Digital Insights

The Role of Social Signals in Search Engine Ranking


Published: January 15, 2015

While social signals such as shares, likes, and retweets do not directly influence the search engine algorithm, that doesn’t mean that social media activities have no impact on your search engine rankings.

Confused? Blame it on Google. As far back as 2010, Google has been telling webmasters that social signals are a factor in determining search rankings. In a candid video released in early 2014, Google spokesperson Matt Cutts reversed his earlier position and admitted that social signals have not been incorporated into the search algorithm.

What Exactly is Google Saying?
According to Cutts, social signals from Facebook and Twitter are not currently part of its search algorithm and are not likely to be added in the future. Two reasons were cited:

  • In the past, Google has been blocked from crawling at least one of these sites. These means that the work of its engineers in adding these social signals to the ranking algorithm was basically a waste of time.
  • Because the data that Google collects from the web is based on a “snapshot in time,” Google is reluctant to index sensitive data that is subject to change by the user at any time.

Your Facebook and Twitter pages will continue to be treated like any other web page – as long as these pages can be crawled and indexed, Google will include them in the search results.

Interestingly enough, Cutts makes no mention of the social signals provided by its own Google+ social network. This may have been an intentional omission, as Google will always have full access to this data. For the time being, the importance of Google+ signals remains a mystery.

Cutts concludes the video by hinting at a long-term shift to additional weight being assigned to content authorship. “Over 10 years, we’re more likely to understand identity, and to understand the social connections between people,” he said. Google Authorship is already being used to help enrich and improve search results. Assuming that Google Authorship will continue to play a major role in connecting authors with content, writers and bloggers will likely see increased search visibility and branding benefits by establishing Authorship profiles.

How Social Media Helps Build Brands and Increases Website Traffic
Despite the fact that Facebook and Twitter signals have no direct impact on search results ranking, social media remains a powerful tool for increasing your reach and driving traffic to your website.

Social media helps attract a wider audience for your content. When your content is shared, this not only increases the size of your audience, it boosts the amount of trust associated with your brand. The larger your audience and the more trust you build, the greater the chances that your content will be linked to by authority sites relevant to your industry or niche – which will directly impact your search rankings.

Great content also offers the potential of increasing the number of loyal followers who will increase your website traffic as well as help expand your social community. The more social shares your content is able to attract, the greater the amount of social proof you generate. In addition to expanding your reach, increased social proof can also help the search engines discover and index your content quicker, giving you more opportunities to rank for relevant keywords.

Continue to share your content across all of your social media channels, and stay engaged with your Google+ followers – this may very well be the only social media signal that Google takes notice of.