Why Social Media Is NOT a Search Ranking Factor – Here’s Why #128

Many marketers assume that social media is a search ranking factor for Google, and some even believe they’ve seen proof.
In this episode of our Here’s Why digital marketing video series, Perficient Digital’s Mark and Eric explain why it is highly unlikely that social is a direct ranking signal, but also how social is useful to your search efforts.

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Eric: Mark, let’s cut right to the chase. Does Google use signals from social media sites as a direct search ranking factor?
Mark: Well, a lot of people assume that they must, Eric. In some cases, that’s because they had some one-off experience where content of theirs got some active attention on social media, and then rankings for their main keywords for that page went up for them, or perhaps they’ve seen rankings factors studies from Moz and Searchmetrics, that show some correlation between social signals and search ranking.
But, for other people, it just seems to make sense that Google would use social signals for ranking. I mean, after all, in social media, you have real people actively sharing and recommending content they like and find useful, so the assumption is that it must be a very useful signal for the search engines.
Eric: So don’t think for a moment that I didn’t notice that you didn’t directly answer my question.
Mark: Maybe I should get into politics.
Eric: You already have a job…for now. But, okay, we’ll come back to whether or not Google actually uses social in its ranking factors. For now, though, what about those one-off cases people see in those ranking studies that you see shared out there?
Mark: Two things happening at the same time does not mean that one caused the other, especially in an environment as complex as search rankings. Now, first off, though as humans we tend to assume that all coincidences are rare, in reality, when a large number of factors are in play, coincidences can be common. They’re more common than we think, anyway. Furthermore, there can be unseen factors between the two things we observe that create an indirect causal link between the two things.
Eric: An indirect causal link. What do you mean by that?
Mark: In the case of social signals, it’s likely that large exposure on social media increases the chances that website owners will see the content, thereby increasing the opportunities that they will link to it from their own content. And, of course, we know that links are a direct ranking factor. So, in that case, it wasn’t a social activity itself that caused the ranking rise, but the social activity increased the likelihood of a factor that actually does affect rankings.
Eric: And we also know that posting a link to new content on some social networks can cause Google to discover the new page and index it. And sometimes a new page seems to get a temporary boost if it directly addresses a particular query. But in our experience, if it doesn’t get some links or other supporting signals, it will eventually drop down. So, anyway, it’s entirely possible that social signals have an indirect effect on search rankings, but that doesn’t prove that they can’t have a direct effect also.
[Tweet “It’s more likely that social media has an indirect rather than direct effect on Google rankings.”]
Mark: Man, I can’t slip anything past you, Eric. Well, you’re right. And you can’t prove something by proving a negative, but there are some other reasons why we think it is highly unlikely that Google uses social signals as a direct ranking factor.
For one thing, Google spokespeople have repeatedly stated that they don’t, but typically they bring up two reasons. First, in most cases, Google can only see a small portion of the content on a social site. This is especially true with Facebook. And we confirmed that with a study we did that showed only a small percentage of Facebook posts ever show up in the Google index. But even with Twitter, where Google now has full access to all tweets, our studies have shown that the vast majority of tweets are never indexed.
Eric: Even when Google has full access, as it does with Twitter or Google Plus, they don’t try to index everything. It’s a case of TMI, too much information, even for Google.
Mark: Right, Eric. For example, there are well over 500 million tweets created every day, and that leads to the second reason why Google says they don’t use social signals directly. The signals are just too messy and indistinct. For example, I see Perficient Digital come up on Facebook, and I like it. Now, why did I like it? Did I like because I really do like Perficient Digital? I do. Did I like it because Eric’s picture is there, and he’s so handsome, I just gotta like it, or is it because they have a coupon, a game, a funny cat picture? I mean, it’s not as easy as we think to discern the intent of social signals.
Now, also, Google has noted that relationships on social can change too rapidly for them to track. I might really like a certain brand on the day Google happens to crawl my social feed, but maybe something happens the next day that changes my mind and I unfriend them. It’s a very volatile environment.
Eric: Whereas links are a much more intentional and stable authority and relevancy signal. It takes real effort to create a link on a web page, and site owners or publishers will only usually link to something outside their site if they think it’s relevant to their content, supports what they’re saying, and is very useful to their users. So is social media useful to SEO at all then, Mark?
Mark: Sure it is. I mean, in several ways we’ve already mentioned.

  1. First, it can help get your content discovered and indexed by search engines, a necessary first step to ranking and search.
  2. Second, social media exposure may get your content in front of writers and site owners who may want to link to it as a reference.
  3. In addition, social media can be very helpful in building your brand and audience, and we’ve talked a lot in these videos about why those are SEO concerns.

Eric: Thanks, Mark. Check out the notes in this episode for a link to Mark’s in-depth article on social media and SEO, as well as links to our studies that we mentioned and other related resources.

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About the Author

Mark Traphagen was our Content Strategy Director for Perficient Digital until February of 2019. He has been named one of the most influential content and social media authors in numerous industry listings.

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Thoughts on “Why Social Media Is NOT a Search Ranking Factor – Here’s Why #128”

  1. Strongly agreed with you that google does not index everything from social media but it should do that because everything is not same as you describe here but the post and content that get more likes from other normal posts should be index as a factor Search engine to get top rank in google searches.

  2. Mark Traphagen

    Abubakar thanks for your response, but you offer no good reasons to counter the reasons I gave for why Google almost certainly does not use social media as a direct ranking factor. You merely state that they should. But in this video, and in my more in-depth article linked from the post, I give several reasons why they shouldn’t. Do you have good reasons to counter those?

  3. I don’t think that it is necessary for Google to drag social media into the SEO game.
    Facebook shares made for “friends” only cannot be seen by Google (that is, assuming they wanted to). And Facebook can’t give them the ability to crawl our privately shared contents, otherwise it will be a breach of privacy.

  4. If you look in my article linked from this page you’ll see I very much agree with you.

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