You have social media accounts set up for your business. You try to gain as many followers as you can. What does that have to do with your website, and does it make your site more visible in search engine results? There is some conflicting information out there, even between what Google says and what some analysts believe. The big quest is: When a link to your website is shared through social media (SM) posts, tweets, likes, shares, et cetera, does it help your search engine rankings?
A Little History
In December of 2010 Matt Cutts, of Google, confirmed that Google was using Facebook likes and Twitter followers as social signals. These signals did have an influence on rankings. Bing was doing the same.
Things have changed since then. There was a six week period when Google’s crawlers were blocked from one social media site. While there is no verifiable information about the six week block, it is generally believed to have come from the time when Google’s real time search agreement with Twitter expired on July 2, 2011.
The agreement with Twitter had been allowing Google to include Twitter updates in search results, through a special feed. Google said they put a lot of time and energy into the engineering for this and when they were blocked, presumable after the agreement with Twitter expired and Google chose not to renew it, all that work was wasted. As a result, they were unwilling to put any more time or energy into future development of any social media indexing.
When Google started its own social media site, Google+, tracking the likes and followers of other social media sites became competition to their own. This further solidified the downgrading of ranking indicators coming from other SM.
In 2014 Cutts said “Facebook and Twitter pages are treated like any other pages in our web index, and so if something occurs on Twitter or occurs on Facebook and we’re able to crawl it then we can return that in our search results.” This means there was no counting of likes or follows as indicators, but, as “any other page,” links to your website posted on a SM sites should count.
In early 2015 it was announced that Twitter and Google were back in bed together. Realizing a mutual benefit to one another, Google and Twitter restuck a deal. Google announced that tweets will again show up in Google search results on mobile devices. This means that tweets with links to your site will again be visible in Google search results.
Where it Stands Today
Googles has waffled quite a bit on the issue of social media. We now know that Twitter results are being returned in Google results again. Facebook may offer some link juice, but it all depends on who you talk to. Do SM sites offer link juice?
First, what is link juice? When any site has a link to your website on it, that adds a small bit of legitimacy for your site. It tells the crawlers that other sites value your site. The more links you get on other sites, the higher the value of your site becomes and the better the boost to your ranking. (Although, it should be noted that links from “bad neighborhood” sites, such those that send out a lot of spam or have been labeled as shady, can decrease your value.) That should mean that the more followers you have who post links to your website, the better—right?
Not necessarily. While Cutts says these SM sites are treated like any other, Facebook is coded for all links to be listed as nofollow links. This code tells the crawlers not to give any weight to the links on the page. This overlooking of the links eliminates any link juice you would get from Facebook pages that carry a link to your site. Of course, that doesn’t stop a potential customer from clicking through to your site, but it will not help your ranking.
There are some cases where nofollow links on Facebook have become dofollow links and ended up in search results. The reason for this is murky and generally unknown. It is also possible for a person to code their Facebook page so that all links are dofollow links (which actually just means removing the nofollow link coding), but the majority of users do not know, or care, about doing this.
One way to get link juice from gaining popularity on Facebook is from people blogging about it. Those blogs, if they post a link, do offer link juice.
Of course SM still offers the benefit of content marketing. People are notified when you have a sale, send out a coupon, or begin to offer a new product. Getting some discussion going about new products can pick up steam and easily become its own advertising campaign.
Don’t Forget Bing
In 2010 Bing stated “We do look at the social authority of a user. We look at how many people you follow, how many follow you, and this can add a little weight to a listing in regular search results. ” This means that the number of likes, followers, tweets, and shares a website gets, the better bump you will receive in Bing’s rankings.
As the second most used search engine with around 20 percent of the search market, Bing has not waffled at all on the relationship between rankings and social media. So, all those SM efforts you have made over the years are far from wasted.
Social Media Profiles
A company’s social media profile may come up in searches, following their own website, when a person searches for that company by name. Google Nike and you will find their Twitter and Facebook profiles come up on the first page. These pages often feel more personal than the website might. It is a great way to get multiple ranking results for your company while also displaying a person-to-person, conversational appeal.
While individual posts may not hold much sway, SM profiles do. The Google+ profile will likely show up in a large square to the right of the results when someone searches your company name directly. For this reason the company profile should not be discounted as minor or unimportant.
Social Media as Search Engines
People don’t always use a search engine to get where they want to go. They also search from within SM sites. A person may search Twitter for tweets on removing ants. They come across your related tweet and click through to your pest control website. In this way SM sites become a sort of search engine themselves.
For this reason, it is a great idea to focus SM posts, tweets, et cetera, with key terms that relate to your service. Targeting your posts with the same type of key terms you use on your webpages will increase your visibility when people search for those terms on social media sites.
What about YouTube and other SM Platforms?
YouTube videos can be optimized for key terms to make them more SEO-friendly. If it is optimized well, a YouTube video can come up in organic search results and will very likely appear under the Videos tab of Goggle’s results page. Having videos embedded on your site has picked up steam as a way to increase organic rankings. YouTube videos are easily embedded into webpages and, as such, can help improve rankings for your site. However, there is no known correlation that demonstrates improved rankings for your website form a non-embedded YouTube video. Links on YouTube are nofollow links and therefore do not carry any link juice.
As for LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, and the rest, these sites can all be optimized for specific keywords. This will help when people search those sites for that term. Most of these sites are all coded for nofollow links, so also offer no link juice. Experts are still arguing if there may be some unspoken social signals still being used, but Google officially denies this for the time being.
Back to our original question: When a link to your website is shared through social media (SM) posts, tweets, likes, shares, et cetera, does it help your search engine rankings? The answer for Bing results is a simple yes; all SM posts will give some boost to rankings.
In Google, it depends. The more re-tweets—or single tweet from a person with a large following—you get on Twitter, the higher up you go in Google results (with or without a link to your site). As for Facebook and Google, the more people who share a post with your link, the more potential click-throughs you get to your site, though it is not likely most links posted will offer any juice. If a blogger sees it and shares it, that juice is good.
There is a chance that people will come across your link through a search done from within a SM site. That doesn’t have anything to do with rankings, but makes your SM efforts well worth the time. It also adds benefit to a little key term targeting when using social media.
The relationship between social media and SEO has been a confusing, frequently altered ride. And, it all may change tomorrow. That is yet another reason to continue to focus on your SM efforts. While Facebook may not offer link juice today, the company could change to dofollow links at any time. Google may announce they are rolling out a new social signals algorithm. Bing may pick up a larger share of the search market, increasing the number of people who see increased rankings from your SM efforts. And, of course, you should never underestimate the strength of a good content management campaign sent out on SM.
The bottom line is this: social media still plays a heavy roll in both SEO and overall marketing. The weight of that role may vary from one SM medium to another, and from one search engine to another, but it all adds a visibility boost in some instances. Keep up your social media focus and we will keep you posted as things continue to change.