Occasionally, I’ll hear online marketing experts attempt to describe various marketing strategies in discrete contexts and to an extent, this is appropriate. Content marketing, search engine optimization (SEO) and social media marketing can all be planned and executed separately. You could hypothetically pursue each one as an individual endeavor.
However, it’s far more effective if you use these strategies in conjunction with one another, complementing and enhancing your efforts. Content amplifies your SEO campaign by attracting more links and optimizing for certain key phrases and social media feeds into your content campaign by amplifying its reach. But how exactly does social media play into SEO? Can your social media campaign improve your organic search rankings?
Profile information. One of the first steps you take in a social media marketing campaign is claiming and filling out your social profiles with information about your company from your name and type of business to your address and phone number. This is indexable content and it can indirectly help your local rankings; many third-party review sites mine social media profiles for local business information, which they then compile into entries on their site. Google then uses these entries to form its own standard formatting for local business, which means filling out your social media profiles could improve the visibility and accuracy of your business online.
The power of inbound links. There are two main factors that Google considers when ranking results for a given query -- relevance and authority. The relevance of an entry is how appropriately it meets the needs of the given search query, while the authority is how trustworthy or respectable the source is. Authority is determined, in large part, by the inbound link profile of the page (and its domain) in question. To ridiculously oversimplify things, the more, higher-authority links you have pointing to you, the higher you’re going to rank.
This principle is the single biggest reason why social media is important to SEO and it’s all because of social media’s operation as a syndication platform.
The links in Facebook posts, tweets or other social posts don’t have an impact on your search rankings directly, but the amplified reach they provide your content can result in it attracting more inbound links from sources that do make an impact.
Social media as a syndication platform. The greatest advantage social media has as a marketing channel is its ability to distribute content and links to a wide audience -- and an ever-increasing one if you know how to build your following. Syndicating an article on social media could instantly open it to hundreds or thousands of new eyes and those readers could share it further. This alone won’t do you much good from an SEO perspective, but every interested reader could be a blogger, journalist, editor or otherwise have the potential to build a natural link to your content as they reference it in their own work -- which means social media can and will greatly increase the breadth and potential of your inbound link profile.
Furthermore, posting your content on social media could open the door to another path of social media visibility. Google now indexes content from Facebook, Twitter and presumably more social media platforms to come. If your timing and relevance is right, your post could directly show up in search results.
There’s been some debate in the SEO community about whether or not “social signals” can affect your search rankings, and what, exactly, “social signals” are in the first place. This is mostly because Google has both explicitly confirmed and explicitly denied the presence of social signals in its search ranking algorithm. The hypothesis is that articles that receive a high number of social media shares will get an additional boost in perceived authority -- which makes sense on paper, but the empirical evidence varies.
In Searchmetrics’ "Top 5 Ranking Factors for 2015", Google+ +1s had a correlation of 0.31 with rankings, with Facebook shares at 0.28, Tweets at 0.23 and Pinterest pins at 0.23. Moz released its report with similar numbers around the same time. While it’s not possible to equate correlation with causation, it’s safe to say that articles with more shares tend to have more visibility, traffic and inbound links, so there’s a real SEO benefit there either way. If you’re interested in the rest of the ranking factors from the two studies, see this infographic.
Influencer marketing and publishing opportunities. Social media is also a conduit for making new connections, with influencers who already have a sizable following and reputation as well as external publications who might work with you to publish your content as a guest post. If you can attract the attention of users within these two categories, you can greatly increase your range of influence. In this context, social media is a tool you can use to earn more diversified SEO opportunities.
Keys for long-term success.
The bottom-line answer is yes, your social media campaign can and will improve your search rankings, so long as you bear the following best practices in mind for long-term success:
Fill out your profiles.
This should be your very first step. You never know what information could be useful, so fill in every field completely.
Promote your content via social media (and beyond).
Content promotion is your greatest shortcut to greater search engine visibility, so make the most of it and syndicate every piece of content you develop. For help, see Content Unleashed: The Ultimate Guide to Promoting Your Published Content.
Publish content that has a high potential for shareability, and encourage your users to share them. This will earn you more social signals, more inbound links, and more audience members to support you in the future.
Engage with influencers.
Finally, go out of your way to find and interact with influencers. They represent major opportunities to multiply your audience and brand visibility.
With these best practices and your social media campaign integrated tightly into your content marketing and SEO efforts, you’ll see an impactful increase in every area of development. Social media may only be a peripheral component to your strategy, but that doesn’t leave it with any less potential.