Will Social Media Have A Crucial Role In SEO?


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Exploring whether Social Media engagement as an internet marketing strategy will become essential for a business to be successful.

One of the great debates at the moment in SEO is social media and how much of an importance it has in terms of a site’s ranking in search engines.

Everyone has an opinion. Some are based on fact whilst others aren’t so much. Yet, it’s very difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff and get to grips with the scale of importance social media may represent in SEO. This post is aimed at debunking some social media myths – regarding SEO – and giving you a bigger picture to think about.

Philosopher Margaret Lang once said, “To know your future, you must first know your past” and the past is a logical place to start for social media and SEO, in order to gauge their potential importance in the future.

A Brief History Of SEO

Search Engine Optimisation has undergone a great deal of transformation since it began in the mid 1990’s, from its early beginnings with keyword stuffing and spammy-looking links to today’s sophistication with emphasis on quality content, reputable backlinks and user-friendly sites.

Google’s site crawler algorithms were the key instigator to this change as they take into account many factors to evaluate where a site should be placed in search rankings for a particular term. Google Panda – algorithm update responsible for marshalling web content – and Google Penguin – concerned with identifying sites trying to cheat the system – have changed the face of SEO completely, meaning companies wanting to have an online presence will need to ensure web users are able to find their services online as quickly and easily as possible.

A Brief History Of Social Media

Social media has been around since the conception of the internet, with blogs and news websites, but ever since the social networking sites Facebook, Twitter, Google + and LinkedIn, social media has become a major force in shaping the web-based culture of society today.

It has now become ritual for you to connect with all your friends via Facebook, follow your celebrity heroes and heroines on Twitter and display your CV and portfolio for potential jobs on LinkedIn.

News stories, blog posts, infographics and memes are common place on all these sites and allow for quality content to be shared to, potentially, the entire world.

How Are They Connected?

This is where we head into the fog a bit with SEO. We don’t quite know how many factors Google takes into account on their algorithm to rank sites, though many believe it’s upwards of 200, and at the same time, we don’t know exactly how social media factors equate to a certain rank on a search list.

How would you even begin to create a formula to decide this? Does an X amount of followers on your Twitter account mean your site features on the X page of a search query on Google? This is unlikely.

The main factor linking social media and SEO together is reputation management. This is essentially making sure that your social media presence is giving credence to your site, and that you are engaging with your customers by showing care and responding to them individually.

What Does Google Have To Say?

Google engineer Matt Cutts spoke at PubCon 2010 and said:
“Don’t look at us where we are today, but look at the direction we are moving and what we are focusing on, the big five are the Mobile Web, Local Search, Social, Blended results in the SERPS and HTML5”. Two years later, three of those big five can be directly related to an influence on social media (excluding social media itself, of course).

• Mobile Web: The amount of web users on mobile has soared dramatically over the last couple of years and many experts believe mobile users will overtake desktop users in 2013 (see graph below). Social media has joined the mobile wave by creating apps and mobile versions of their full networking sites, meaning social media engagement will inevitably rise. Subsequently, SEO efforts will continue to gear towards a mobile market too.

• Local Search: It is thought that there are over 10 billion new searches being made every month and just over 40% of them are for local purposes. With the emphasis on locality in search queries, businesses need to ensure that their brand is as well known in their area as much as possible before aiming bigger. Facebook has introduced the ‘Facebook Nearby’ app now that combines the social network with the local search tool.

• Blended Results: The process of making the results on a web page relevant to the user rather than a standardised list of results for a particular search term. Social media has already done this itself with You Tube’s recommendations, based upon what you have watched before, but Google have now introduced it to the SERP’s, based upon a users search history profile. Social media plays a huge role here as anything that may have been liked/followed on social media could appear at the top of the search page for that particular user.

The Big Two

Unquestionably, the two main social media sites around at the moment are Facebook and Twitter. Both represent an enormous amount of opportunity for businesses to exploit and in terms of SEO, represent a window of opportunity to get up the rankings.

Facebook: A company can set up a profile page for their site and interact with the people who like them by putting up quality, sharable content. The interaction with other people can help sustain a certain brand image that they can control. Soon, these Facebook pages will start topping the rankings due to the fact that their titles will become keywords that crawlers will search for.

Twitter: Tweeting and re-tweeting your followers will give you a more hands-on image and shows you value the opinions and interests of each of your followers. Getting celebrities with thousands of followers mentioning your brand or tweeting you will greatly improve your reputation too.

So Will Social Media be Crucial to SEO?

I’m inclined to say that it won’t be crucial. But at the same time, social media should definitely not be neglected.

Some experts have suggested that a like or a re-tweet will be counted as a backlink, and the reputation and authority of that social media engagement will determine that link’s weight when determining rank for the SERP’s.

However, this would short-change the true remit of Google’s direction: emphasis on quality content. The vast majority of content that is shared on social media is funny, cute, shocking or controversial. Does that mean that content that isn’t one of those four things isn’t quality content? SEO’s and businesses can get caught in the hype over social media to the point where they begin to neglect other important – maybe more important – aspects of SEO.

For much bigger companies – by bigger I mean companies who have been around long before the internet and have already established a brand image – I would argue they do not need a massive social media strand to their marketing campaigns. However, for start-up businesses or ones who are struggling to boost their profit margins, then having a social media aspect to their SEO and online marketing is necessary.

Ultimately, a question that you must ask yourself when deciding the importance of social media in SEO must be, “Is having a great social media following the cause or the effect of great content?”

James Duval
James Duval is a marketing expert who has been cited by Mainstreet, ProBloggingSuccess and MarketingProfs. He works for Comm100, thinking about new tricks and techniques in the email and marketing industries.


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