how great of an influence social signals have on a site’s SEO ranking, the general inclination is that social signals improve your blog for one main reason: social signals build credibility. As we discussed above, social signals tell any new visitors to your site how many people have already read the content and liked it or how many found it worth sharing with their Twitter followers—this builds up your credibility in the eyes of the reader as a source of information. However, a second, different audience is also keeping tabs on your credibility: search engines like Google.

There are various sources and studies demonstrating that Google and other search engines take social signals into consideration when ranking search results. Google, in particular, is believed to reward sites that amass a hearty number of social signals from their readers and fans. Search engines can tell how many people like your Facebook page or have you in their circles on Google+, but Google can also tell how many people have shared your new content and individual posts.

Why Does Google Care So Much About Social Signals?

In terms of SEO, social signals are much more salient indicators of quality content than backlinks. As social media continues to solidify its place in our everyday lives, Google is making a shift to rank sites with better social credibility as higher than sites with more inbound links. The majority of consumers are active on social networks and search engines can use social signals to ensure their top results reflect the consensus of the general public.

Tips for Improving Your Site’s Social Signals

In order to benefit from social signals, you must first create profiles for your business on the most popular social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest. If your brand doesn’t have accounts on these sites, you won’t be able to build your social media presence or increase traffic through social signals.

Next, you should add social buttons to your content so it can be easily shared across different platforms (buttons to ‘like’, tweet, pin or +1); you should also add buttons that connect your fans to your company profile, such as ‘like’ buttons for your Facebook page or the option to follow the brand on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Some Final Thoughts

Although backlinks do maintain some influence in Google’s SEO ranking algorithms, social signals are surpassing links in terms of relevance to results. Therefore, social signals are an increasingly central aspect of content marketing and promotion. In addition to acting as a quality indicator by providing evidence of how many consumers enjoyed your content enough to share it, social signals have the potential to improve your SEO ranking, increase site traffic and boost your brand’s credibility.

About the Author

Emily is a freelance writer based in Toronto, Ontario who covers a range of topics from technology to travel. She holds a Bachelor in English Literature and Business from the University of Waterloo. No matter how many projects she is working on, Emily always finds time for baking, reading, and yoga.

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