SEO Strategy: Does social media influence rank?

We’re excited to welcome back Mindy Schoeneman for another guest post. Mindy is a writer, editor, and content marketer. She previously shared her wisdom on search engine optimization (SEO) with us back in July, and it’s great to have her back with us!

If you search the web to try to discover the exact impact of social media on website ranking, you’ll find a different opinion with practically every link. Does social media impact page rank or site authority? Does Google index and rank profiles or business pages on social media?

What is the overall impact of social media on your SEO strategy?

Let’s break down some of the signals that Google uses to determine ranking, and then we can apply them to social media specifically.

Index

What is indexing and how does Google do it? That link will take you to a great video that explains what happens when someone is searching on Google. You have to first understand what happens when you conduct a search to begin to create a strategy for showing up in a favorable position in search results.

First thing you need to know about search is that when you search, you’re not really searching the entire web—you’re only searching what Google has indexed.

What’s indexed mean?

Google uses spiders to crawl the web, going from one web page to the next. Every bit of text on a page that has more than 300 words (a page needs a minimum of 300 words for Google to crawl and then index that page) will be stored once it’s crawled. This is called indexing.

Why? Because Google creates an index from which its artificial intelligence, RankBrain, can peruse to select the right content to match your search.

Google does not automatically index every page and website, though. But, submit a sitemap to Google and your site will be indexed.

Side note: If you’re wondering if you’ve been indexed, then simply open a browser. Type in site:yourwebaddress.whatever and hit enter. If you see a result listed, then bingo! You’ve been indexed.

Google’s index is categorized and tagged and labeled over and over and updated constantly. The result is that each indexed site is flagged as more relevant to a particular search than another site. This is what’s called ranking.

How is ranking determined?

Well, Google isn’t revealing all of its 200+ ranking factors, but we do know several factors. First, let’s dissect the way that Google finds pages to index.

Crawling

The way that Google’s spiders crawl the web has a dual purpose—to determine native ranking factors and outside factors. These factors are called ranking signals.

There are many things that factor into ranking that can be controlled on the web page itself, such as mobile-responsiveness, content, title tags, user-friendliness, and more. But there are outside factors that are ranking signals, too, such as the number of visitors to the site or a particular page.

A really important ranking signal—the number of websites pointing back at yours—is something else that web spiders discover (over time, that is; it isn’t instant).

How do spiders see all of these links? Not only does Google point the spiders to certain links (from sitemap submissions, for example), but the spiders also branch out on their own.

As the spiders crawl and come across new links within the content that they’re crawling, they follow those links to crawl that content. As they crawl the links, they determine a few things that factor into ranking for the page they were originally crawling.

What are those things? Well, to start, they take a look at the authority of the sites linked. What does that mean?

Page Authority

Authority is determined a few ways. One of which is based on external links. In this article, I’ve linked to a few articles that discuss SEO. Each article is from a well-known source that has a solid reputation as being factual and accurate. Because I’m linking to well-respected sites, I’m giving Google a ranking signal that says, Hey, I have helpful information here that points to relevant, accurate sites that are also helpful.

The flip side to determining authority is this: Imagine you wrote a blog post about SEO, and one of Google’s employees reads it and then links to it next time they write an article for Google. By linking to your content, you’ve just been handed SEO gold because of Google’s reputation and overall traffic.

Additionally, page authority is also evaluated based on the number of times it has been linked to, and the overall number of visitors. If you have a great article or page that people mention often and visit even more often, then your page will be given authority status.

How does any of this fit in with social media?

Ranking Factors

Here’s the thing: Google says that social media is not a ranking factor. More specifically, Matt Cutts, the former head of Google’s anti-spam team, states that pages on social media are treated like regular webpages. Each post (if crawled) is done so and treated as any other website page. The trouble with this is that there really isn’t a way for them to determine the authority of a single post, especially a post published from a personal profile instead of a public business or public figure page.

A post written from a personal profile on Facebook, for example, isn’t going to be indexed. That isn’t to say this couldn’t change in the future, of course.

So, bottom line is: Don’t write a blog-length post on Facebook that includes a link to your website and then hope that it improves your website’s rank, or that the post itself will show up natively in a Google search.

Do post links, though, and try to engage with followers and encourage them to visit your website. It might not do a thing for you if people don’t engage with that post and share it over and over, but if they do, then it will be a definite benefit because you’ll receive more traffic at the very least.

Confused yet? Keep reading. It’s about to get worse.

Google goes where the people go. They want to share content their users want to see. So, knowing that, it’s (mostly) reasonable to say that the more your link is mentioned or shared on social media, the better chance you’ll have that Google increases your ranking. I can’t verify that, though, so it may not be true, but I’m not the only one who thinks this.

Ranking Help

There is one thing I can say for certain: The articles of mine that I share to my business and personal Google+ accounts rank higher than the posts that I do not share.

Within a couple of weeks of adding the link from my latest article to Google+, I always see a steady uptick in the rank of that article.

The other thing here is that Google isn’t the only search engine in existence. Bing has clearly stated that they look at the authority of social media users based on the number of followers and number of people the person follows (and possibly on the quality of those followers/follows). Links shared by a social media user who has thousands of followers may very well be more heavily weighted than a share from someone with only a few followers (this sentence isn’t written in stone; I’m merely reading between the lines of Bing’s statement).

And if in doubt about the power of building a social media following, just remember that Google makes over 500 changes every year to its algorithm. They are always changing, adjusting, growing, and following the web users’ lead. Even if social media does not play a factor in ranking right now (which I’m not buying), it could become a factor next week, tomorrow, or five seconds from now.

What does all this mean for your SEO strategy?

If you’re not writing articles for your own site and other well-known, reputable sites, then start. You can’t share links or receive mentions and social shares if you don’t have great content to start.

Don’t leave social media out of your content marketing because the direct relationship to rank isn’t clear. Write great, helpful content that will appeal to a wide audience, and then share away!

Mindy Schoeneman is the owner of Sincerely Me where she works with small businesses to put into words what they do, how they do it, and why they do it the way they do it. Once the message is clear, she helps her clients market their business.

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