The 'Everything' Guide to Understanding the Link Between Social Signals, SEO and Website Rankings

It's easy to allow oneself to be swamped and hence overwhelmed by information while trying to expand knowledge about good SEO practices. Mostly, not all of the information will be in agreement, and inherent contradictions will weigh you down all the more. Thankfully, there are enough credible sources of SEO guidance out there in the wide open web, which are fairly credible and can be used as a base to develop one's long term SEO strategy. Before we take you deep into the bare realities of the hot topic of social signals' contribution to SEO success, let's invest a couple of minutes in understanding as to what the generally agreeable opinion about the most important SEO ranking factors is:

  • Content - Yes, it's still the king, and the trend of improvement in search engine algorithm indicates that we'll never grow out of the habit of uttering the clicked statement!
  • Technological make-up - Pages that are optimized for quick loading with robust website architecture, presence of good meta tags and optimized internal linking are increasingly being rewarded by the search engines that matter.
  • Backlinks - They were always important, just that there's a lot of fine tuning happening all the time, allowing search algorithms to treat credible and valuable backlinks as the real substance.
  • User experience - A perfect example of correlation; websites with high click through rates, appreciable on-site time and low bounce rates are also the ones that rank high!
  • Social signals – The immense correlation between the number of Facebook shares, number of Twitter retweets, and Google +1s received by URLs with the ranking they show on search engines is still obvious.

Now that we're in the thick of things, let's give a definition to the term, which also answers the question – 'what are social signals?'

Well, social signals are visible recommendations that indicate towards the worthiness of a URL. The visibility is on the form of counts of all the different mediums of approval that social media networks use. From the most popular Facebook Like to the more elusive Twitter retweet, from a well-meaning share on Facebook to a +1 vote on Google+, there are so many ways your website can send out a signal of being socially credible and likeable. What's more, you can even see the option of giving a +1 to a URL when you see it featuring in the top search results on Google. That's a fair indication to make SEO enthusiasts believe that there is, after all, a link between social signals and website rankings. Now is a good time to discuss how good social signals can help your website's rankings.

How do social signals actually improve your website's ranking?

Without delving deep into the question of whether social signals distinctly improve a website's ranking for the moment, let's try to find out how social signals could, theoretically, contribute to increased rankings.

A powerful channel of creating new inbound links - The momentousness of inbound links for your website's ranking can hardly be undermined. With a strong social presence, you will be easily found, and will be easily linked to. The credible social impressions created by strong social signals motivate webmasters to include your website's link on their web networks.

With a rapidly growing base of Facebook and Twitter followers, your website will always be in with a shot at sudden traffic increases, especially when you post a ground-breaking post every now and then. Your chances of being talked about on blogs and being mentioned in comments and posts on popular websites become really huge in such cases, and ranking impetus follows.

Less bounce rates, more on-page times, and repeat traffics – the triple impact of a strong social presence is among the most coveted outcomes of a good social signals strategy. These attributes are important for ranking well with Google and other search engines, and your social personality and brand following will land you in good stead with these.

Action points to help you enhance social signals for your website:

  • The virtues of timing are surprisingly underestimated, despite the tremendous social marketing relevance they have. Save yourself the effort of analysing peak traffic hours at Facebook, and adopt the following post timing strategy.
  • On a weekday basis, you'd be well off targeting Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday to share your content. If you are loaded in terms of content, take things a step further and send out posts at 9 AM, 12 PM, 3 PM, and 6 PM, Eastern Standard Time.
  • Enhance the social engagement quotient of your social posts by adding an image with text, as visuals are the most trusted design elements to capture attention.
  • Wording your post in the form of a question is another proven effective technique of giving your social posts a better chance of being liked and shared.
  • Studies about the kind of content finding the maximum social appeal suggest that top lists, DIYs How To guides are the real attention getters in the social digital world.
  • Among the other successful social engagement strategies are competitions that reward participants and winners, posts with a voting option, and posts with titles that rivet the attention of readers.

The answer from the horse's mouth – Is the social signals buzz real?

Filtering out all the chaff, here are some distinct takeaways from Matt's message to webmasters -

At present, Google does NOT use social signals to adjust the ranking of a website.

Whereas many bloggers and SEO experts claim that social signals result in website ranking increase, it's actually mere correlation, and not causation. Simply put, it is because a website is actually great, engaging and worth following that Facebook and Twitter users share it on their social profiles, and it is this 'awesomeness' that's causing the raking improvement, not the fact that the website finds several followers on Twitter or Facebook. Social signals are, hence, an indirect benefit of a website publishing some great content.

There are some real difficulties that dissuade Google from crawling social networking pages.

In the course of the video, Matt remarked about some concrete issues that prevent Google from considering and evaluating social signals.

  • Matt Cutts declared Google's crawlers had realized that they were restricted from crawling the web pages of a popular social network, which obviously means that social networks can, any day, restrict Google's crawlers permanently. This is a massive roadblock preventing Google from investing man-hours in working out a complex crawling algorithm for social networks, as there's the real and documented risk of it all going in vain.
  • Because of the dynamic nature of social network web data and the instantaneous nature of the data collection activities of Google web crawlers clashing with each other, making algorithms work faithfully with social signals is a real challenge. The number of Facebook shares, the authority of the people who share the content, the number of retweets, and the demographics of the people who trigger these social signals – all these are immensely dynamic attributes, and make the task of an intelligent algorithm that creates the right digital impressions out of the information unimaginably complicated.

A sneak peak at the future in terms of social signals

Matt Cuts hinted significantly towards the future of WWW with less anonymity, and that is in sync with all the buzz about Google Authorship. Increasingly, web searches done for bloggers and writers are showcasing all the content crated by the author, and not just the content that's live on highly ranking websites. With a lot of fine tuning and reinventing of algorithms, understanding 'identity' will be seemingly possible for crawlers, and Google Authorship will be at the core of the revolution. So, 10 years down the line, social signals could well be a distinct part of Goggle evaluation and ranking criteria, provided that digital identities become recognizable by crawlers.

Closing thoughts – the long and short of social signals

Now that you know the crux of social signals and whether or not they are worth investing time, money and effort in for increased rankings, here's the gist of it all. Whereas social signals, in all likelihood, are not currently considered important by Google, yet there continue to be some really useful indirect outcomes from your efforts going towards increasing your website's popularity through Facebook, Twitter and Google+. With more shares and tweets, you can expect really substantial increase in traffic counts, along with the enhancement of your digital branding. Scaling your website and web network becomes an exciting and empowered strategy with a strong social presence. Converting your social signals into customers is another grand opportunity for you to move into ecommerce. So, in essence, social signals are powerful enough to get you the outcomes that Google ranking improvement will send your way, that's increased web traffic!