There has been much speculation over the past couple of years about whether or not links shared on social media factor into Google’s search rankings. Up until fairly recently, Google has remained quiet on the issue, leaving marketers wondering what role social signals really played when it came to SEO.
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In a Google Webmaster video from earlier this year, Matt Cutts finally gave a straight answer to the question of whether social signals on Facebook and Twitter come into play when it comes to search rankings.
Keep reading for his answer, as well as my take on what this means for marketers and business owners.
1. There’s no such thing as social signals with regard to Facebook and Twitter, and likely never will be
Many bloggers and SEO professionals have offered evidence that social signals do appear to factor into search rankings. They show a particular piece of content receiving many Facebook likes, for instance, and then show the corresponding boost in search rankings that supposedly result from those likes.
The problem however, according to Cutts, is that this has always shown correlation, not causation: “There was an SEO that said ‘We see a lot of likes on Facebook, and those are the pages that rank well; but that’s correlation, that’s not causation. Instead, it’s probably that there’s something really awesome, and because there’s something awesome, then it gets a lot of likes on Facebook, and a lot of people decide to link to it.”
Cutts briefly goes over two reasons why social signals on Facebook and Twitter will likely never factor into search rankings:
- On at least once occasion, Google has been blocked from crawling one of these sites (likely Twitter). This meant that all the hard work of engineering these signals into their rankings algorithm became pretty much moot. Google’s engineers aren’t keen on investing a ton of time working social signals into their ranking factors, only to be banned from crawling a particular social networking site.
- Due to the fact that the data that’s collected by Google is based on a ‘snapshot’ at one point in time, Google is hesitant to crawl and index sensitive information that may be changed by users at any time (for instance, someone changing their status from ‘married’ to ‘single’.)
2. Mentions of Social Signals and Google+ are Missing from the Video
While Cutts is clear about the lack of Facebook and Twitter social signals as a ranking factor, he doesn’t mention anything about Google+. A part of me wonders if this omission was intentional, because Google will always have unbridled access to Google+ and all its content, engineering the algorithm to include public Google+ updates would never be a risky investment.
There would be no possibility of losing access to the platform, and through the use of Google Authorship, we’re already seeing how they’re using Google+ to inform and improve search rankings.
3. Speaking of Google Authorship…
Near the end of the video, Cutts alludes to a long-term shift over to less anonymity on the web when it comes to content. He uses well-known SEO Danny Sullivan as an example: If you were looking for content Danny has written, you would want to find all of his content, not just the content that’s on high-ranking sites. But historically, if you did a search for ‘Danny Sullivan,’ those are the results that would most likely show up.
Through the use of Google Authorship however, Google will be better able to find and attribute content to its creator; as Authorship becomes more widely used, and as Google gets better at attributing content from blogs, news sites or even forums to their creators, we’ll see a gradual improvement in the quality and depth of search results.
He says, “Over 10 years, we’re more likely to understand identity, and to understand the social connections between people.” And given that Authorship is likely to be one of the main ways they’ll make these connections, it’s important that all writers and bloggers get set up with Google Authorship sooner rather than later. For more information on setting up Google Authorship as well as its benefits, see my articles:
- The Complete Guide to Google Authorship
- Google Authorship: How to Dress Up Your Search Results to Demand Attention
- Google Authorship and Personal Branding: Why the Individual Beats the Corporate
Social Media is Still an Important Way to Build Your Brand and Increase Website Traffic
Cutts is also quick to point out that while Google doesn’t currently use social signals as part of its algorithm, there are plenty of benefits to using Facebook and Twitter. Even though those social media signals may not directly factor into your rankings, the indirect benefits – like increased traffic and reach – make social media a critical part of any online marketing strategy.
He says, “I’m not saying not to use Twitter or Facebook…I love to tweet, you know, there’s a ton of people who get a ton of value from both Facebook and Twitter. I think both of those services represent a fantastic avenue as a way to drive visitors and traffic to your site; it’s a way to let people know about news that’s related to you or your company or your website. I think they’re great ways to build up your personal brand, but don’t necessarily assume that just because there’s a signal on Facebook or Twitter that Google is able to access that.”
As I see it, the bottom line hasn’t changed: create awesome, link-worthy content, and then share and promote it via social media. Although Google may not currently factor mentions or links on Facebook and Twitter into their rankings, it’s clear that social media is still an integral part of any marketing strategy. For more on how social media fits into an online marketing strategy, as well as its effects on SEO, see my article, The Three Pillars of SEO in 2014.
Does the fact that social signals from Facebook and Twitter aren’t being used by Google change how you’ll do SEO or social media? If so, how?