It is common for marketers to think of the relationship between social media and search engine optimization (SEO) as indirect. Social media helps build brand awareness and encourages the sharing of content, but does it really affect search engine ranking?

Yes.

According to a study published by Hootsuite, there is a distinct correlation between engagement on paid and organic social media posts and organic search rankings. The study recorded metrics such as keyword search volume, Google search rank, backlinks and URL ratings.

The findings?

  • Organic promotion of content through social media saw positive changes in search engine results page (SERP) rankings for relevant keywords.
  • Paid social media promotion had almost double the benefit of organic promotion.
  • Web content that was not promoted on social media, either organically or through paid promotion, saw the lowest improvement in search rankings.

The facts are clear: If you use your social channels wisely, you will build brand awareness, increase site traffic and boost engagement with your content—all contributing factors to your SERP rankings.

So how exactly should you be using social media for SEO?

Engaging Content Drives Brand Awareness

Social media marketing gives brands the opportunity to expand content distribution to a wider audience than traditional marketing tactics alone. If your content isn’t relevant to your audience, it defeats the purpose—they will be less likely to engage. However, if you build content that resonates with your audience, they will be more likely to engage with it and share it with their own followers, increasing your brand’s exposure.

The larger the following a company has on its social media platforms, the more recognized the brand becomes across the web, supporting its organic ranking.

According to a report done by Red C Marketing, 82% of consumers seek out brands they’re already familiar with in search results regardless of their ranking. Brand awareness thus plays a supplemental role in the way search engines rank your content: As search volume for your brand increases, it becomes more relevant and moves higher up the list of results.

In fact, a company’s social media profiles tend to appear in Google’s top search results for branded keywords. This information generally appears in a window on the right side of your screen, commonly referred to as a knowledge panel (shown below).

Use Backlinks to Increase Site Traffic

Site traffic is another metric used by search engines to determine a website’s position in search results. When posting links on your social media pages, you can direct consumers to your company’s webpage, where you can see an increase in traffic. With regular posting (and quality content), you are likely to see an increase in not just referral traffic from social media channels, but an overall increase in site traffic.

Adjust Your Content Strategy to Boost Engagement

While Google and Bing may not publicly acknowledge the role social media plays in search ranking, engagement on social networks is indeed a ranking factor for SEO. Why do they not publicly recognize social media’s influence? It may have to do with the fact that social media is a 24/7 business—people like, comment on and share posts at all hours of the day, in different time zones. So although Google and Bing do, in fact, index social profiles and pages and treat them the same as they would any other webpage, it is more difficult for them to keep up with the nonstop user actions. Thus, they don’t acknowledge that it is factored into the algorithm.

Today, however, social signals are one of the fastest-growing variables in the SEO algorithm. Not only does social sharing of links speed up content indexation, it also encourages the building of external links. Sharing content on social media channels provides us with another way to observe how users engage with the various types of content we publish. This gives a business the ability to adjust its content strategy accordingly. After all, receiving more likes and shares on social platforms extends the life of content that’s been published online.

We do not recommend that you completely break away from your current social media strategy solely to appease the SEO gods. But when strategically integrated, your search engine optimization and social media marketing strategies should work in unison.

Are you happy with how your brand is ranking on search engines? If not, email our Digital Marketing Analyst Kathryn O’Neil and let’s talk.